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Marketing in the metaverse is like setting up a website in the earliest days of the internet, or hanging up a dusty wooden shingle in the 19th century Old West. It can be extremely difficult to know how much time and resources to invest in a venture that is highly experimental in nature and far from guaranteed to yield financial success or meet many other key performance indicators (KPIs).
That’s how the current conventional wisdom might have it, at least, exhorting people to practice caution and circumspection over something so nascent, so unproven, so forbiddingly opaque (at least to some).
The reality, however, is that mid-size and large companies with an interest in establishing a long-lasting relationship with the younger half of the millennial generation and Gen Z really shouldn’t be thinking about marketing in the metaverse as a hypothetical to wring their hands and hem and haw over.
As Facebook’s massive rebrand and $10 billion investment in its own metaverse attest — among other large, blaring indicators — many of the keenest, most powerful minds in technology are betting that this is not some passing fancy or pandemic-fueled phenomenon but rather the natural evolution of the internet itself. Because of that, executives and entrepreneurs should be taking its wide-open, nearly limitless marketing possibilities very seriously. Below are several of the most significant challenges I see companies facing as they start to brave this digital terra incognita.
1. Deciding which metaverse to market in
The first challenge is also the most obvious one. Despite popular misconceptions, the metaverse is not a single place. Rather, it’s an ecosystem of immersive virtual worlds that are all competing to host users, events, play-to-earn games and everything else that makes these platforms such exciting alternatives and complements to physical reality. There are currently several major players in the space, including Decentraland, Sandbox and Roblox. Prospective advertisers should study each of these platforms and develop a working knowledge of their respective demographics, land costs, growth opportunities and monthly users before deciding where to target their meta-marketing push.
Roblox, for example, generally caters to a younger demographic, and companies should be aware that spending advertising dollars in that particular metaverse will be going toward exposure to tweens, teens and early twentysomethings. Decentraland, on the other hand, is positioning itself as a platform for adults interested in major, inimitable events like the Metaverse Fashion Week it held in late March.
Over time, the distinctions between these platforms will probably only increase, making it even more imperative that companies do their due diligence in choosing their virtual landing spots.
2. Understanding the means of engagement
This is perhaps the trickiest and most important challenge companies and advertising firms currently face when approaching and interfacing with the metaverse. The logic and logistics of marketing in places like Decentraland and Sandbox are dramatically different than they are in the physical world, and the gap can be explained in these simple, concise terms: Metaverse users want an authentic experience.
This is not the world of billboards, commercials, print advertisements and banner ads. That era of marketing, which is still very much with us, did not try to disguise their advertisements as anything other than unambiguous attempts at attracting your eye and getting your business.
But the world of marketing in the metaverse is different, less about one-dimensional showcases for your product than the creation of imaginative, highly-interactive, three-dimensional experiences. Let’s take a particularly germane example: Gucci Garden.
In May 2021, the Italian fashion label hosted a two-week virtual space on the Roblox metaverse platform. As they entered Gucci Garden, Roblox users transformed into naked, faceless mannequins. Going through each room in the exhibition space, which featured courtyards, garden parties, subways and other “levels” reminiscent of traditional video games, the mannequins gradually absorb features of their surroundings.
By the end of the experience — which also included hidden items like dresses and sunglasses that users could buy with Robux — your temporary mannequin avatar is festooned with vibrant colors and patterns that reflect the experience of traveling through Gucci’s strange and occasionally enchanting venue.
While Gucci Garden is by no means some kind of dazzling adventure with resplendent graphics and thrilling gameplay, it is a relatively impressive example of how companies can treat metaverse users to a living, breathing event that is far more dynamic than traditional marketing techniques.
Marketing in the metaverse means launching auctions, opening exhibitions, hosting parties and generally giving users and their avatars something intriguing and unprecedented that they’ve never seen before. Whatever industry you’re in or products you’re looking to elevate, conceiving of something like that will prove to be a significant but wholly worthwhile task.
3. Gauging performance
KPIs include everything from financial measurements like net profit, revenue and sales to customer-focused metrics like customer retention and satisfaction. Suffice it to say, marketing in the metaverse is not going to lend itself to many of these KPIs at this point in the ongoing evolution of these infant platforms. Instead, companies and their executives should be focused on one measurement above all others: engagement. The more users companies are able to engage and entertain through their marketing experiences, the more successful the venture should be deemed.
While a KPI like “clickthroughs” to your Web2 website may eventually become an important measuring stick, right now it’s enough to succeed at the level of brand awareness in these virtual worlds. In several years, when millions of people will be congregating in Sandbox, Decentraland and Meta’s forthcoming metaverse Juggernaut, the companies that have been diligently cultivating engagement for the longest will be in an excellent position to start introducing a trove of other KPIs.