"This is what 2021 will look like!" That was the thought of every person who walked out of the cinema after watching Back to the Future for the first time. But while we are still a long way from flying cars and hoverboards today, a completely different facet is developing with increasing speed into the defining feature of the modern world: digital space.
As no one could have guessed in 1985, digitalisation has turned everything upside down. Today, social media is the place where everyone hangs out and largely leads their social lives. With many billions of users, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Co. are not only gigantic platforms, but also pioneers in the development of the next quantum leaps.
Facebook, which has been renamed "Meta" since 28 October 2021, may now have the next one up its sleeve. At the internal Connect 2021 conference , CEO Mark Zuckerberg presented the so-called "Metaverse" along with the new company name. Augmented reality and virtual reality in particular play crucial roles here.
In this article, I look at what this means in detail, why it can be such a disruptive innovation and what applications it could offer for online marketing.
The metaverse will definitely come and change a lot. If you are active in online marketing, I recommend staying up to date here. So it's worth reading to the end! 🙂
What are Metaverse and Web 3.0?
In order to understand what the metaverse is and why Facebook decided to take this step, the concepts of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 need to be understood.
Web 2.0 refers to an evolutionary stage of the World Wide Web. The focus is no longer on the provision of content by website operators and the like. Instead, users are intended to play a decisive role in the generation of content.
According to software pioneer Tim O'Reilly, "The web as a platform", "Rich user experience" as well as "The use of collective intelligence" are hallmarks of Web 2.0.
Even here, the intensive participation of users was the fundamental feature. The internet was no longer a pure information portal. Platform character and user participation are the be-all and end-all.
While social platforms like Instagram and Facebook can be classified as Web 2.0, the Metaverse will once again take the social experience to a new level, the so-called Web 3.0.
It is quite difficult to define the metaverse, as many internet personalities, entrepreneurs and corporations have their own ideas and plans.
Meta itself describes the concept as follows on its website (translated from English):
"3D spaces in the Metaverse will let you socialise, learn, collaborate and play in ways beyond our imagination."
The metaverse is, simply put, an expansive digital space where users can interact with each other in real time and have experiences similar to those in the real world. In most of the plans of companies like Meta, there are supposed to be even more and more intense possibilities. This definition of the metaverse highlights a crucial point: the fact that it is an expansive digital space that serves as an extension of the real physical world.
The metaverse thus contains a shared virtual space. The users are represented there by virtual avatars. These virtual worlds evolve and grow based on user decisions and interactions within the space. In this sense, it mirrors the real world because it has no end. It is simply a new universe that continues to expand as more and more users enter.
It is important to know, however, that this is not a virtual theme park whose design is centrally planned. Nor is it just an ordinary game that is exclusively fun for children. Nor is it a simple application that can be downloaded from the app store and played at will. The Metaverse is a virtual universe where reality and the virtual world merge.
How does the Metaverse work?
At first glance, this all sounds very abstract and - admittedly - crazy. How is such a meta-universe to become established, what technology is needed for it and above all: why is it likely to become established?
Facebook is planning something very similar to what these gaming products offer. The idea is to put users in a virtual world where meetings with friends, business meetings and other meetings can be held using virtual reality (VR) headsets in a selected avatar and against a specific background.
However, the virtual world planned by Facebook will not be limited to games, but will be more comprehensive, offering facilities ranging from office to entertainment. The concept aims to create an online world where people can interact, collaborate and communicate without having to be physically present in the same space.
In the recent past, Facebook has made building the Metaverse one of its big priorities. To this end, the company has invested heavily in VR with its Oculus headsets.
Facebook has gone one step further and created a VR world with the launch of Facebook Horizon in 2019. For the time being, it is an immersive environment that can only be entered by invitation if the user owns an Oculus headset.
The company also launched Horizon Workrooms in August this year. This feature allows employees wearing VR headsets to hold meetings in a virtual room where they all appear as cartoon-like 3D versions of themselves.
Mark Zuckerberg's company, as we can see, has already taken great steps to map essential areas of life in the virtual world.
That's why the metaverse is relevant for you
For many people, the metaverse sounds like a concept that is usually only known from science fiction films like Matrix or Ready Player One. Since it is such a drastic change, it is quite normal for people to react sceptically.
However, the Metaverse is supposed to offer numerous advantages over classic social media platforms, which should make life more pleasant and multifaceted. Here is an overview of the most important points:
- Be more productive
Although most people worry about the addictive potential the Metaverse would have, it has some interesting applications for work. Users will be able to create their own individual environment. This means that you can design the workspace of your dreams.
You could take a virtual holiday in Rome or Bali and work while enjoying the exotic view of blue water and white beaches. Or you could create a completely virtual, fictional world where fish fly and snails jump or where there are no animals at all. You could even recreate your office space from reality and add your favourite objects from your real workspace if you like.
The possibilities are endless. Depending on what boosts your productivity, working in nature, working with a view of the sea or working in your dream office, you can make it happen at Metaverse.
- Entertainment on a new level
Meta promises "an embodied internet where you are in the middle of it instead of just being there". That sounds like a gaming paradise. Players will enjoy a more interactive, immersive experience and be able to play games that feel real.
Streaming video content will also become an even more lifelike experience through the fusion of augmented reality and virtual reality.
Meta also wants to integrate the possibility of sharing activities that are far away with people. For example, one could attend concerts with friends on the other site side of the world. Again, the technical details of this concept are a mystery. In Meta's announcement video, the "virtual concert-goer" appears as a hologram of her real self, while the physically present friend can see and talk to her.
