What consumers want in 2022 Show me

So you’ve heard about the metaverse, and you want in. That’s okay, you’re not alone.

The metaverse has been touted as a virtual space where consumers can interact and perform almost every activity you can imagine. It’s an opportunity that sounds too good to miss, and we’ve got our fingers on the pulse to help you learn more about it.

Using data from our March 2022 Zeitgeist study, we’ll give you the lowdown on all the latest things you need to know about the metaverse.

We’re talking things like:

  • Who are the early adopters?
  • What do peoples’ current online behaviors mean for the metaverse?
  • How can brands prepare?
  • What will consumers do in the metaverse?
  • What obstacles will it need to overcome to be successful?

Younger consumers will likely be the early adopters

It’s a common assumption at this point that, when the time comes, younger audiences will flock to the metaverse. There’s plenty of truth to that in our data; 42% of Gen Z & millennials are interested in taking part.

It makes a lot of sense. They spend significantly more time online than their older counterparts – using social media, playing video games, and watching online TV in particular. They’re also just more likely to know just what the metaverse is, so it’s safe to assume that the first virtual spaces will be populated by more consumers in these generations.

But that’s not to say Gen X and boomers won’t be using it. While just over 1 in 5 are interested at this point, there are many players in this space, and interest among these consumers could pick up if there are services built with them in mind.

Like social media, dating sites, and message boards, there’s bound to be spaces that appeal to all.

It’s worth thinking about the long-term here. Meta has made it pretty clear that its metaverse will “be created by everyone”. It might take some time, but as new users sign up they’re likely to build unique spaces that accommodate people from all walks of life.

It’s the right time for the metaverse

The internet is pretty cool; you can do a lot on there. People have even been questioning for some time now whether the real world can actually compete with everything it has to offer.

Today, over half of consumers in 9 markets say they actually prefer to spend their time online than in the real world.

Given what people expect of the metaverse, just imagine what this product means for these online-first consumers.

Chart showing interest levels for the metaverse

For those tinkering away at metaverse projects of their own, or brands weighing up the opportunities in this space, getting to know these ‘online-first’ consumers in more detail should be a priority. They’re more likely to be interested in participating in a metaverse, so brands need to understand them better if they’re to create virtual spaces that feel more accommodating.

A good place to start is China and India, where 2 in 3 prefer their online time to real-life.

This is interesting because while there’s a lot of focus on Meta’s project, for example, the likes of Tencent are working in this space too. APAC could be a key growth market for the metaverse before it spreads worldwide.

Because internet access in these markets typically means greater income, this figure is really telling of how appealing the online landscape has become; even with a better quality of life, consumers here prefer to spend their time online.

It’s a different story in the other 7 markets where 69% prefer the real world, but it varies from country to country. In Brazil, for example, opinion is evenly split, while in France and Germany little over 1 in 5 prefer to be online.

But it’s the way online-first consumers act on the internet that brands really need to pay attention to.

These consumers generally describe their online behavior as being less nervous or reserved. They’re also almost on par with the average consumer to say they prefer being themselves online than using an avatar. 

This doesn’t mean they’re different people when they’re online, they’re just more comfortable in being themselves there. 

There’s an important point to be made here about inclusivity. It’s up to the users to choose which version of themselves they want to be in the metaverse, but they will need unrestricted access to different body types, skin tones, ages, and anything that can be represented visibly. 

Consumers want to express themselves online just as they do in real life, and for those who prefer the online setting, these spaces could be perfect to do just that.

Brands can prepare right now using existing online spaces

While there’s no ‘official’ metaverse right now, we’ve spoken in the past about how brands can look at existing online services for inspiration. That usually refers to the likes of Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite – all of which are commonly referred to as metaverses in their own right.

Brands can access these services right now and get to grips with the kinds of in-game creator tools we might see in future metaverses.

There’s vast communities here that brands can lean on – just see for yourself what’s out there on Minecraft or Fortnite, for example. Find something or someone you think resonates with your brand? Then consider partnerships that bring creators to your side. Content creation has become a huge part of gaming, and having someone who understands what their community is looking for can be a huge bonus.

