Ask 10 different people what the metaverse is and you’ll get 10 different answers. Pretty strange for something that could be worth upwards of $5 trillion over the next seven years, and already has everyone from 10-year-old Roblox players to unageing fashionistas and Fortune 500 CEOs at its behest.
So, what is the metaverse and if it’s going to impact the way we live and work, what effect will it have on partner marketing?
What is the metaverse?
Partly because it’s so new and partly because it’s so nebulous, the metaverse doesn’t yet have a single definition. However, most agree that it’s based on these facts:
- It’s an online digital world where users can immerse themselves in doing everything from working, to gaming, to socialising and beyond. Users can use virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) to fully immerse, but a phone or laptop can also be used to interact within the metaverse.
- Users create avatars that move through a 3D world where they can interact with others and the environment around them. Although some articles state that you don’t need an avatar to interact.
- Facebook (now Meta) describes it as a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you. You’ll be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create, and more.
- There is only one metaverse. It is the total of all publicly accessible virtual worlds, real-time 3D content, and related media connected on an open global network, controlled by none and accessible to all.
- No one owns the metaverse, but some big players could dominate it.
- The metaverse is considered by many to be the next iteration of the internet, where we immerse ourselves within it, not just view it.
Who is using it today?
The metaverse has been talked about in science fiction for over 30 years and the name itself originated in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash. Right now, the metaverse is dominated by gamers, with games such as Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite proving hugely popular. These games have helped normalise the idea of virtual platforms, especially among the younger generation.
This is with good reason, not only are they a great way to connect and have fun but there is now exclusive content that isn’t available or accessible in real life. For example, bands are already playing virtual concerts in Fortnite, with Marshmello and Ariana Grande early the forerunners.
But it’s important to be clear; the metaverse is not just about gaming. Far from it.
While many corporations are rightly cautious (they are still smarting from expensive Second Life investments that have yet to pay off), others are hoping to drive greater competitive advantage by getting in early.
Unsurprisingly, B2C brands, Nike, Gucci, Wendy’s, Coca-Cola, Disney and more are already making huge investments in the metaverse. Samsung has a virtual store, already visited by 120,000 people. Hyundai has designed a theme park where you can design a car – the options are seemingly endless.
But B2C isn’t the only sector making the most of the metaverse. In the B2B world, Deloitte has a metaverse offering called “Unlimited Reality” which provides both a physical and virtual destination. It’s an innovation space where Deloitte professionals and clients can develop and test breakthrough capabilities that leverage virtual worlds powered by enabling technologies (e.g., AI, blockchain, IoT, AR/VR, 5G).
Quantic Digital Bank is a great example of how thinking differently – even if you’re a bank – works best in the metaverse. The bank has an ‘outpost’ DJ set, NFT drops, and a lot of content that is gradually introducing the younger audience to the concept of banking.
Taking this concept one step further is Zelf, the first bank of the Metaverse. Aimed at gamers, Zelf merges NFTs with real-world money and allows users to look after their digital assets and transfer them for real-world spending.
What is the partner marketing opportunity?
It’s early days to start predicting what influence the metaverse will have on partner marketing, but as the number of users grows and the opportunity becomes more defined for businesses, the ability to monetize the metaverse, drive brand awareness and engage with new audiences becomes a reality. Indeed, according to Forrester, more than 75% of marketers planned to invest in metaverse-related activities in 2022.
Here are five ways I think the metaverse is going to change the B2B marketing landscape, and in the process, partner marketing.
- Changing the buying experience
The long sales cycle of the B2B world, with multiple stakeholders and rounds of research, will be accelerated as buyers access more immersive, richer experiences. Virtual trade shows, showrooms, and product demonstrations where your prospects can virtually touch and use your product will better highlight your value proposition and expedite the decision-making process.
- Accelerating and boosting partnership opportunities
Trying to reach 1,000 partners or creating an ecosystem is tricky in the real world, but opening a space in the metaverse where you can offer personalised incentives, give conduct virtual tours or hold marketing workshops to a global audience will become a reality.
Working with distributors, vendors or other channel players to open co-branded experiences to leverage reach and target new prospects over different channels will also ignite new partnerships.
- Creating more immersive customer and partner experiences
Being able to read a prospect’s body language and hold conversations with them while they try your product or services virtually in the metaverse could be a key tool in the marketer’s and sales executive’s arsenal.
Experiences will be fully immersive – the people you are marketing to will understand where how and why your product is different to your competitors. Just like building partnerships on the phone or Zoom, in the metaverse, it will need to be genuine, authentic and worthwhile.
- Hyper-scaled and power-of-one marketing
When Ariana Grande held a virtual concert in Fortnite 78 million people participated over two days. Participants could buy digital merchandise for their avatars to wear, which generated over $20m. This wouldn’t have been impossible in the real world. Hyper-scaled marketing, reaching prospects or partners anywhere on the planet will mean adapting marketing for a worldwide audience.
Conversely to that, one-to-one partnering will also be reenergised – Account Based Marketing in the metaverse could become hugely effective with targeted ads, promotions and incentives that are highly specific to the one account you want to win.
- Thinking creatively
Marketing will need to change. Just like you wouldn’t put the same campaign out on Twitter as you would in an email or through PR, so targeting the metaverse audience will require new thinking. But the opportunities are much more creative and experiential.
Advertising at virtual events, holding What If days (where you can put your product/service to the limit, within your customer’s environment), using your content in new immersive ways, and bringing your brand to life will be part of the opportunity (and challenge) in the metaverse.
What to do now
Like all new technology, some sceptics believe this is just another fad that will head the same way as Beta Max, Friends Reunited and Second Life. And if the rise of social media or eCommerce popularity has taught us anything, it’s that for every Facebook or Twitter, Amazon, or eBay there were 100s before them that no longer exist.
But, to quote McKinsey: “Marketers would be remiss if they didn’t start exploring what the metaverse can offer. Now is the right time to adopt a test-and-learn mindset, to be open to experiments, and to move on quickly from failure and capitalise on success.”
And that’s the real point at this stage in the development of the metaverse – don’t worry about developing a formal full on strategy, just have a look, play around, and get the feel for the way the metaverse works.
In many ways, you need to approach this in the same way as any marketing; do your research, understand what, how and why the metaverse could work for your brand and vitally, understand and properly target the audience you are trying to reach.
Start asking your teams and your partners what they think about it, and how they intend to use it, read about what companies are doing, which strategies are working (and which are not) and keep monitoring the technology so you know the latest developments.
While it may not have a single straightforward definition, the metaverse is here to stay. And if we cast our minds back 15-20 years, I certainly remember mania around another technology that everyone found tricky to define. Today we know it as cloud.
Helen Curtis is the founder of the Coterie Community, a non-profit dedicated to elevating channel and partner marketing by uniting partner marketers from vendors, ISVs, systems integrators and service providers. The community shares experiences, benchmark standards, provide learning tools and holds dedicated partner and channel networking events.