Googling the word “Metaverse” is an insightful activity. Top of the billing at the moment are news stories documenting the brands that are eyeing the opportunities that the Metaverse might bring, such as Gucci’s new Sandbox gallery and store.
Next up, is a link to Facebook – good SEO! And then a whole bunch of articles from the likes of Time, The Verge, The New York Times and The Guardian all explaining what it actually is and do we need to care?
And therein lies the question – do we need to care?
As marketers, we’re all terrified of missing the boat, of not being a part of the next big thing. In fact, if we were to do a study into FOMO levels among professionals, marketers would certainly be near, if not at, the top of the leaderboard.
Take for instance the advent of t’interweb back in the late 1990s. Many marketers dismissed its transformative potential. Instead of seeing it as an active, doing media they applied “old skool” thinking that led to an Internet conversation that depressingly revolved around traditional metrics as media and creative players attempted to get us to watch their uncut ads…when all we wanted to DO was book a train ticket or not have to pour over a hard copy map book for half an hour planning a route when driving somewhere unfamiliar.
Sadly, I am old enough to remember all of this very clearly. I was doing my Masters at the time and investigating the future of e-publishing (yes, that once existed!) for my dissertation. And one brand’s response to the Internet was standout and has stayed with me since – Chanel.
They had the foresight to buy all the right real estate – www.chanel.com etc – and they put up holding pages. They were minimal with the logo and an image of the brand’s signature Camelia alongside a message along the lines of “we think the Internet is going to be amazing, but it’s not good enough for us yet”.
A very brave, yet ultimately farsighted brand approach. An approach it appears to maintain today. During the pandemic it invested $1.1bn, a record level of capital expenditure for the brand; at a time when its rivals and most other organisations were stripping out spend as much as possible. It is not only bolstering in-store experiences but also experimenting with digital channels such as launching an app that connects customers directly with fashion advisors. Its latest financial results recorded double digit growth.
After the initial excitement of the web, a few years later we saw the same land grab for Second Life. Every man and his dog was setting up Second Life stores, even ad agencies were setting up virtual Second Life shops – with little regard of whether the platform was right, or indeed right at that time.
When something new comes along, strategy flies out of the window in the rush to be first. And for some this devil may care approach can work – Nike tends to always be an early adopter to everything – it was on Facebook within a few months of it launching, same with Twitter, same with Second Life and in December it bought a virtual show company that makes NFTs; aiding its foray into Roblox and gearing up for its Metaverse debut.
However, taking a considered approach does not have to be damaging. KFC was actually the first brand on Facebook, McDonald’s took a lot longer, not joining the fray until late 2009 – did the gap of 18 months damage the business, the bottom line or the brand? No. But when McDonald’s did join the platform it did so in a very considered and brand appropriate way with the added bonus of learning from the mistakes of others.
It is interesting watching the approach that different brands are taking with Metaverse. As already seen we’ve got those that are beating down the metaphorical door for access, but you’ve got others like LVMH who are taking a much more considered approach.
Bernard Arnault announced that brands should be wary of the ‘bubble’ and the hype. He is waiting to see what will be the applications of the Metaverse and NFTs saying “it can undoubtedly have a positive impact – if it is done well – on the activity of the brands, but it is not our objective to sell virtual sneakers at $10. We are not interested in that.”
Quite right too.
Selling $10 shoes is not what LVHM is all about and it would damage its real-world brands. And herein lies the key. The Metaverse is simply another channel. It is not standalone. Therefore, as with all media it has to fit into the omnichannel experience – or risk devaluing everything else you are doing.
You have to identify how your brand translates into the Metaverse. If you sell energy drinks in real life, sell rocket pack energy boosters in the Metaverse – that makes sense. Once you have your value proposition you can map out your Metaverse strategy, align it to the overarching marketing plan and ensure that the value exchange is firing on all cylinders across all channels.
The Metaverse is exciting and it does present some really interesting opportunities for consumers and brands; it’s also a bit terrifying when you start drilling down into it, but that’s a whole other article. It may be new, but what is worth remembering is that it’s the same old theory that underpins it – CRM. You can’t escape providing relevant value to your audience – without that you’re one NFT short of a blockchain.
Simon Calvert is co-founder of The Thread Team