Although the metaverse is still largely conceptual, many brands are investing now because of what they see as opportunities to reach their customers in ways that are still new and unique to most of us.
Digital twins, avatar skins, digital clothing, virtual real estate, virtual nightclubs, shopping centers, digital artwork — in the metaverse, not even the sky is the limit, as the possibilities are virtually limitless.
The Time to Embrace the Metaverse Is Now
Because most of the initial metaverse applications are either limited or gamified, many brands are putting off investments, but this course of action is short-sighted. Regardless of the barriers it must overcome for widespread adoption, the metaverse is poised for immense growth and evolution.
“The metaverse will not have a ‘grand opening’ but rather a rollout that builds over time,” said Savinay Berry, executive vice president of product and engineering at Vonage. “The pandemic, new technologies and customer expectation have come together to spark the dawn of the metaverse, and fervent customer and employee demand will continue to accelerate its development.”
The potential of the metaverse to connect customers with brands in ways that create an exceptional emotionally positive experience cannot be understated.
“The metaverse will empower customers to traverse the virtual and physical worlds when connecting with the business of their choice, turning the notifications and transactions of the past into intelligent, real-time conversations — that is what will differentiate businesses moving forward,” said Berry.
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Digital Twins, Avatar Skins and D2A
The term “digital twin” is most often used to describe a virtual representation of a physical object, product, service or system that spans its lifecycle, is updated using real-time data and helps inform decision-making using simulations, machine learning and reasoning. Digital twins are a common part of manufacturing processes. However, with Web3 and the metaverse on the horizon, the use of digital twins has expanded to include digital products, buildings, factories, cities, people and processes in virtual worlds.
Many brands are now investing in digital-only assets designed to be used exclusively by digital avatars in a metaverse. Direct-to-avatar (D2A) is an emerging business model in which products are “sold” directly to avatars or digital identities in virtual worlds.
Some of these digital assets are sold as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that users can design, trade and wear via avatars in a metaverse. Users create avatars as personalized graphical representations of themselves for use in video games and virtual worlds. The appearance of an avatar is largely dependent on the world in which the avatar “lives,” though most allow customization and accessories, including:
- Hair (color, length, style, etc.)
- Eyes (color, shape, etc.)
- Body (thin, thick, muscular, tall, short, etc.)
- Clothes (shirts, pants, skirts, shorts, etc.)
- Footwear (sandals, boots, sneakers, flip flops, etc.)
- Accessories (glasses, hats, handbags, etc.)
The D2A market is enabling brands to sell digital twins of their products, such as shoes, clothing, handbags, glasses, sunglasses and other accessories, to customers, or more precisely, to the customers’ avatars, for use in many different virtual worlds and games.
Some savvy brands useg virtual branded goods as an opportunity to enable potential customers to wear their clothing products in virtual worlds, which incentivizes them to do so in the real world.
Decentraland is a metaverse that enables brands to create their own unique experiences in the Decentraland world, and the brand’s customers (along with other users) are able to visit these branded experiences. Many brands are already taking advantage of the opportunities that Decentraland provides to be able to connect with their customers on a new, unique playing field.
The UK-based outdoor apparel company Vollebak created a virtual store on Decentraland. The Vollebak experience enables users’ avatars to view and purchase their digital jackets as NFTs that can be worn anywhere in Decentraland. Users can also redeem them on Vollebak’s website for the physical version of the item.
In December 2021, Vollebak announced the release of its Mars jacket through its Decentraland store. The Vollebak virtual store is not easy to find in Decentraland, as finding it is part of the experience, but the first user found it in 6 hours, 36 minutes.
After the announcement, the company posted that, “Considering we gave you no clues, including buying the land under a pseudonym, we were blown away by the speed [at which it was found]. The store itself was hidden in one of the 90,000 plots of land in Decentraland, and looked like a black box just lying on the ground.” By using Decentraland to announce the debut of its Mars jacket, Vollebak was able to engage its customers and provide them with a fun, unique experience that created a buzz.
Brad Copeland, vice president of sales at Productsup, a P2C platform provider, told CMSWire that the metaverse will completely alter the way ecommerce brands approach marketing strategies — and already has for many brands.
“We’re seeing this become a reality in retail campaigns particularly, where brands like Asics and Gap have already introduced collections of digital apparel like sneakers and hoodies to the NFT market," said Copeland. "Such campaigns also serve as a path to attract new target audiences — especially generations more familiar with the metaverse that can help elevate established brands like Walmart, for example." The challenge is that the transition to metaverse experiences must be done in a way that enhances the brand promise, rather than eroding it as the touchpoints change.
The OmniChannel Experience Extends Into the Metaverse
As the metaverse becomes more normalized, the personalized experiences that brands have with their customers will follow them into the multitude of virtual worlds that make up the metaverse. David Keane, CEO at Bigtincan, a sales enablement platform provider, told CMSWire that the metaverse will completely alter the customer experience as we know it, dramatically improving buyer engagement as well.
“In a world where virtual selling environments will eventually become the norm, the metaverse will allow businesses to put their customers first by providing personalized engagement no matter where the engagement is taking place,” said Keane. “The metaverse, augmented with extended reality (XR) technologies like virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR), will enable customers to take the reins on their own buying experience from anywhere at any time.”
As the metaverse continues to grow, brands are still learning how they can create positive, emotionally engaging experiences for customers. Although the majority of metaverse worlds currently operate in a 2D space, eventually they will be largely a virtual environment that is accessible via VR, AR and XR devices.
