Thinking

Navigating the metaverse

A few months ago, we introduced you to the potential opportunities that the Metaverse has to offer via our Firefish Futures Instagram page.

Since then, there’s been a lot of talk about this new digital realm – from marketing execs, tech giants and within wider public discourses – some being more enthusiastic about this new venture than others. If the main sentiment has any truth to it – that physical life as we know it will be drastically transformed by our extension into a virtual existence – then this will undoubtedly transform society in some profound ways.

However, whatever the metaverse is, it doesn’t exist yet, at least not in the form that has been speculated about amongst the general buzz. What does feel novel about this potential form of virtual reality though, is the opportunity it poses to elevate users’ personal expression, with detailed modification functions that – at their best – can inspire creativity and bolster inclusivity.

If we look at what’s already happening in the metaverse, it is building in evolving in earnest. Brand collaborations within Roblox’s virtual immersive experience offering are flourishing, for example, with the likes of Gucci and Hyundai transcending into their own virtual spaces. Embracing the opportunities that more gamified metaverse experiences can have, Louis Vuitton developed their own NFT adventure game to celebrate its second centenary.

NFTs (or Non-Fungible Tokens) are essentially purely digital collectables, uniquely identifiable (and transferrable) by the power of blockchain technology verifying their authenticity. They can be purchased online and worn on digital avatars or hung up in virtual homes. If this all sounds like you might be expected to think your real-life home counts for aught, you wouldn’t be alone, but the creative industries are often the first to explore the possibilities and opportunities technology can offer us all in the long-term, helping push things into the mainstream. This is why we see many businesses like LVMH, Red Bull and Nike not only developing unique NFT collections but also creating collections that span both physical and digital worlds.

At this stage in the game, we think it wise to take a step back from this initial metaverse frenzy, and home in on how brands can use this world to their advantage. One thing is for sure: most people are still going to come across your product or brand in a physical context. The real world will still exist for a long time yet and, even if the time comes when the real world isn’t the favourite, it will still be there in an adjacent form to the virtual one.

Nonetheless, we believe that there are a few initial takeaways for brands to bear in mind as they attempt to traverse this virtual landscape:

  • If we’re realistic about our future involvement within the metaverse, it makes more sense for brands to be cognizant of an emerging (marketing portmanteau alert) phygital brand experience, to broaden the offerings of existing retail spaces. In other words, creating something where the virtual and physical connect with one another symbiotically. See Charli Cohen x Selfridges for some great inspiration on this, combining Selfridges’ physical retail offering with a completely virtual Pokémon-themed space. As we know, staying true to your brand is part of its authenticity and connection with people – so that has to happen no matter which world it exists in.
  • As with broader shifts in the digital landscape, collaboration and co-creation will be deeply valued within these spaces. It’s not just about investing and owning an entire section of the virtual world and shaping it as your own but encouraging collaborations with different brands to combine your strengths. Balmain and Barbie’s recent collaboration which features a ready-to-wear fashion and accessories line – along with three NFTs – hints at the potential in these collaborations. While it can be hard to want to control every aspect of your brand, it is a well-known truth in the digital age that people want to (and will, even if you don’t want them to) remix something to make it a little more “them”, so going with that in line with your brand is an interesting and exciting space to explore.
  • Gen Alpha are almost beyond ‘digital native’ in a sense – they are a uniquely phygital generation – and the metaverse presents brands with new prospects to connect with them in a place that they are also shaping. It allows brands the opportunity to develop new, exciting formats and platforms to signal their status and cultural cool. For example, last November, global superstar Justin Bieber held a 30-minute meta-universe concert on the virtual music platform Wave. While it can be said that that is easy for someone like him and his label to do, especially off the back of Travis Scott’s pioneering concert in Fortnite, it does show that what is possible in a world where Bieber himself is considered an “older” artist. Brands can use the metaverse as a way to aid their reinvention or renovation.

At Firefish, we believe that a crucial distinguishing factor for success in this arena is discovering what elements of the metaverse have high value for specific people – namely your brands’ people. It will be about catering to them with innovative & immersive experiences and virtual content that stays true to you as a brand, while connecting with them in the best and most authentic way possible. It’s about branching away from the conventional and mundane – not just for the sake of it but instead –  to take people on a journey, into a niche, elevated environment that possesses high enough experiential value for them to be able to invest in (and make worthy) the technology that permits their entry into the metaverse.

As with all new marketing channels, you need to have a clear stance on its role for your brands. LVMH’s CEO is thinking just that right now, after its initial dalliance into this new frontier.

So, if you want help making sense of all this – including how it is showing up in the world, your category and its adjacent, helping inform how it might work for you and your brands – why not get in touch and talk to our cultural insight team?

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