Everyone’s talking about the metaverse these days, although the concept is not actually new (it was first talked about in 1992). But even though the idea may be decades old, the CX opportunities it offers businesses really are novel – as we showed in a recent webinar with Boston Consulting Group and One Digital Nation.
Following up on that webinar, here’s our guide to the key facts, opportunities and challenges brands need to know in order to be masters of the metaverse, using it to transform their CX and differentiate themselves like never before.
THE METAVERSE: WHAT IS IT?
Practically speaking, the metaverse is best characterized as an ‘always-on’ 3D immersive and interactive virtual environment where people can work, play, socialize and shop.
There are various approaches to creating this new environment, from pure players such as Decentraland and Sandbox to existing giants like Meta’s Horizon Worlds. As the ecosystem evolves, the metaverse is raising a key question about the prevalent business model on the internet: will the web keep being driven by advertising or are we at the dawn of a new model?
The metaverse is part of the global transformation of today’s Web 2.0 into Web 3.0, which will be completely decentralized as blockchain develops and applications appear like cryptocurrencies and NFTs. While all of these technologies are connected, it is not yet known how each will eventually evolve. But what is certain is that their creative and immersive possibilities allow brands to transform their CX.
ARE WE THERE YET?
During our webinar, we asked participants how close at hand the metaverse was: almost half (48%) thought it very close, less than five years away. The important thing to remember on any timings is that no one is going to wake up one day and find that, lo and behold, the metaverse is here (or that Web 2.0 is history)! It’s all about evolution and a progressive shift. After all:
- Video game platforms like Second Life, Club Penguin (both in the 2000s), Pokémon Go, Fortnite and Roblox have already given millions of people a foretaste of the metaverse.
- Many artists such as Arianna Grande and Travis Scott have done huge virtual concerts on Fortnite or Roblox.
- Figures for 2021 from various metaverse platforms show that Fortnite had 285m monthly users, Roblox 202m, Zepeto 20m, and Decentraland and Horizon Meta 300k each.
While the evolution of the metaverse has, to date, been driven by gaming, we are now seeing a surge in new usages and use cases.
NEW USE CASES IN CX
Metaverse use cases are emerging in various sectors. Music is historically among (if not the first) sector where disruption emerges (remember Napster?), but initiatives are flourishing as well in the fashion and luxury industry, with new opportunities to design immersive and innovative experiences to foster brand engagement. A few existing examples of CX in the virtual world illustrate the range of possibilities:
- Lil Nas X’s 2020 Roblox show attracted over 33m people in a weekend; what stadium could offer that?
- In the luxury and fashion industry, initiatives are flourishing. The Gucci Garden on Roblox attracted 19 million visitors, while Ralph Lauren, Zara and others have created virtual fashion collections on Zepeto for users to dress their avatars. Dolce & Gabbana organized the first ever Metaverse Fashion Week last March.
- Carrefour has acquired an area equivalent to 30 supermarkets in the metaverse.
- McDonalds has filed trademarks and patents for virtual restaurants that will not just sell virtual burgers and NFTs but deliver actual burgers to actual homes.
- The financial services sector is also entering the metaverse, with JP Morgan and HSBC announcing land acquisitions to open virtual branches in Decentraland and the Sandbox, respectively.
- The sport industry has also shown strong interest in leveraging the metaverse to further increase brand engagement. Real Madrid has created a virtual Bernabeu Stadium, offering fans the ability to walk through its corridors. It will also use digital avatars and multimedia translation tools so that fans in different territories can interact. PSG is also building its metaverse environment, aiming to leverage NFTs for multimedia content, sell digital products and even provide crypto wallets.
The common theme across all these and many other examples is that clever use of the metaverse allows brands, firstly, to extend their engagement with fans / consumers / clients to new levels, and secondly, to reach people they may not access through traditional routes.
Another use case is based on the greater effectiveness of learning in an immersive space compared with the real world, with McKinsey & Co highlighting the fact that the 18 weeks it used to take to train a new recruit to repair a helicopter has been shortened to 10 weeks by giving each new recruit a pair of VR goggles. This “in effect gives them their own private helicopter to work on”. One reason posited for the power of immersive learning is that virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) stimulate the parts of the brain dedicated to memory and emotion.
TRANSLATING THIS INTO THE CX
Taking all of this into account, the CX possibilities are vast, reaching across every stage of the customer journey. One obvious example is for brands to design differentiated and gamified experiences to increase brand awareness, taking into account that brand engagement will be driven by consumers themselves, as part of the growth of the creator economy.
Another option will be to boost sales by using the metaverse as a new sales channel, for either virtual or physical goods. A third option will be the offer of more immersive and personalized customer care and technical support options. Data collection via these metaverse engagements can also be used to extend customer knowledge, creating a virtuous circle for brands that use data well.
In all cases, now is the time for brands to adopt a test-and-learn mindset and to be open to experimentation.
CHALLENGES TO OVERCOME
To capture these new opportunities, brands and their partners face a number of challenges, in addition to the technological barriers that currently limit mainstream adoption.
The first relates to the moderation and regulation of content in this new complex, decentralized world. It may be that regulation of behaviors may be needed instead, in which case there are questions over who will determine which behaviors are acceptable.
The second relates to trust. Issues such as data privacy and security, protection of minors and scams all need to be managed well if the metaverse is to be seen as a place for positive rather than negative experiences.
The third relates to interoperability, or the ability to transfer digital assets across multiple worlds. With the metaverse still evolving and different players pulling in different directions, we do not yet know which platforms or economic models will prevail. Without interoperability, consumers could lose out.
MERGING THE OLD AND THE NEW
Like we said, we’re not going to wake up one day and find that all of us have embraced the metaverse. Gen Alpha and Gen Z may inhabit it with ease and enthusiasm while other generations may get there slowly or partially but still prefer to interact with brands via bricks and mortar, social media or voice.
For brands, this means one word: omnichannel. Even more than now, consumers will want to switch seamlessly between channels according to the occasion and their own preferences – from chatbot to WhatsApp, from virtual to voice, from avatar to human touch.
Now more than ever, brands will need expert partners, innovators, makers and creators to help them pioneer and manage the CX possibilities of the metaverse. We look forward to helping them with that.