“In these digitally enhanced environments, businesses can build a virtual showroom where customers interact with various content such as videos, images and 3D products that will work on all standard VR headsets, mobile devices and computers using the latest generation of modern web browsers,” said Keane. “The business can build virtual scenarios where customers meet with reps and peers for a personalized buying experience. These virtual showrooms allow customers to develop a true understanding of the product and brand that they are considering purchasing.”
Brands also have an opportunity to engage with customers in metaverses through various formats including digital collectibles, exclusive access to virtual events and NFTs that are offered as part of loyalty programs. Clinique is one brand using NFTs to drive loyalty and engagement by offering its reward program customers the opportunity to win 10 years’ worth of beauty supply products and NFT artwork.
“Every day, notable companies from every public sector are expanding into this digital space, and customers are happily following,” said Raj Koneru, CEO and founder of Kore.ai, a conversational AI software company. “Fashion powerhouses like Balenciaga have plans to offer couture outfits for digital avatars, while fast-food titans like McDonald’s have virtual restaurants where customers can actually order food for home delivery.”
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Customers Own Their Data in the Metaverse
Sharad Varshney, CEO of OvalEdge, a data catalog and end-to-end governance solutions provider, told CMSWire that data from this new world isn’t going to just fade away like the data from old social networks did. “Brands are entering the metaverse, with Accenture setting up resources to help clients adapt to what they term the ‘Metaverse Continuum.’ Accenture defines it as a ‘spectrum of digitally enhanced worlds, realities and business models poised to revolutionize life and enterprise in the next decade,’” said Varshney.
“There are many brands making the move, with restaurants such as Panera, Burger King, Panda Express and Chipotle filing trademarks to join the metaverse, giving them a unique opportunity to enhance the customer experience. They join companies such as American Express and CVS as well as celebrities LeBron James and Heidi Klum in filing trademarks,” said Varshney.
As the internet continues to evolve, both brands and customers need to understand how to deal with the data that has digitally accumulated over the past decade. “What these brands need to know is that they should expect to evolve along the journey, and that means knowing what to do with old data as well as how to help their consumers evolve (and shed their own brand-associated old data) as part of the customer experience,” Varshney said.
For years, people could still access the data from older social networks to reminisce — until all of a sudden they couldn’t. “Think about the many applications — and associated data — that are buried on the internet,” said Varshney. “MySpace, Friendster and LiveJournal are three social media platforms that exist in obscurity, and, for the most part, the data is lost as well. Brands need to think about ‘data pastures’ (as in putting data and applications out to pasture when it is no longer relevant) and build these plans in from the beginning.”
Given how much users invest in their online personas in metaverse worlds — both literally and figuratively — it’s important that brands provide them with the opportunity to control that data throughout its lifecycle.
“Brands need to give consumers the same ability to retire old personae, habits, patterns or associations with a fading sub-brand in the metaverse,” said Varshney. “Brands will hold the key in making this easier for consumers, and it will become incredibly important.” For some users, they (or more precisely, their data) will continue to live in the metaverse long after they are gone — by choice. Somnium Space, for instance, has announced plans to provide 'immortality' to its users with a new 'Live Forever' mode.
Virtual Worlds Increase Customer Engagement
Metaverse expert Haifa El Ashkar, executive director of corporate strategy at CSG, a customer engagement, revenue management and payments solutions provider, spoke with CMSWire about the potential for brands to create emotional, engaging experiences in the metaverse. “Emotions and experience increasingly dominate economic relationships, and consumers are hungry for engaging experiences,” said Ashkar. “As a result, the ‘experience’ has become the primary value driver in the modern world and the metaverse.”
For most people, the idea of strapping on a VR or AR headset to perform a routine task is currently cumbersome at best and tedious at worst. As the technology improves, devices become more usable and the applications become less awkward, being able to slap on a pair of AR glasses rather than driving to a bank doesn’t sound too bad.
“In today’s scenario, if a customer goes on a bank's website or a mobile app, they’re able to pay a bill or apply for a loan digitally. But if they go to a branch of that bank, they can physically meet the loan officer or teller, have a conversation and accomplish something," said Koneru.
"The metaverse is somewhere in between — it is a 3D representation of the web and the physical world. Instead of going onto the web to do something, a consumer can put on their HoloLens, walk into a bank branch and meet a virtual teller or loan officer. They can have a verbal conversation with them like they would have with a human and accomplish the exact same goal.”
The pandemic has normalized telehealth visits, and many people now prefer to see their doctor via a Zoom visit on their smartphone rather than drive to the doctor’s office. Similarly, the ability to visit a store, office, department store or restaurant in the metaverse has the potential to provide both convenience and emotional engagement for the customer.
“Customers today are demanding these kinds of experiences — those that seamlessly connect the physical and virtual world by meeting them and following them through their customer journey — wherever they are. When businesses can leverage these virtual connections to solve customer pain points in new and groundbreaking ways, in real time, individual transactions lead to conversations — that’s when real engagement happens,” said Vonage’s Berry.
“Businesses’ ability to navigate the new frontier of this metaverse will make the kind of lasting impressions on consumers that build brand loyalty and ensure return visits.”
The metaverse may still be largely conceptual, but real-world applications are now becoming available to consumers. As such, brands are filing trademarks, investing in virtual real estate, designing virtual twins of their products for use in virtual worlds and selling directly to avatars.
By extending the omnichannel customer experience to include the metaverse, empowering customers to maintain control of their data and creating emotionally positive experiences, brands are able to enhance customer loyalty and improve the customer experience.