The metaverse—unknown to all but a savvy few just a short time ago—will increasingly be yet another FOMO opportunity for consumers, especially younger and, very possibly, influential ones. From using digital tokens to buy limited-edition gear and accessing an exclusive digital experience, to buying a parcel of virtual land, the question is no longer “what can you do in the metaverse” but “what can’t you do?”
According to Gartner, 25% of people will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse by 2026. For retailers in particular, it’s time to create a strategy for shifting into these emerging platforms, which present entirely new ways to connect with customers and build deeper, more meaningful relationships with their existing base.
But with virtually limitless possibilities to create new experiences and immersive events, companies may find their journey stalled as they decide what exactly their strategy will be and what platform to execute it on. Here are four best practices for crafting a flexible and adaptable strategy that will ensure an engaging, original, creative and authentic metaverse presence.
The concept of the metaverse is a persistent, borderless, virtual world that allows users to seamlessly socialize, work, shop, game, attend live events and trade on any device at any time. In reality, however, instead of this seamless experience, the metaverse is actually a disparate set of platforms, applications, games and experiences that support a wide range of use cases for unique target audiences, using specific and, at times, specialized technology.
While these platforms will likely see some level of convergence in the years to come, it’s less likely that the landscape will ever consolidate to a singular platform given the unique nature of each use case and the consumer base it caters to.
For this reason, metaverse strategies should focus on current opportunities, while building capabilities and functionalities that can be adapted as the landscape evolves and grows.
In the race to execute a metaverse strategy, some brands may think they should replicate the in-person customer experience digitally. For example, a fashion brand might think its first move should be to create a digital version of a dress for avatars to wear. But the truth is, avatars have been around for decades, as have digital clothes. To engage and entice digitally savvy consumers, retailers need to move beyond such a basic tactic.
Instead, that same fashion brand might design an experimental collection using unconventional materials with unique properties. These looks could be unveiled at a digital fashion show and sold as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). This strategy stays true to the brand, but also creates new experiences and touchpoints for digital consumers.
In short, the metaverse is more than just a digital showroom. It’s a place to build brand awareness with a new audience through interactive experiences or develop new partnerships and campaigns. It’s a place to educate and engage consumers through unexpected, immersive events or experiences. It’s a cornerstone of the digital value economy and digital ownership marketplace for NFTs and other blockchain-enabled assets, which can be integrated within games, virtual worlds or digital events.
For example, luxury brand Louis Vuitton recently created a digital experience that is part history course, part scavenger hunt to celebrate its 200th anniversary. Players can follow Vivienne, the game’s protagonist, as she travels around the virtual world, collecting NFT candles to signify key events within the brand’s history—and also hunt for NFTs of their own.
Since there are many disparate platforms that exist today—each with a specific user base and capabilities—selection can be a complex endeavor.
To that end, it’s important to realize that the optimal platform will depend on the goal of the campaign and who the audience is. Retailers that want to raise awareness through education will not have success on the same platform as those that want to sell an existing physical product. Likewise, a brand that wants to reach a new demographic or change its brand perception through a gaming platform will not be able to implement the same strategy as one that wants to launch an awareness-building campaign. This means retailers may need to build a presence on more than one platform if they are developing multiple campaigns with different goals, targets or audiences.
While the platform landscape within the metaverse is crowded and potentially confusing, one of the worst things brands could possibly do is bypass navigating the landscape and instead build their own platform. That would not only require an incredible investment of time and resources, but it would also require the untenable step of attracting people to that specific platform, the likes of whom will be narrowly defined.
An increasingly important part of being a leader in the metaverse is being a responsible brand.
While the rules of the metaverse are being designed in real-time, brands need to be mindful of how they will operate in this new arena. Are they protecting the privacy of their users? Is data security built into the strategy from the outset? Are they compliant with all relevant regulations? Is ethics the foundation or an afterthought?
Now that some social media giants have been exposed for their activity—or, more accurately inactivity—around issues like data privacy, user safety and social responsibility, consumers are acutely aware of what to look for when signing on to a new platform. Where there was once blind trust or lack of knowledge, issues like personal data use, data privacy and community safety now prevail. For brands, this means creating not just sound campaigns but also engaging with platforms that share their commitment to these values.
Crafting an engaging, effective and secure digital experience within the metaverse will require careful consideration, significant planning, new expertise and, candidly, a bit of bravery.
While the metaverse is still growing, it is without question that this platform will be a critical part of every digital commerce strategy in the months and years to come. Organizations that wait for more clarity around which platforms to focus on or how to best engage consumers will not only miss a valuable opportunity now but will also cede ground to competitors willing to invest, experiment and evolve.
That’s why it’s important for retailers to begin developing an agile and flexible digital strategy now, even though it will certainly need to be adapted in the months and years to come. Because the race to the metaverse is on, whether you’re in it or not.
This article was written by Duncan Roberts, Senior Manager in Cognizant Research and Alexis Scobie Anderson, Insights and Strategy Lead in Cognizant’s Digital Business & Technology practice.
For more information, watch our webinar, Connecting with the Next Generation Consumer in the Metaverse.