Originally published on Retail TouchPoints
Tech giants like Facebook and Microsoft have gone all-in on the metaverse, based on the idea that it’s the future of digital experiences like gaming, collaboration and marketing. In fact, the parent company of the social media platform renamed itself to Meta — a sign of its confidence in the metaverse.
In case you’re still fuzzy on the details, the metaverse is a 3D, virtual-reality space where users can interact with one another and an infinite number of fictional or real-life computer-generated environments.
With all the grandiose statements made about the metaverse in the past year, many small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) aren’t exactly sure where they fit in. Not everyone has the resources that multi-billion dollar global corporations like Facebook or Microsoft do, so how can SMBs possibly hop on the metaverse bandwagon?
Rest assured, the metaverse is more accessible than one might think. By following a few best practices, small and local retailers can prepare for the metaverse and reap the benefits that come from digital interactive customer engagement.
The Applications of the Metaverse are Limitless — Literally
The metaverse is the next frontier for marketers, offering them the opportunity to blend physical and digital marketing tactics. In the metaverse, brands can post a digital billboard, host events, or even buy plots of land to build storefronts complete with 3D versions of their products.
You may have even heard of metaverse fashion week hosted by Decentraland in March 2022. The virtual event featured catwalks by Dolce & Gabbana and Philipp Plein, a talk by Tommy Hilfiger and a performance by Grimes. Arguably weirdest of all, participants reported walking backstage and stumbling into seamstresses sewing gowns. One might ask what purpose does it serve to have virtual seamstresses “working” behind the scenes? But for many, this encapsulates the main draw of the metaverse: engaging in fully built-out worlds that mimic our reality, without limits.
The metaverse is thought to be the “next goldmine” for capturing the attention of digitally native audiences. The purchasing power of the world’s 72 million Gen Zers already surpasses every other generation. This generation of “Super Creatives” are more likely to engage in social commerce than older generations. In fact, 75% of Gen Z shoppers have purchased a digital product within a videogame, and 60% believe retailers and brands should sell their products within the metaverse.
Unfortunately, small retailers have typically been behind the times when it comes to digital innovation, losing customer dollars to bigger brands with more cutting-edge marketing. For example, more than half of the average corporate marketer’s budget went to digital media before the pandemic. In contrast, local marketers were still spending about two-thirds of their dollars on physical ads and direct mail — only catching up when the pandemic forced more marketing online.
SMBs need to start thinking about the metaverse now while it’s still in the early stages, so they’re prepared when the right opportunity presents itself. While we have metaverse-like experiences today — including games like Fortnite or Roblox — an actual, fully realized metaverse is still a few years away. But it won’t be very long before it’s commonplace. In 2021, the global metaverse market was estimated at $38.85 billion. By 2030 it’s expected to skyrocket to $678.80 billion.
Start Small and Build Your Way up to the Metaverse
The metaverse represents a major opportunity to capture the attention, dollars and loyalty of younger generations who crave digital, interactive experiences. Joining the metaverse may seem overwhelming at first — but by taking small steps, you can gradually work your way up to a full-fledged offering. To start your metaverse journey, consider following these four steps:
- Learn about the metaverse. Good news! By reading this article you’re already on your way to understanding the metaverse. But don’t stop there. You can’t unlock the potential of what the metaverse has to offer without a thorough understanding of what it is and what’s possible.
Continue your education through virtual courses, articles and books. Check out resources from metaverse advocates like Facebook and Microsoft. Better yet, try out the metaverse firsthand through a virtual reality headset or metaverse-like video game. This experience can help you start to think about the metaverse from a consumer’s perspective.
- Embrace multichannel marketing. If your digital marketing efforts are limited to only a bare-bones website and email newsletter, you’re probably not ready to join the metaverse. It’s important to take baby steps to build up to a metaverse offering — both for you and your customers.
To dive into the metaverse, you need the digital know-how to successfully navigate a complex digital landscape, measure your offering’s performance and tweak it along the way. Additionally, the same audience that’s interested in the metaverse will also be interested in other digital experiences, like engaging with your brand’s social media, app and ecommerce platform. If customers see an ad for your business in the metaverse, they’ll be surprised if they can’t digitally engage with you in other ways.
- Elevate your content. The metaverse is a predominantly visual experience and your digital content needs to measure up. Otherwise, you’ll look like a dinosaur trying to navigate New York City: out of place, clumsy and outdated. Customers will spend their time with more visually appealing content and brands.
Take time to consider the types of videos, imagery and graphics you’d want to feature in the metaverse. For example, if you’re a furniture retailer, you may want 3D imagery of your products and an immersive showroom. While you’re not jumping into the metaverse tomorrow, it’s never too early to start the ideation process so that you have an idea ready to go when you do take the plunge.
- Form strategic partnerships that challenge your comfort zones. As a small business owner or marketer at a medium-sized retailer, you likely juggle many roles and responsibilities. Dedicating time to learn about, plan and spearhead new initiatives may be quite difficult. But innovation is key to staying relevant and meeting evolving customer expectations. When Facebook came out in 2004, many marketers were hesitant to try it out. But the businesses that took the risk to advertise on the social media platform achieved impressive gains in new customers and revenue in a short time period.
While the metaverse has yet to prove whether it’ll stand the test of time, you’re never going to know if an offering is worth it unless you try. Consider partnering with digital marketing agencies or consultancies that push the boundaries of your business. They can help you plan and execute experimental initiatives, like a metaverse offering or advertisement.
Marketing is Always Evolving. Will You Mature Along With it?
If you still haven’t completely bought into the metaverse, just think back to a decade ago. Marketing looks very different than it did in 2012 as brands have adopted new tactics like social media marketing, influencer marketing, experiential pop-ups and more. Today, we’re on the cusp of another major shift in reaching and engaging customers.
We’re still in the early days of the metaverse. But when the biggest players in tech are pouring this much money, resources and time into something, society is bound to take notice. In 10 years, marketing in the metaverse could be as ubiquitous as branded content or paid online advertisements.
As you dive into the metaverse, be sure to adopt a test-and-learn mindset. Set aside some budget to take risks as you explore the possibilities of our whole new (virtual) world. The brands that prepare for innovation today will be able to make the most of the metaverse tomorrow.
Matthew Marx is CEO and Co-founder of Evocalize, developers of the Evocalize Collaborative Marketing Platform. Evocalize technology connects businesses to execute marketing programs together that are not possible on their own. Marx has spent over 20 years at the intersection of marketing and technology and has a particular passion for using technology to make great marketing simple. Prior to founding Evocalize, Marx served on the senior leadership team for Austin-based marketing technology company Bazaarvoice, with London-based strategy consultancy PA Consulting Group and with Oracle Retail’s software group. He has helped set advertising standards with the Interactive Advertising Bureau in New York and has an MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.