Chart showing online spaces visited by metaverse potentials

Among those metaverse-potentials – consumers interested in taking part – nearly 4 in 10 visited Minecraft in the last month. A further 3 in 10 used Fortnite, while other services like The Sandbox, Horizon Worlds, Second Life, and Roblox, all attract a healthy number of visitors too. The latter is growing at a rapid pace, especially among kids, with a 28% increase in the number of 8-15 year old gamers playing it since this time last year.

Each one comes with their own unique features and activities that speak to different consumers. It’s never too late (or in this case, too early) to brush up on how you can reach gamers more effectively, and bring these lessons to the metaverse.

The concept is older than Fortnite

DJ Marshmello’s in-game Fortnite concert way back in 2019 attracted millions of players, and is often considered proof that campaigns in a virtual space can work.

But was it really the turning point? 

While it’s absolutely recommended that brands use these popular franchises and services to learn more about how the metaverse might look, proof of how online spaces can blossom into communities and branded events goes back a lot further…

Second Life, an online multimedia platform that’s been around since 2003, is still visited by 17% of metaverse-potentials every single month – and its signups are still growing 19 years on. Other long-lived titles like World of Warcraft and RuneScape fit the bill too. Each with their own rich history of in-game, community-led events that not only continue to attract new players, but solidify the potential of the metaverse. 

There is no ‘one service’ that dictates how the metaverse is going to take shape.

What we have right now is a history of unique games and virtual spaces that continue to mold our understanding of how it might look. 

These kinds of services show that the metaverse concept is heavily centered in gaming culture, and there’s so much to learn here that offers brands an important place to do their research.

How agencies can make their metaverse campaigns work

Meta’s keynote presentation in late 2021 is still the closest thing we have to a ‘modern’ metaverse. New information about other services, however, is becoming more and more common, and it’s helping piece together what the final product might look like.

We now know for sure that there will be metaverses with specific audiences in mind – Fortnite creators, Epic Games, recently partnered with The Lego Group to build a metaverse for kids. One that’s “fun, entertaining, exciting, and playful”.

And those are four qualities that it seems all consumers want from the metaverse.

There's more on consumers' minds than shopping in the metaverse.

Metaverse-potentials are most interested in entertaining content – whether that’s watching TV, live events, or playing video games, these are all activities that can be performed in massive online spaces right now. 

Younger potentials are typically more likely to cite these things than their older counterparts, but it varies by country, and 46% of Gen X and boomers are keen to play games too – no doubt boosted by the rise of older aged gamers during the pandemic. 

This is a huge opportunity for entertainment brands.

In 2019, Fortnite premiered a clip for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker via an in-game event, giving us some idea of how this might work. But it’s really the attendance figures that brands should pay attention to – imagine the 41% who want to shop for products rifling through virtual wares all while they watch content. 

On that note, while shopping is no doubt hugely important, it’s not the only way brands can effectively monetize their metaverse presence. Wagner James Au, a journalist who’s been covering the virtual spaces (Second Life in particular) since 2003, has made it clear that brands shouldn’t just build stores in the metaverse. 

“… opening a store there isn’t very exciting. And so you have tens of millions of dollars being spent on these headquarters and a dozen people walk around them, get bored, and leave.”

Consumers are twice as likely to say they’re curious online as they are in real life.

A further 1 in 4 metaverse potentials are interested in simply exploring what these spaces have to offer. For brands and agencies looking to craft effective metaverse experiences, provoking someone’s curiosity might just be how you keep them engaged in cyberspace.

The key here is innovation. Our data shows metaverse-potentials have a really broad range of activities they want to perform. Some want to socialize and meet new people, others want to exercise, or make investments and hold business meetings. This opens the door to a wide range of brands. Consider creating dedicated social spots, gym classes, customizable meeting rooms, or even a virtual stock exchange – there’s so much more to do with metaverse campaigns than building a store and calling it a day.

