Metaverse is the hot topic at the moment and some of the most common questions circulating are what does it mean, how can brands get into it, and what value is it bringing back to the business? Rest assured, there is some method behind the current meta madness. Gartner has just predicted that by 2026, at least a quarter of the population will be spending at least one full hour a day in metaverse, whether in education, work, shopping, or the near infinite other suggestions being used for this string of virtual worlds.
By: Matt Brown, SYZYGY
The same Gartner report predicts that 30% of brands and organisations will have products and services in the metaverse over the same period. Following a few pandemic-induced years of marketing budget stagnation, the concept of bespoke and infinitely malleable virtual worlds overcomes both lingering concerns over real world experiences for consumers, and offers a tantalizing blank creative canvas to be explored.
In search of purpose
In the rush to take full advantage of this emerging opportunity, is enough time being spent to assess the purpose behind the presence? We have seen time and again that brands that are aligned with their audience's needs, and who use this intelligence to design truly meaningful, distinctive and salient experiences, are the ones to benefit from sustainable growth. Our own Experience Design research consistently supports this focus for our clients, proving over and over that a combination of emotional connection and salient communication of brand USPs are powerful drivers of repeatable growth. As numerous brands launch NFTs, sell online skins and open stores in purely virtual spaces, it is essential that these new tactics are based on sound strategic foundations. That has to start by taking a sober look at existing online channels.
When it comes to all things meta, human Experience Design is required from day one to avoid creating and proliferating the poor, fragmented user experiences that currently exist between websites, smart device UIs and apps. Adding a dash of humanity into the user experience design of metaverse interfaces could be a game changer — gaining digital skills within the metaverse and accessing devices to participate and be an active member of the community for all, rather than just for a savvy few. The world has seen numerous new app and online experiences being crafted in short spaces of time over the last few years by necessity, but not always synching up to support a holistic or consistent brand experience.
Thoughtful on the approach
This careful consideration about approach to metaverse strategy needs to go beyond accessibility and UX concerns. Businesses need to assess their already complex customer pathways and journeys and understand clearly what, who, and at what point they are trying to influence decisions. Brand consideration, or direct purchase? Early forays into meta have come from fast moving retail brands, often specifically looking to sell virtual products such as skins or build brands like John Lewis’ Fortnite presence.
We are much further down the custom journey rabbit hole these days than previous expectations of a linear purchase path. Many brands understand that customer journey mapping is more a question of thoughtful influence and nudging rather than a step by step process ending in sale. Being clear about the intentions and expectations of metaverse activations will be central when it comes to properly assessing effectiveness. Without this vision, even the smartest ideas and activations risk existing purely for their own benefit, instead of feeding a wider brand strategy. The key, even in this rush to engage in virtual spaces, will be consistency.
The Metaverse stands at the point where planning laws should be established, to address learnings from Web 2.0, VR and AR. Takeouts from the early Metaverse should also be (re)investigated — founders like Phil Rosendale of SecondLife have been open with their breakthrough learnings that helped virtual environments to evolve to their current status. Without guidelines, we’re starting Internet 5.0 off with the same issues as 1-4. Setting off without proper planning can and has fueled disparate user experiences and interfaces with device compatibility issues, and propagating a further divide for the communities that stand to really benefit from greater virtual services. On a brand basis, this will not only better define the metaverse playing field, but also encourage a strategic thinking standpoint when it comes to creative executions and their effectiveness.
Let’s not lose the power of human interactions when translating experiences from the physical to the virtual (and back again). The ‘A’ in AR was always the powerful element — it was not about replacing physical with virtual, but rather ‘Augmenting’. For our Experience Technology arm, the focus of innovation is to solve ‘Meta’ problems by thinking big, and positively impacting clients' categories and communities. It is in the combination of these tech superpowers with Experience Design, Creative Technology, and Media that we can ensure customer interactions in the Metaverse tie back to meaningful objectives. Without this link back to CX objectives, this era of fast paced metaverse exploration risks casually admitting defects and inconsistencies into digital experiences which could lead to UX cracks becoming caverns in the Metaverse.
Matt Brown is Managing Director UK and US at SYZYGY.