Welcome to the Metaverse.
The Metaverse represents a massive shift in how, as a technocratic civilization, we advance technology. Although there is no universal definition yet, the metaverse is most commonly described as a shared virtual space that allows users to maintain a persistent identity across all platforms, not just for entertainment and connection, but also to participate in the global economy. Understand and succeed in this new ecosystem, businesses will need to take a new approach to preparing for what’s next. For inspiration, many look to existing virtual worlds (e.g. Decentraland, Fortnite, The Sandbox) where brands are already marketing products and providing experiences. However, it is not enough to understand the current technological parameters.
We have to start by thinking that Web 3.0 and the metaverse will present a huge opportunity for brands to create and celebrate new forms of engagement, from playful rewards to immersive experiences. Driving education and awareness around these virtual worlds will position brands as trusted partners with internal and external audiences from day one. But this significant opportunity does not come without risk.
For brands, the inherent danger is in failing to employ a safe, meaningful and long-term communications strategy in a world that will no longer be limited just to entertainment and games, but also to professional work environments and our everyday life. A full range of communication risk mitigation and issue management strategies will continue to be needed, but they will need to be adapted and augmented as this new environment continues to develop and bring new risks, ranging from privacy and data security issues to cybercrime and money laundering. .
In the metaverse, we will see new types of identity theft, new types of fraud, and new types of intellectual property challenges, where copyright and trademark infringement, substitution, counterfeiting and false advertising will all be more complex. Even who has a claim against whom and for what can become more ambiguous, especially if laws lag behind technology. When the hacker has an entire metaverse to play in, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks can grow catastrophically.
All of these risks mean that, for brands, thorough planning of crisis communications, protocols, teams, trainings and simulation exercises will be even more important. The same will be done to ensure a fast response that is always active. Success will depend on close monitoring, smart data analysis and diligent stakeholder management.
Embracing the metaverse cannot be achieved by simply replicating what you have done on other platforms. The metaverse is an activation channel. Just as it has taken brands years to perfect their social media strategies and map audience journeys through digital touchpoints, it will take a new approach, time and the right talent to determine the best paths in this new world. environment.
The metaverse is not a “mirror universe”, utilitarian or modeled on reality. Nor is it a substitute for real-world patterns and norms of behavior. Think about how communicating with avatars in an interactive environment could change things for brands: an integrated communication strategy will need to consider new audience personas, new data, and potential issues. Issues like trolling, bullying, and hacking take on a new dimension, as do ways to find connection and community.
So how do brands plan for real-time metaverse engagement? When could their reputation be at stake? Or when their audience hijacks, pirates or alters marketing programming? One tactic is to recruit internal defenders, usually employees, into a metaverse platform to learn, engage, and defend. An autonomous and diverse “metaverse force” is a valuable tool for generating the social and cultural intelligence needed to harness the good of the metaverse while proactively mitigating risk.
The organizations currently involved in the building blocks of what will eventually become the metaverse are already thinking about the foundations of a regulated framework. The premise of the Metaverse is that VR headsets, along with haptic gloves, immersive audio, and sprawling 3D worlds are merging and maturing to the point where we might begin to “live” the habits and needs of real life: shopping, meet colleagues, create complex designs, learn new skills, all in virtual worlds.
As more brands begin to enter this space, the creation and evolution of virtual environments, employee engagement as an additional option to new hybrid working models, training and cross-functional collaboration will be essential to the long-term success. Over time, every organization engaged in the metaverse will need to respond and pivot, from monitoring and engaging in real-time customer interaction, to working with regulators to develop robust standards that enable innovation and the growth.
Development will be continuous. While metaverses are currently small and isolated to discrete platforms and industries, over the next three to five years this technology will grow to span industries, transform audience behaviors and eventually replace the way people interact and communicate. .
Stakeholders in the metaverse are no different than those in existing digital and social channels. The real question is whether leaders, managers and contributors are willing to step up to support brand reputation and self-policing in times of crisis, or whether the voice of consumers – and trolls of the metaverse – could turn into brand identity? This is a complex new dimension of communications planning.
Much like the AI, the Metaverse has had a slow arc. And, as with AI, we have now reached a point where technology is less of a barrier to entry than societal issues. Technical obstacles can be circumvented or resolved over time. However, as societal issues are sure to come first, the success of activating brands and organizations will largely depend on their cultural and social intelligence.
In the meantime, brands, businesses, and organizations need to understand the many potential risks of venturing into the metaverse, such as: fallout from poorly designed marketing experiments; reputational risks and rewards; activation of competitors and first-mover; employee discovery and engagement, DE&I; legal concerns, including commercial, contractual and intellectual property; communications and storytelling disconnect from poor channel planning.
Existing protocols covering crisis management, intellectual property rights, licensing and data protection are a good starting point, but they will require frequent updates in an environment in which it will be extremely difficult for legislators to keep pace with innovators. While comparisons to the “early days” of the Internet can be helpful, the technology enabling the metaverse is developing much faster than Web 2.0. People’s behaviors and attitudes towards technology have changed dramatically during Covid. Unified communications platforms like Teams and Zoom won people over almost overnight. Cash has pretty much given way to cards, transfers, and crypto.
People’s expectations have also evolved. In the wake of cookieless advertising, permission requests and violation reminders have heightened customer awareness of their ability to seek clarification and navigate brand messages to the consumer.
This is an opportunity for progressive brands to take a proactive stance and engage with the public, understand their needs and share their policies transparently. At the same time, however, the accumulation of so much data can come with increasing obligations to respect and protect it.
It can be interesting for all brands to paddle in the shallow end of the metaverse pool, creating closed or niche environments to test programming, marketing and communication strategies. They can slowly invite in outside stakeholders and potentially simulate various scenarios before diving deep into the ocean of the metaverse.
Brands and businesses need to decide how much risk they’re willing to take to experience it, as well as establish who their audience will be. As disparate groups enter and test this new reality, the companies’ “meta-maturity” – how knowledgeable and purposeful they are in the meta-universe – will be critical to their effective communication and engagement. .
Since this is uncharted territory, the best way forward is through collaboration, centered on the human experience. This means engaging with those who have already actively participated in and shaped various iterations of this new ecosystem. There is no doubt that the metaverse will enable amazing applications that will enrich our lives, expanding what it means to be human. At the same time, there are very real dangers that need to be managed and addressed.
The best way to enable these experiments while preventing risks is to continue to work for transparent developments by vigorously participating in the formation of public policies. A strong public affairs and government relations strategy will be needed to ensure not only a meaningful voice in the debate, but also an influence on its outcome.
Many questions remain around the metaverse. If one thing is certain, it’s that the metaverse approach will require flexibility and agility, trial and error, and several pilot projects. But brands need to start preparing. Only then will they be prepared for the many opportunities the Metaverse is bound to provide.
Michael Frohlich is CEO EMEA and Head of Global Transformation at Weber Shandwick.