Metaverse 101

Regardless of the industry you work in, or where you get your news, you’ve undoubtedly heard tell of the metaverse. It seems everyone is aware this next chapter of the internet is coming, but nobody knows what it is. Now is the time for brands to understand what the metaverse is, how to prepare for entry and what it could become.  

It’s tempting to boil the metaverse down to something like virtual reality or a “user-built virtual world,” but those labels just don’t cut it. Saying the metaverse is a “user-built virtual world” is like calling the internet “Facebook.” This parallel dramatically oversimplifies the internet. Like the internet, the metaverse is not a single product any one company can produce, and it exists with or without the many user-generated virtual worlds online. The same way that the internet can exist with or without Facebook, the metaverse can exist with or without the many user-generated virtual worlds online. User-generated virtual worlds are only a sliver of what the metaverse will offer. Brands curious about entering the metaverse must understand the differences between current state – i.e., what the metaverse is right now, and how brands can participate in the near term – and future states – how it might evolve and how brands might move with it. 

Today’s technology alone will not be enough to build the metaverse, but it does provide preliminary examples of what some elements of the metaverse could look like. Videogames like Roblox and Fortnite provide a teaser of the potential digital spaces creators can construct. Tools like IKEA Place are the building blocks for what augmented reality (AR) could look like in the metaverse and virtual reality (VR) headsets like Oculus create a nascent preview of metaverse VR. It’s important to note that the virtual worlds that already exist in the metaverse today can only operate within the confines of current technology. The future state of the metaverse depends on many companies, creators and developers investing billions of dollars in the technology required to create the metaverse. Organizations will invest in building out this technology just as they’ve invested in their physical presence in the real world. 

Comprehensively defining the metaverse in 2022 is like someone trying to define the internet in 1970. It’s not possible because all the technology doesn’t exist yet. Nevertheless, this is our projection for everyone’s burning question. 

What is the metaverse? 

The metaverse is a shift from our current internet, a text and video only environment with digital and physical barriers, to ever-present, fully immersive, interoperable and real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds. 

In his metaverse primer, Matthew Ball provides a great comparison for thinking about the metaverse. “You can imagine it as the Nightmare Before Christmas – you can walk into any experience or activity, and potentially address almost any of your needs, from a single starting point or world that’s also populated by everyone else you know.” 

Let’s unpack this definition. Keep in mind, the current state of the metaverse does NOT possess these traits, but the final state will.

The metaverse will be ever-present. All this means is that when you “log off” from the metaverse, everything you experienced will still exist. 

The metaverse will be fully immersive. Consider our current VR experience. Users require a headset to participate, and it is very easy to tell the difference between the worlds you experience with and without the headset.  The final state of the metaverse will not require a headset to access it and will be nearly indistinguishable from our physical environment.  

The metaverse will be interoperable. Have you ever tried to play online video games with a friend, but neither of you have the same system? Or have you been met with minor annoyance at the sight of a text to a new friend turning green? The metaverse will alleviate these kinds of problems by being completely interoperable across users, systems and devices. 

Users will experience the metaverse in real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds. This means users will interact with 3D images and scenes, that appear to be moving in real-time. Similar to a video game, but much more sophisticated. These virtual worlds will be much larger than any existing video game and will be part of one large, interoperable network of virtual worlds capable of hosting an unlimited number of users. 

Now that we’ve established what the metaverse is and what it will be, let’s discuss entering the metaverse. 

How to enter the metaverse 

Early adopters like Nike, Coke, Wendy’s, Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga have already entered the metaverse in various ways. But what about brands other than the Nikes and Cokes of the world? What should they be doing now?  

Step 1: Analyze your audience 

First, you need to find out if your primary audience is already in the metaverse or if they will be there soon. Do some digging into your target audience’s habits with adopting the latest technology. Chances are if your audience primarily communicates by landline, you don’t need to worry about planning a metaverse entrance right now.  

Step 2: Keep a pulse on the competition  

What are other companies doing? As companies in your industry take steps to enter the metaverse, like filing trademarks for virtual assets, take the time to discuss these developments with your teams. What signals are your competitors sending about their plans? Who’s doing something especially interesting that would work for your audience, too? Do their actions spark completely new ideas for your team about how your brand might engage audiences in the metaverse? Don’t be afraid to go beyond your competitors for ideas.  

Step 3: Brainstorm applications  

Look for ways the metaverse can help you achieve your business goals, in ways big and small. For example, while some companies are preparing entirely new business models (i.e., ways to make money) in the metaverse vs. the real world, some companies are starting much simpler, like using VR or augmented reality (AR) to allow employees to complete job training from the comfort of their own homes.   

Step 4: Determine your strategy  

Much like deciding how to represent your brand IRL, you must determine your brand identity in the metaverse.  We’ve provided a list of questions below to guide you as you forge your metaverse entry strategy. 

  1. What knowledge gaps do you have when it comes to the metaverse?
    • Check out Matthew Ball’s nine-part Metaverse Primer for learnings beyond this post. The metaverse as a concept is constantly growing and changing.  
    • Another comprehensive primer to all things crypto and metaverse: The Latecomer’s Guide to Crypto by Kevin Roose. 
    • Self-education will be critical at every step of your journey to the metaverse.
  2. Can I expect my target audience to enter the metaverse? If so, when?
  3. How can my company exist in the metaverse in a way that brings value to my target audience?  
  4. Should my company’s identity in the metaverse match our brand identity in the physical world?

The amount of available information about the metaverse can be overwhelming, but just like most people didn’t understand what “the cloud” was just a few short years ago, we’ll all understand the metaverse soon enough. Wouldn’t you rather be one of the early ones? Also keep in mind that nobody knows exactly what the metaverse will look like yet, and there are significant differences between today’s metaverse and the future metaverse. So don’t beat yourself up for not fully grasping it yet, and enjoy learning a little bit about it at a time. Hopefully reading this post was a good first step.