Similarly, Meta envisions possibilities where, for example, physical and virtual users meet to play a game of basketball. These allusions to a mixed reality are still rather vague at the moment, but nevertheless intriguing thoughts.
- New learning opportunities
Meta will allow users to get information and gain knowledge about subjects in a more visual, interactive way than before. For example, if you are interested in history and geography, you could travel to any place and time period, whether it's industrial change, the Weimar Classical period, ancient Rome or whatever.
These different situations could be generated on the basis of gigantic amounts of data. With the help of VR technology, users can immerse themselves in them.
Anyone who wants to see how America built the White House could witness this from the ground up. And those interested in astrology could learn about the intricate details that make up each celestial body through 3D-rendered images of constellations and planets.
If Meta can implement its plans according to the company's own planning, this could be a big leap for educational technology and visual learning.
- Higher data protection standards
Many experts have interpreted the meta-move as an attempt by Zuckerberg to polish up his image after Facebook's data protection scandals.
Although most big tech companies like Amazon and Google collect user data, Meta stands out for the type of data it collects. After acquiring WhatsApp and Instagram, the company now has one of the world's largest databases of personal data.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, Meta is all about accountability. With all the new possibilities and features promised by Meta, the focus is on interoperability, open standards, privacy and security. Given that Meta is still a rebranding of the Facebook company and has access to tons of user data, it is unclear how the improved data protection will ultimately really be implemented and guaranteed.
Marketing in the Metaverse
The Metaverse not only sounds exciting for consumers, but also offers completely new possibilities for marketers. Thanks to VR and AR technology, products and brands can be brought to consumers in the Metaverse in a way never seen before.
What specific use cases does the Metaverse offer for digital marketing?
- Positioning in the metaverse
The new marketing ecosystem that will emerge in the metaverse is a big step from the current social media world. It is a shift from storytelling to allowing users to create their own stories. It is also a shift from simple experiences to massive interactive live events, from traditional fashion to virtual fashion, and from loyalty programmes to blockchain-based benefits.
It is important for brands to rethink their virtual brand role. Building a brand in the virtual world is very different from building one in the physical world.
Brands can fulfil other, new roles in the metaverse. A brand can be an enabler providing unique virtual experiences, a participant creating new experiences as a curator of culture, or a rewarder offering gamified rewards and virtual goods to its customers.
- Metaverse Gaming and Branding
Marketers have several options for marketing in the metaverse. This includes advertising in games and events. Already, big names like Gucci or Nike are working with virtual fashion for avatars that consumers:inside can buy. Real estate in games is another way for brands to get involved in the gaming experience. For example, virtual items can be purchased for the interior of virtual houses or the interior of a car.
Many international brands have already found their way into meta-space. They insert themselves into games such as Fortnite or League of Legends in the form of avatars or virtual real estate and thus become part of a comprehensive user experience. The American mobile operator Verizon, for example, brought the Super Bowl stadium into Fortnite and enabled players to meet avatars of NFL players. In this way, the company promoted the advantages of 5G technology.
Fashion giant Louis Vuitton and game developer Riot Games have also collaborated on several fronts for the League of Legends World Championships 2019. Here, collections in League of Legends style were designed and at the same time exclusive skins for players to use in the game.
- Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs)
The metaverse is a universe where users can collect, invest, buy, sell and own at will - just like "in real life". For this reason, brands have jumped on the bandwagon and taken advantage of this to create so-called non-fungible tokens (NFTs). They make the concept of collectibles a firm constant of marketing in the metaverse.
NFTs are non-substitutable digital goods that exist on the blockchain and consist of blocks of information (code). An NFT can be an image, video, sound recording, SMS and anything else. Art in particular has recently enjoyed enormous popularity in the NFT space.
As a result, brands are creating assets and limited edition tokens worth millions of dollars that can be purchased. In July 2021, for example, Coca-Cola sold an NFT collection for the price of $575,000.
Another example is the Gucci Garden, where the latest clothing and merchandise collection was presented. You can also collect limited edition Gucci products there. The brand earned 286,000,000 Robux (cryptocurrency of the gaming platform Roblox) with the first sale of collectibles. The key was interacting with existing communities to create new products and immersive experiences for the audience.
But it is not only digital art that is popular among NFT fans: the popular French art house Aguttes announced in December 2021 that it would auction the world's first text message as an NFT. The price range for the nearly 30-year-old text message with the content "Merry Christmas" is between 100,000 and 200,000 euros. So the hype about prestige objects in the virtual world is real.
Marketers have the opportunity to gain a foothold in the metaverse with NFTs. The unique virtual goods are an ideal way of community building and redefining oneself as a brand.
When is the metaverse coming?
The general metaverse, on which numerous manufacturers are working in their own way, will emerge from the technology world as soon as it is ready. There is no concrete timeframe on this yet.
With the Facebook Metaverse, however, somewhat more precise statements can already be made. Although it is still in the early development phase, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is confident that the Facebook Metaverse will be "mainstream" in 5-10 years. He predicted this at the Meta Connect conference in 2021.
Conclusion: Metaverse - The next digital revolution?
Without a doubt, the concepts of Metaverse and Web 3.0 are drastic changes in the (online) world. The way we interact, work and lead our social lives will change fundamentally.
The good news is that we can already foresee that there are many positives to look forward to, such as new entertainment and new opportunities for working and learning.
All online marketers should follow this development with a wary eye, because the metaverse will also turn digital marketing upside down. From positioning and branding to products like NFTs, the VR world offers a wide spectrum for marketing applications.
What do you think of the Metaverse concept - do you think it will really work as predicted by many experts? I look forward to your comment!