Looking back, it’s funny to imagine a time where anyone would doubt the potential of the internet or social media.
But that’s exactly what happened.
In 2000, UK newspaper the Daily Mail asked if the internet was a “passing fad” that “millions” were giving up on. The Irish Independent posed the same question of Facebook nine years later.
Today, that same doubt is being aimed at the metaverse; on the one hand it’s an idea that will change everything. On the other, it’s “an amorphous concept that no one really wants”.
So which is it?
While the first ‘real’ metaverse isn’t here yet, we’ve done research into both sides of the argument to give you the low down on its potential. Using our Core dataset and our November 2021 Zeitgeist survey, we set out to answer the following questions:
- Just what is the metaverse?
- Are consumers actually interested in it?
- What are the potential benefits?
- What are the future obstacles?
What exactly is the metaverse?
The term ‘metaverse’ was coined in the 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash; taking the form of a colossal, spherical planet that users access through virtual reality technology. It has shops, real estate, and its inhabitants typically choose an avatar different to their real-life appearance.
If so, that’s probably because a lot of these ideas already exist in gaming.
Fortnite is perhaps the most well-known example – players have been going to concerts and buying branded merch in-game for some time now.
We already have some evidence that the metaverse will build on these qualities. In late 2021, Meta revealed a first look at its upcoming service, with VR, avatars, and virtual activities all on show. For the time being, it’s the best example we can give of what a metaverse might look like, and we’ll lean on it where we can.
There’s plenty of pop culture influences too, think films like The Matrix to Ready Player One, but only time will tell what the finished product looks like. Even existing VR services like Decentraland, although a similar concept, are only rough examples rather than ‘true’ metaverses.
These spaces are almost certain to change in the future; the internet doesn’t look the same as it did in its infancy, so why should the metaverse be any different?
Consumers are keen to give it a try.
In 9 markets, knowledge of the metaverse is split almost equally into three groups: 33% who understand the concept, 37% who have heard of it but aren’t sure what it means, and 30% who aren’t sure at all.
Awareness (in any capacity) drops off significantly among those aged 45+ – just 18% are aware or familiar with the term – but we can take this as a promising sign the metaverse isn’t just a service built with the youngest consumers in mind.
What really matters is whether consumers are willing to take part.
Over half of consumers say they are interested in participating in the metaverse, with 1 in 3 of those who haven’t heard of it before still said they wanted to be involved.
It’s definitely a concept that has appeal.
This is super important because there’s always the possibility that the first metaverse might not meet everyone’s expectations – full of activities for one audience, but unappealing to others. Thankfully, there are many companies working in this space, so there may be more than one metaverse to look forward to.
In this pre-metaverse stage, it’s important for brands to familiarize themselves with early adopters; even if we know little about what it will actually look like, we can get an idea of the individuals who will use it.
First and foremost, they’re status seekers. Just shy of 1 in 3 say standing out in a crowd is important to them and they’re 18% more likely to say brands should help them improve their reputation. The gaming landscape is full of examples here; loads of games reward their players with exclusive content when they complete a limited time challenge, or offer in-game content for those who pre-order games ahead of release.
Meta, after buying a number of gaming studios and tech start-ups over the past few years, is in pole position to build on these characteristics. When its metaverse rolls out, it can lean on its battle royale title, Population: One, to entice newcomers with content that stragglers won’t have access to.
Future would-be participants are also community-minded; over 1 in 5 buy products to access the community around them.
Exclusivity may be important but they want to find others like them in order to showcase this. Platforms like Discord, Reddit, and Telegram (popular with this audience) have become powerful touchpoints for brands to build niche communities more easily.
The bottom line here is that these individuals don’t want to miss out on the latest thing – why should brands be any different?
The metaverse already has a lot to live up to.
It’s interesting that consumers are so eager to take part in something they know so little about.
Information might be thin on the ground but a key takeaway from Meta’s presentation was that the metaverse would be a highly social space; one where consumers can “learn and collaborate in ways that go beyond what we can imagine.” It’s safe then to see the metaverse as a new form of social media, meaning it’s never too early to nail down the most important social media trends.
If this is the case then the metaverse would be revolutionary; 98% of global consumers use any form of social media, with a further 58% discovering new products through these platforms alone (the likes of ads, blog posts, branded social sites etc).
If the metaverse can capture even a fraction of this engagement, then it’s hard to find a reason to not be involved.
And like social media, it’s likely we’ll have many metaverses to choose from down the line; offering diverse platforms with specific niches and target audiences that expand the playing field for brands.
But let’s look closer; what do consumers think the metaverse will accomplish?
It’s difficult to talk about the metaverse without mentioning gaming. We’ve already mentioned how the likes of Fortnite shaped the building blocks of this concept, but other titles like Minecraft and Roblox have made a name for themselves in this space too.
As such, the general consensus is that the metaverse will mostly benefit gaming. Namely making online play more popular, improving the social aspect, or making it more accessible for newcomers.
With 84% of consumers playing games on any device as of Q3 2021, a gaming-centric metaverse could attract a solid user base.
The bottom line is that it’s hard to imagine a metaverse that doesn’t appeal to gamers in some form or another, where massively multiplayer spaces have been established for some time. Brands eyeing up this opportunity should take the time to brush up on gaming campaigns – particularly since over a third believe the metaverse will give them opportunities to get into the gaming landscape.
The metaverse might often be imagined as a gaming space first and foremost, but its impact on content creation shouldn’t be overlooked. We can’t just focus on what people expect the metaverse to do for them, but what people are expected to do with it.
