Most people still have only a vague idea of what the metaverse is — and this shallow understanding only seems to feed the sense of urgency and fear of missing out on opportunities in the metaverse.
“...in just a few months, the metaverse has gone from a term of speculative sci-fi to a ubiquitous concern of marketers and tech companies looking to tap into a market that could grow — according to particularly sunny estimates — to $800 billion or even more than $8 trillion.” — Chris Kelly, reporter, Marketing Dive
But do agencies and their clients really need to get in on the metaverse immediately? What do you need to know about it? And what should your agency be thinking about from a new business perspective?
Understanding the landscape
Understanding of the metaverse remains low because it is more of a future possibility than a current reality—and it’s estimated to be years away.
At the same time, key technological aspects of the metaverse (such as immersive worlds and augmented and virtual reality) do exist and are not especially new. This combination of circumstances has caused some to conclude that the metaverse is overhyped or flat out “bullshit” (PC Gamer). And it can all seem a bit ‘emperor's new clothes-ish.’ Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the metaverse is TBD.
The metaverse is a nebulous concept that people are just grasping at and trying to define. Even some reporters don't seem to be doing much better with it than the rest of us. The "experts" may know more than a layperson, but they seem to be figuring it out, too. To a large degree, it appears we're all "newbs," collectively defining what the metaverse will be and waiting to see how it unfolds together.
Uncertainty isn’t stopping people from pouring money into the metaverse. These investments are speculative; people are betting that it will be the “next big thing.” Many compare these early days of the metaverse to previous digital transitions, like the internet, social media, and mobile. Tech industry insiders, particularly, see the metaverse as “the internet’s successor” (TechTimes).
For agencies, the expectation is that the metaverse may be the next major marketing channel, a magnet for culture and economic opportunity.
“I don’t think agencies can ignore this new space. You know, we went from print advertising in the 90s, and then suddenly social media came up, and everyone went, ‘oh my god, we need a social media strategy.’” — Charles Hambro, CEO of esports and gaming consultancy and data platform GEEIQ (in Digiday)
Does the metaverse present a new specialization opportunity for your agency?
Some organizations working with brands in the metaverse aren't agencies at all. As Alexander Lee writes for Digiday, virtual brand activations "are often designed by in-game developer studios" on "proto-metaverse platforms like Roblox and Fortnite." Lee adds that some activations are "designed and implemented entirely by developers, without agencies' help."
“The emergence of in-game studios [that essentially act as metaversal agencies], and their ensuing brand partnerships, has created competition for traditional agencies.” — Alexander Lee, reporter, Digiday
New agencies are positioning themselves as metaverse specialists, and holding company agencies have already introduced metaverse-specific practices (The Drum summarizes the biggest players here). Expect more to follow. These new organizations are drawing heavily on gaming and tech talent.
Where does that leave everyone else? The opportunity for "traditional agencies," according to Simeon Edmunds, svp and creative director at Mediahub, is to "continue to do what they do best: connect brands with creators and their audiences…help brands with cross-platform campaigns, not just platform-specific activations…[and understand] what makes strategic sense for [the brand]" (Digiday).
There is still great potential for agencies to attain high visibility in this niche (my Google search returned more articles than agencies on page one results). But is it a fit for you?
Agencies might consider:
- Should your agency be first in line to help brands navigate the metaverse? What role makes sense for your agency to play in this transition?
- Do your clients’ brands really need to be in the metaverse now? Are there unique and relevant opportunities for your clients based on their industry, audience, or values?
- How will your current service offerings intersect with the metaverse?
- Does it make sense for your agency to launch a specialized metaverse practice area, or can you tap partner resources from your network as needs arise?
- Is your team meta-”versed” enough to have educated conversations and competently advise clients about potential opportunities on these developing platforms?
- How would you acquire the knowledge, skills, and talent to support a metaversal offering for clients?
- How do your agency’s values intersect with the metaverse in terms of sustainability (for example, carbon footprint and DE&I)?
What should agencies be doing now to stay ahead of the curve?
For most agencies, now is a good time to put some resources into exploring the metaverse. There’s no better way to understand avenues of potential fit for your agency and clients. Additionally, it will be advantageous to have a baseline familiarity with these virtual worlds to add value for clients and keep up with metaversal specialists in cross-platform campaigns.
Here are some suggestions:
- Spend time in different established immersive worlds (like Roblox and Fortnite) and decentralized communities (like Decentraland and The Sandbox) to understand how people interact and where brands may (or may not) fit.
