Opinion: Becoming friends with the Metaverse - the super exciting, new kid on the block

The author urges marketers to ditch the wait-and-watch approach and adopt the roll up-and-dive approach

Feb 17, 2022 03:00:00 AM | Article | Sabiha Khan

As marketers and advertisers, we are constantly on the hunt for the next new and innovative ways of reaching out to our audience. How do we find a creative way of making a dent? How do we grab attention in a ‘clutter-breaking’ manner? These questions are on every marketer/ advertiser’s mind, or it is at least mentioned on every single brief that is rolled out. As an answer to these questions, there is a new kid making waves or let us just say a kid who has been around for a while but has just lately become popular – yes, we are referring to the Metaverse.
 
The Metaverse has rightfully claimed its fame because there is so much potential in this space and brands have started recognising that. However, the challenge here is that there is still a lot to unravel about the Metaverse. Before getting down to the how, why, and what, I would like to simplify this concept a little more for those who feel overwhelmed about learning or adapting to something new.
 
Back in the day when social media started, it felt like a mystery to a whole host of marketers. Today with the Metaverse, it is nothing but history repeating itself. It is important that we consider Web 3.0 as a place to explore and excel because learning the semantics of this space will help you get your branding efforts right.
 
So how does one get started?
 
Firstly, ditch the wait-and-watch approach and adopt the roll up-and-dive approach. I firmly believe, if you want to do something interesting in the Metaverse, you must first get your hands dirty. Get yourself out there - start playing on Roblox, understand how Somnium Space works, build something on The Sandbox, mint an NFT on OpenSea on your own. Basically, familiarise yourself with the basics - and the basics could be as preliminary as setting up your Metamask wallet. Yes, that is where you should start if you haven’t already and ensure you note down the 12-word secret recovery phrase in a safe place. Additionally, get involved in conversations on gaming, start following threads on discord or streams on Twitch because the metaverse is stemmed from the gaming industry. The more you understand the nuances of this world, the better you will grasp the tricks of the new world. 
 
Secondly, get your teams involved as early as possible. If you count Gen Z and Gen Alpha among your team members, it is a huge plus. In many ways, the younger generations understand the connections and the interoperability between the different worlds of the metaverse a lot better & find navigation a lot more fluid. It would be a great idea to hire talent with such interest in the team and encourage them to pilot projects with the larger group. Set up experiments, find ways to explore and incentivise learning. Getting this first-hand experience among teams will go a long way in crafting immersive narratives that are transmedia in nature and on point for brands that you work with. We began our friendship with metaverse recently by launching our own NFT on OpenSea and the experience has been enriching for people across levels. 
 
Now, while you and your team get started, also enhance your understanding of the 3 Cs of the Metaverse - content, community and culture. Content, as we know, is getting redefined in scope, form and function. The metaverse is all about creator control, creator freedom and collaboration. It is all about owning the identity you wish to own. Hence, content on the metaverse is inclusive and diverse. Anybody can create new games, set up a virtual real estate agency or probably become an NFT creator and create their digital avatar. As such, content can take the form of virtual fashion, collectables, virtual billboards on virtual land owned by a user, a virtual influencer or a digital human created by a brand, art that has been created using codes, virtual events like concerts or a whole new experience that is only accessible in a certain virtual environment. The possibilities are new, endless and can be brought alive by a single creator or can be co-created with different creators (including brands) or can be user-generated and not just brand owned. 
 
As content takes on new shapes and roles, the way people interact will also change. One needs to understand that Metaverse is all about shared experiences that are virtual and real, it is not a lonely AR experience from a mobile phone. When people are in a Metaverse event like a virtual concert they can engage with each other in both roles as their digital avatars and through live comments as well. The collective experience gives rise to a different community behaviour, which has different shades from what we see in the physical world. For example, on platforms like Decentraland, it is the community that dictates the rules. The platform in its own words describes itself as a ‘social experience’ where you interact with people in the community and it is governed by its users via a decentralised autonomous organisation called the Decentraland DAO, however, this is just one example. The point to be noted here is that the definition of community on Metaverse is very different from what ‘community’ means on social media platforms, thus, brands must learn to play within the rules defined by the community and not the platform. 
 
With content and community changing, there will be a difference in how culture evolves within the metaverse. Think about it this way - if you could be whoever you want to be and forge a whole new identity and world for yourself, would you not behave differently? This is where definitions of culture as we know will be redefined. There will be new cohorts emerging and people will behave differently as their ‘digital avatars’ from their real selves. In other words, when branding or marketing in the metaverse, the same branding or advertising practices, guidelines, or theories with regard to culture or audience that are followed in the physical world, will not necessarily apply. 
 
As we enhance our understanding of the various metaverse platforms and the 3Cs, it will help us get a better grip on possibilities like sponsored content in virtual games, immersive branded experiences, buying virtual real estate, metaverse events, nurturing or participating in virtual communities, etc. The Metaverse is not just another marketing channel. It is an economy in itself, one where there is a finite money supply and a system of finance, commercial activities and industry. In the near future, as it grows in strength, it will soon have a system of governance as well (if conversations initiated by OASIS are any indication). And just like any emerging economy, the ones who dive in first are always the ones to best capitalise on the growth of the economy.
 
The author is EVP - creative strategy and account planning, WATConsult