During Campaign US’ recent Tech Talks: The Metaverse, Down to Earth event, a panel of experts explored the technologies that power the metaverse, from blockchain to NFTs to Web3, to help brands develop marketing strategies that can help them connect with consumers in this new marketplace.
Panelists offered some definitions of these new spaces and how they differ from each other. “The metaverse continues to evolve, but at its simplest level, it’s just a place where people can socialize and interact in virtual spaces. It’s the future of how we think about social media today,” said Joy Ghosh, VP of marketing, Above Premium Beer & FMB North America, Molson Coors. “Web3 is the underpinning technology that helps power it.”
Isabel Perry, director of technology at DEPT, a digital agency that helps global brands such as eBay, H&M, Eurovision and Sprite enter the space, described Web3 as a technical revolution in which new models are being built for software, internet businesses and networks. A cynic might call it a “blockchain rebranded.”
Perry defines the metaverse as a merging of VR and AR that will create an “experiential revolution, the next platform after smartphones.” Her company is currently working with Thai company T&B Media to build a metaverse called Translucia to rival Horizon Worlds that will go live in 2025. “It's baby steps toward an immersive, experiential marketing play,” she said. “We're moving from an attention economy (eyeballs on Facebook) to an experience economy. Most brands aren’t building metaverses, so you have two options at the moment: either pay for your brand to be on someone else’s game or experience or build a proper experiences, platform-first.”
Kristi VandenBosch, president, Oliver U.S., a firm that advises Fortune 100 brands on a path to activation in the metaverse and NFTs, believes the interoperability aspect of the metaverse will be the most important emerging trend to accessibility. “That is its promise and its potential, but right now the Decentralands of the world, where so much innovation will take place, are really small,” she said.
Panelists agreed that while spaces such as Decentraland and Sandbox are interesting emerging spaces, they are not where most consumers are today. “Sandbox and Decentraland are amazing spaces, but we’re still in the early adopter phase, you’re talking about thousands of users. Those spaces will grow as the technology, awareness and adoption expands over time, but we’re still a ways away from seeing scale and reach,” said Ghosh.
The experts said that currently, gaming platforms such as Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft are a good testing ground for how brands might eventually market in the metaverse.
A fundamental difference in marketing in the Web3 space, explained Perry, is that brands are “not building an audience, they are building a community.” Rather than chasing an audience and a performance metric, this space is best used to create loyalty through experiences and NFTs.
Perry said she’s closely watching how the Starbucks NFT strategy translates in that space and is also interested in partnerships, such as Nike’s acquisition of RTFKT. “They’ve already had nearly $200 million worth of NFT sales and created brand love,” she said.
Tokenization is also an aspect that interests VandenBosch. “It’s been such an interesting evolution. This could replace Salesforce. When you do big CRM programs with big enterprise technology, imagine if you had lightweight digital objects that lived in a wallet as simple as a browser window and you were able to continually do things as marketers in those wallets, like give people coupons or reality experiences, help them locate the product in a store, ask them things in the form of surveys,” she said. Companies such as SmartMedia Technologies are already taking this approach, she noted.
But the new technology has its challenges and pitfalls. When brands go into spaces to connect with consumers, they want to know who the consumers are. “The promise of a Web3 in which identity is your own and you control it versus Facebook where literally all of the data on the user is not yours is the challenge that brands are going to have when thinking about how to activate there,” said VandenBosch. “In a truly decentralized world of multiple metaverses, we’re not going to know who we’re targeting anymore.”
Brands must also have a strategy for building a community. “If your goal is to drive reach and audience, it’s probably not the right place to invest. There are other more efficient ways to do that,” said Ghosh.
Molson Coors recently experimented in the metaverse with the launch of the Meta Lite Bar timed to the Super Bowl. “It was about learning, getting our reps in and understanding how we can do things like age gating. It was successful from an earned perspective, a lot of discussion and culture and social, but the actual reach among the audience in Decentraland was still pretty small,” he said.
The company also turned to the metaverse to extend existing brand activity. “Miller Lite has a partnership with J Balvin for a streetwear collection, BodegaWear, which we dropped online and virtually at the same time. It was a way to take something we were doing in real life and creating utility around that community over time. We're still trying to build a playbook on how brands can grow and invest in the space,” he said.
One of the most interesting concepts in the NFT space, said Perry, is Gabriel Leydon’s concept of a new blockchain-based business model dubbed “free to own.” “It’s this idea that giving NFTs out for free is how you build your community. I’m really excited about that. I think that’s where the space needs to go,” said Perry. VandenBosch agreed that it’s a “great way to reward people for engagement, not just a transaction they make.”
Brands should be looking to the metaverse as a place to experiment to learn. But Ghosh advised that brands need to have a long-term vision and strategy. Brands that have been most successful are brands such as Burberry and Gucci that have continued to invest in that community, working with artists and collaborations to build out their experiences and continuing to bring in new content and new ways for their community to build over time, he said.
“We’re working on a fashion game in Roblox for Black Friday that takes tropes we know work on pre-existing Roblox games like Wardrobes and Race courses and building out an experience which is platform first and native to what users are already doing. That's what success will be,” said Perry.