In this op-ed, The Pistol’s strategy director, Shaunn Anderson (main image), argues that no one understands the metaverse now, but he argues that when it becomes mainstream and brands need to prepare for it, they will…
An old interview with Bill Gates from 1995 has recently surfaced. It’s an amusing exchange on The Late Show with David Letterman, in which Gates tries to explain the idea of the internet to his host. Letterman is unconvinced and openly scoffs at the idea, but admits that “it’s easy to criticize something you don’t understand”.
The joke is obviously Letterman’s now, but you can’t judge him for his naivety at the time. The internet was a new concept to most people, and it was difficult for non-nerds to navigate. Even Gates himself could not have fully appreciated the transformative impact this would have on our lives for years to come.
Fast forward 27 years and there are many parallels as the third iteration of the Internet, Web 3.0, takes shape. Web 3.0 represents a move toward greater decentralization and interoperability between Big Tech and emerging players, rewarding users at the top and spawning immersive virtual realms known as the “metaverse.”
Much of the hype is met with an equally big head-scratch about this new digital ecosystem, the Metaverse. Will it have the same transformative impact? If so, how?
The Metaverse is still the Wild West today – a virtual world inhabited by technology pioneers and the earliest early adopters. It has a growing mix of experimental use cases, mostly in gaming and entertainment. The development of technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) needed to access and experience the metaverse is still quite cumbersome and in its infancy. No OEM has cracked the code yet, although some are on the verge of doing so.
And like the internet in its early days, no one really knows how the metaverse will unfold, what the full extent of its transformative potential will be, or which companies and brands, if any, will dominate.
But make no mistake, the Metaverse is going to be mainstream, and probably sooner than you might expect. User growth follows a similar trajectory to the introduction of the Internet in the 1990s. Bloomberg estimates the market will grow to $800 billion by 2024 and over $3 trillion in a decade. Apple – never one to release a half-baked product – is slated to launch a VR/AR headset early next year.
What does this mean for brand leaders?
One benefit of living through two Internet evolutions is that brand marketers better assess the consequences of complacency, learning from the sad fates of Kodak and Blockbuster Video, among others. What we are seeing today is more like FOMO. Brand leaders know the Metaverse is coming, and they’re eager to dip their toes in its virtual waters.
Our advice is to lean in and experiment, but proceed with caution. For all the promise of the metaverse, there are dangers, not least the inflated costs and uncertain returns of early participation. Important structural, technical, legal, ethical, and other considerations are miles away from being resolved, if at all considered. There are important privacy and security concerns such as: B. the potential tracking of users’ eye movements and facial expressions, which could allow brands to more effectively manipulate our emotions and behaviors. Guardrails are needed, and until they are in place, brands will want to ensure they operate on the right side of public tolerance, lest they erode trust and loyalty.
Brands in the meantime should definitely consider ways to get involved, and there are some relatively inexpensive ways to do so. Offering interactive AR experiences is a great first step for corporate brands rather than jumping right into the big spooky Metaverse. Limited-edition NFTs to reward loyalty or hosting events in virtual worlds are other examples. But return opportunities, positioning and risks should always be weighed.
As Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent. It’s the one that’s most adaptable to change.” The same goes for brands in the metaverse.