Online gaming may be the thing that has consumers most excited but hopes that the metaverse will make content creation easier or more prominent is also a powerful incentive for taking part (41%). As the gaming industry’s tie to the creator economy continues to strengthen, companies should pay close attention to influencers in search of new partnership opportunities.
Brands shouldn’t wait around before doing this; there’s nothing to suggest that in-game brand spaces will work the same way in the metaverse. It’s time to stake out partnerships now, and brands can do this by observing the kinds of communities potential participators are already a part of.
Nearly 1 in 5 of these consumers say they use a paid-for site for following creators every week. That should put small creators on brand’s radars but also highlight the importance of sites like Reddit, Discord, and Telegram Messenger – platforms we already know to be popular with this audience.
Start here. Observe the kinds of content others are creating in existing virtual spaces and zero in on those that best align with your brand. When the metaverse does arrive, those who took the time to research these fandoms will be more prepared.
No-one knows what the metaverse, or metaverses, will eventually look like. But we do have clues as to what drives the people that might use it. The more brands can align themselves with them, and the online communities they’re part of, the more likely they are to find success.
We’ve been getting ‘metaverse-ready’ for a while.
Gaming and content creation shouldn’t be the only talking points of the metaverse. Its perceived impact on the way we work and shop also make for popular discussion online.
We can get a clearer picture of what kinds of activities the metaverse will improve on by observing those already interested in taking part.
Nearly 6 in 10 global consumers prefer shopping online to in-store but, among those with an interest in participating in the metaverse, this figure rises to just over 2 in 3. Even after the majority of the world has exited some form of lockdown, ecommerce tends to be the preferred option.
Likewise, 42% of potential participants attend weekly conference calls. Offices may be open once again but, with the mass adoption of hybrid working, translating business calls to a virtual setting doesn’t feel too far away. Our work data only backs this up further, with the number of professionals who say their company broadly permits remote working having grown 20% since Q1 2019.
Convenience is key here; a third of all consumers want brands to simplify their routines so the need to shop, play, and socialize seamlessly should be firmly within the goals of the metaverse.
Once again, the best example of this in practice is the Meta presentation – Zuckerberg plays poker with his friends, he receives a call from someone outside the group, and goes to meet them almost instantaneously.
Now imagine this, but bigger. Consumers attend work meetings in a virtual environment, meet up with them for lunch, and leave work to catch their friends at a virtual concert, play a game or do some shopping. Sounds far-fetched? In the last month, a third of would-be metaverse participants played games with their friends online, while 19% watched an esports tournament.
Even if just 12% of these consumers play games on VR, our data suggests this is changing quickly – since Q2 2020, the number of global consumers who do this has grown 67%. The technology is even gaining ground outside of gaming as businesses experiment with VR as an alternative to ‘traditional’ conference calls.
There’s still a way to go, but imagining routine online behaviors in a virtual world is sounding more feasible every day.
Privacy and tech adoption could prove important obstacles.
Despite all the talk of the wonderful things the metaverse may achieve, the concept is still very new. We can certainly gauge consumer interest and discuss the activities they intend to take part in but there are still obstacles in the way.
VR adoption, as we’ve pointed out, is still in its early stages.
Even if ownership is on the up, these devices will need to be more commonplace before populated virtual spaces can take shape. This is likely to change as more industries experiment with the technology but the major barrier here is still cost – those who play VR games are 41% more likely to be high-earners.
Still, the metaverse could be the push needed to catapult VR to ‘must-have’ status and convince consumers that the cost is worth the trade off.
Privacy is also crucial. Among those interested in participating in the metaverse, 36% worry about how companies use their personal data online, while 23% worry about the government tracking them.
The internet has certainly hardened consumers’ behavior towards protecting their privacy, but if brands can assure them that this space is safe to use, more will be willing to take part – and buy the necessary tech to access it.
Fortune favors the bold.
Hindsight can be quite a bitter thing.
What if you’d sold books over the internet in 1993, started a YouTube channel in 2005, or livestreamed yourself playing video games in 2011?
Nevermind if you missed the opportunity to do these with the internet, you could be the first to do them in the metaverse. It’s still early days, and there are plenty of obstacles to overcome, but with consumers largely interested in taking part, it certainly has the potential to succeed.
For brands eyeing up the metaverse, take this time to nail down the lessons learned about social media and gaming. It won’t necessarily be a simple blend of the two, but both will be major influences.
One of Covid’s big lessons for marketers was the need to be agile, and plan for different scenarios. Noone can say with complete confidence if the metaverse will be a fixture in people’s lives in ten years’ time, but if it does, then it’s worth remembering:
- There is no right or wrong answer – yet. For the time being, we can only speculate how the metaverse might look. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; marketers effectively have a blank slate to draft campaigns but will need to pay close attention to new information on the metaverse as it edges closer to reality.
- There are opportunities for all. Gaming is already a key talking point of the metaverse but things like shopping, working, socializing, and live events also need to be taken into account. This opens the door to plenty of brands but for the metaverse to take off, users will need to be able to do these activities simultaneously. If not, then there’s little incentive to take part.
- Know your audience. Audience segmentation is crucial for any targeted campaign, so why should the metaverse be any different? Even if information is thin on the ground, brands can use data to profile those with an interest in the metaverse and gain a better understanding of how they may use it.
- Keep an eye on creators. With content creation expected to feature prominently, focusing on existing creators can help brands form partnerships when the metaverse arrives – rather than going it alone.
- Privacy always matters. Whether consumers have heard about the metaverse or not, how it is regulated will be a key concern. Offering clarity about how users’ data is stored and used will help ease these concerns.