Brands who bring aboard a creator who knows what their community wants can really push the boundaries of what’s possible here. Or as Au puts it:

“If you give a user community powerful enough creator tools, what they create in these worlds will be far more interesting than anything a major company can officially create.”

Consumers are literally telling brands what they want to do and it’s a whole lot more than just shopping or watching TV.

The major barriers to adoption might not be what you think

Consumers are evenly split on taking part in the metaverse; 33% are interested, 35% are on the fence, and a final 33% are uninterested. We know that metaverse-potentials have many reasons for wanting to take part, so what about the reasons for not wanting to?

Our data suggests the product just simply isn’t all that appealing to certain consumers, leaving brands some work to do in changing this.

Chart showing reasons why some consumers aren't interested in the metaverse

Among those uninterested in taking part in the metaverse, 40% say it’s down to a lack of interest. This is understandable – when consumers know exactly what the product is and what they can do with it, then it’s likely that many will change their minds. As we’ve noted, it’s crucial that brands really push the boundaries here. It’s easier to sell a product that lots of different consumers can get something out of, instead of just a virtual shopping platform.

Likewise, 39% say they’d prefer to stay in the real world. Au notes a similar problem regarding the early days of Second Life:

“I think Linden Labs knew they were opening themselves up to that criticism of people escaping reality”

This is a pretty valid argument. There’s bound to be criticism when talking about creating a utopian, virtual world instead of focusing on our own. But that’s not the aim of the metaverse and marketing needs to address this. 

Then there’s privacy and safety.

Around 1 in 4 cite privacy concerns, while 15% say they would feel unsafe in the metaverse.

Regulating social media is already a key concern for governments and brands, let alone the metaverse. If brands want people of all shapes and sizes to use these services, then they’ll need to make sure they can feel safe doing it. 

With half of uninterested consumers saying they worry about how companies use their data, or how their governments track them online, maintaining open communication about how their data is not only used but protected, will be crucial.

Given these consumers are 28% less likely than the average to say they feel confident using new technology, brands will need to be on hand wherever possible to offer helpful advice if they’re to get around this. 

Consumers’ behavior towards protecting their privacy has been hardened from years of using the internet, but if brands can assure them the metaverse is safe to use, then more will be willing to take part.

Better get meta

Every day we hear more about the metaverse: who’s building it, what we’ll achieve with it, and who’s planning to use it. Rest assured, we’ll be keeping track of these developments as they come, and monitoring consumer opinion to help you get meta-ready.

In the meantime, here’s the key takeaways to focus on:

  • Younger audiences will be the early adopters. Gen Z and millennials have a better understanding of what the metaverse is, and are more likely to be interested in using it. Don’t rule out older consumers down the line though; just as they have their own corners of the internet, the metaverse will need spaces that appeal to them too.
  • For some, the metaverse is a dream come true. There are now consumers who prefer the online setting to that of the real world. With the right tools, it could be the perfect haven for these people to express themselves. This means offering customizable avatars for consumers of all shapes and sizes, but also activities that are more niche than others – not everyone is going to be doing the same thing.
  • It’s not just a shopping mall. While there are plenty of consumers who expect to shop in the metaverse, many more anticipate socializing, playing, and even working in this space. This opens the door to a lot of different brands and services, who can toy with unique spaces offering more than just a place to browse products.
  • Metaverse examples have been around long before Fortnite. Brands should be taking note of the modern gaming landscape to get a sense of how the metaverse might work, but the idea has existed for some time. The likes of Second Life, Runescape, and World of Warcraft have a rich history filled with community-led events that laid the groundwork for how brands can work in this space.
  • Brands can source out partnerships now. While some brands will find content creation easier than others, there are plenty of individuals out there right now who have an in-depth understanding of how current online communities work. Find those who resonate with your brand and enlist them to help build out your space when the time comes.
  • It needs to be safe, but interesting too. The key reason people are uninterested in the metaverse is simple; the idea just isn’t that interesting to them. Things like online privacy and safety will be important once they start using it, but to reach this stage, developers need to think about how varied the internet is, and ensure metaverse activities enhance these things if they’re to attract sign-ups. 
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