- Consider approaching the metaverse as a cross-cultural experience. A better understanding of user communities can lead to more appropriate and impactful participation for brands.
“[Brands] need to be much more participative, collaborative and understand the culture and be able to reflect the culture.” — Tom Hostler, head of brand experience, Publicis.Poke (in The Drum)
- Think more critically and creatively about what the metaverse might become and how brands might show up in it. A virtual storefront that recreates the "in real life" experience may not be big enough thinking.
- Conduct small-scale experiments, experience the metaverse and learn from what others are doing there.
- Exercise caution while the metaverse and its guardrails are still being defined.
How can agencies help brands succeed in the metaverse?
- Help brands understand the metaverse and what opportunities it may (or may not) hold for them. It’s a long-term opportunity to build relationships with consumers in a new environment — not a new channel to blast out interruptive, irrelevant messages.
“Some brands recognize that it may be years before they activate publicly on the metaverse; they also need a strategy and internal road map that charts a course to the digital, 3D world, with a focus on education, the development of workflows and pipelines, and stakeholder management.” — Rosh Singh, managing director for EMEA, UNIT9 (in Marketing Dive)
- Understand what is appropriate and welcome in these evolving landscapes and let that inform your work.
- Consider what your agency and its clients can contribute to the positive evolution of the metaverse. How should your agency values and clients' values be reflected in the metaverse?
- Understand the unique considerations for protecting IP in the metaverse.
- Help brands understand whether (and where) it makes sense to buy or rent virtual land in the metaverse — or hold off for now.
- Help brands create relevant virtual experiences that parallel and connect with real-life experiences to drive customer engagement. (For example, a purchase of virtual goods in the metaverse can be connected to IRL experiences or exclusive offerings for physical goods, as Asa Hiken writes in AdAge.)
- Help brands create content for the metaverse, including virtual representations of their products. A new report from Vice Media-owned agency Virtue Worldwide (via The Drum) reports that 94% of their survey’s global respondents ‘foresee digital fashion becoming mainstream.’ On average, survey respondents expect nearly half (46%) of their wardrobe to be virtual five years from now.
- Think about how brands can show up in the metaverse in ways that haven’t been imagined yet.
“As agencies, the strategic value that you could provide to clients is to not restrict the thinking about the types of possible applications. Don’t get caught up trying to force the way products and processes are set up in current mediums. Think about totally new opportunities.” — An unnamed agency exec on advice from Meta’s team (in AdAge)
What if the metaverse fails to live up to the hype?
It could happen. The commonly-cited points of comparison for the metaverse (internet, mobile, and social media) were widely adopted and thus became game-changers. Another important point of comparison, though, is Second Life, a virtual world that was heavily hyped in 2008 and failed to live up to the promise (BBC).
“Back then, people saw those brand failures [with Second Life] and concluded that the metaverse isn’t real or ready for primetime. I fear that might happen again. But the problem is not the users. It’s these companies not meeting these metaverse communities halfway. They’re bumbling their way into the community instead of finding ways to fit inside the community and make use of the platform to bring the magic to life.” — Wagner James Au, journalist (in The Atlantic)
Many well-known brands created spaces in Second Life, but mistakes were made, says Wagner James Au, a journalist with deep expertise in virtual worlds and Second Life (The Atlantic). “Remember, this is a world where you can fly and instantiate things from nothingness,” he says. “Nissan or IBM opening a store there isn’t very exciting.”
The metaverse's potential could be ruined if profit-focused parties don't stop to understand the space. Or the tech may not live up to expectations. Or, failure to build adequate guardrails and safety measures may hold it back from becoming what it should be. Perhaps most likely, the "meta" in metaverse won't be realized as various stakeholders create walled worlds and platforms that don't connect to a whole.
Should you let these uncertainties stop you from diving in? For most of us, it's not a question of whether we should jump in but how deep we want to get just yet. With all of the money being thrown at it, the metaverse’s success seems inevitable. Where do you envision your agency in it?
- Lessons from 19 years in the metaverse (The Atlantic)
- The metaverse has a customer experience problem. Here’s what needs to be done (The Drum)
- What’s the role of an ad agency in the metaverse? (The Drum)
- How (and why) agencies are adapting to stay relevant in the metaverse (Digiday)
- Agencies' metaverse practices ramp up in preparation for new digital age (Marketing Dive)
- Is the metaverse just marketing? (The New York Times)
- The metaverse is bullshit (PC Gamer)
- What is the metaverse, and why is it worth so much money? (gamesindustry.biz)
- How to use industry trends for agency new business (The Duval Partnership’s Agency New Business Blog)