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In an era of technological advancement so rapid that each iPhone upgrade brings a raft of attributes that would, just a few years before, have been viewed as magic, it may sometimes seem as if we have no need for further technological enhancement.
That may not matter. Like me, you may have been thinking hard of late about the metaverse for professional reasons. And like me, the news coming out of the big tech earnings calls this week regarding investments in this nebulous concept may mean that the word “metaverse” autocorrecting to “meatverse” is just one of the smaller considerations to take on board in this new world. So here are ten things I think you might need to know:
- Be prepared for the coming of the metaverse. Right now, when you are likely not actively engaged in it, you need to be prepared to apologize often for accidentally typing “meatverse.” Like almost everyone right now, autocorrect does not fully “get” the metaverse—it’s like NFTs last year or epidemiology in 2019. Nevertheless, the metaverse is now a big enough thing that everyone in the selling-things-to-folks business, not just fashion and gamer brand marketers, needs to be thinking about it.
- You need to understand what the metaverse is. For the sake of simplicity, let’s think about it as a created visual environment that’s persistent—i.e., one that continues to exist and be used when you aren’t there, which will have changed when you come back to it and where you can interact with other people, even if they are currently identifying as a Burberry-dressed cartoon elf.
The metaverse is loads of things right now. Let’s look at the fashion industry as an example, since that sector has been killing it in the metaverse for a couple of years now. The metaverse can be a Prada store in Animal Crossing selling this season’s collections. And a Balenciaga game. And an elf in Honor of Kings wearing collectable Burberry. It could be $17 digital Gucci sneakers for “wearing” on Instagram. And collectable Beeple NFTs in a Louis Vuitton mobile game and Dolce & Gabbana launching an NFT collection.
With many of these, the original idea, coined by sci-fi author Neal Stephenson, of the metaverse—a concept that fully blends digital and physical existence—probably doesn’t apply. If an NFT can be owned by a physical entity, then sold for physical money, but only ever exist in a free, brand-owned game, does it ever cross between digital and physical? It probably doesn’t matter.
- It’s super fast-moving because it’s evolving, and because brand integration in this world is being driven by fashion brands that are good at making things that were cool two minutes ago feel old and unsophisticated. If last year it felt exciting and fresh to find Ganni dresses for Animal Crossing, this year you need to have a point of view about whether Burberry’s limited edition $299.99 NFT Sharky B in Blanko’s Block Party is worth it.
- Even if you don’t want to, you are probably going to have to engage with the metaverse. Facebook recently announced that it is spending “billions” on a dedicated metaverse product stream, with Mark Zuckerberg saying, “In the coming years, I expect people will transition from seeing us primarily as a social media company to seeing us as a metaverse company.”
Meanwhile, Microsoft talked about “the enterprise metaverse” for corporate computing on its conference call with analysts earlier this year. Additionally companies including chipmaker Nvidia Corp. and game makers Roblox and Epic Games have all laid out plans for building various iterations of the metaverse.
- The metaverse is kind of clunky right now. It needs money to make it look great. As we can see, that’s starting to happen, and as money pours in, the metaverse will only increase in shininess. It may create a world that looks realistically like our own, but the metaverse can look like anything. With companies like Facebook getting heavily involved, that is scaring some people.
- Regardless of the current level of clunk, it’s probably best to not overthink the metaverse and just start making things. Creating a presence in a fashion driven, evolving, technologically-led landscape is important. It’s only by making and taking part that you’re going to learn how to respond to the speed of change and the speed at which trends and ideas move through this environment.
- The metaverse might end up like The Matrix, with heavy centralized control, or it might not. Maybe it will be more like the Weyland Yutani branded dystopia of the Alien films or be ruled over by benevolent overlords, like the monobrand world of Ready Player One. Or it might be none of these things because it’s really up to you. If you work with brands, the imminent arrival of the metaverse into all our lives means you personally are about to get the opportunity to make the future a place in which you want to spend more time.
- The Spiderman Rule applies to the metaverse of 2021: with great power comes great responsibility. Today’s metaverse is in a malleable state. Now is the time to develop a brand point of view on how you want to tackle issues around equality of access and representation, what sustainability means to your business in the metaverse, what ownership means and what responsible stewardship of a new shared resource looks like.
- The dawning of a new era of technology means there is an opportunity for a different model of incentivisation to be created. In The Extreme Self, the latest collaborative effort from Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Shumon Basar, an anonymous online user is quoted describing their job as, “I harvest likes for a Siberian troll syndicate.” That’s a job that exists because it turns out we are bad at incentives. Now is your moment to make sure that the metaverse equivalent of this job doesn’t come to pass.
- The metaverse is FUN. Download Louis the Game, sign up to Decentraland, check out DressX and maybe buy some digital drip for the ‘gram. Consider spending $300 to be a Burberry shark. This is the time to play and enjoy a huge new canvas that has opened for creative minds all over the world. Sure, it’s a work in progress, but it’s a fun work in progress that you can help to create.