It’s hard to imagine the concept of virtual reality (VR) popped up in art and literature in the 1860s. It was practically make-believe back then, but the thought of it? Intriguing. Fascinating actually! So much that Morton Heilig debuted his Sensorama, a multi-sensory theater machine that was completely non-computerized – with its 3D filmography, vibrations, sounds, and even aromas and moving air. It was eventually one-upped by the Telesphere Mask (the first VR head mounted display) in 1960 and many other inventions like it throughout the later part of the 20th century. Then Sega came out with a VR headset in 1993, and Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in 1995.
Fast forward to the Oculus Quest 2 released in September 2020…
VIRTUAL AND AUGMENTED REALITY WITHIN THE METAVERSE
It was no accident Facebook cleverly changed the name of its parent company to Meta – a word already connected to the term “metaverse,” describing a virtual digital world that integrates technologies like VR and augmented reality (AR), cryptocurrency, and the internet overall. When Facebook cut a deal in 2014 with Luckey Palmer, one of its former employees AND founder of the company Oculus VR, they spent $2B on the VR headset. The social media giant saw the vast potential of the metaverse right around the corner. The ability to combine digital reality with physical reality. And the ability of finally seeing this tech brought to mass public was becoming evident, with rapid moves to make it part of our daily personal and professional lives.
Another example of a glimpse into the metaverse is Pokemon Go! It became the most downloaded app of 2016. Pokemon Go was a global AR phenomenon that used mobile devices and GPS to find, train, and battle virtual creatures (Pokemon). It took users by storm. Players went about their daily lives, glancing at their avatars on the app that moved with them. Same locations – different worlds: One was real, and the other within the metaverse. So, the visions and use of VR and AR in the metaverse was becoming more and more apparent to consumers – and brands continued to talk about these experiences, wondering what was next? And what would be in it for them?
THE RISE OF EXPERIENTIAL RETAIL IN THE MEANTIME
But before companies could really ask themselves that question, an interesting cultural manifestation happened. In 2019, both online and brick-and-mortar brands were trying to figure out ways to foster closer relationships with their customers. And the idea of experiential retail was born. Athletic brands installed basketball courts and soccer fields in certain flagship and major market store locations – so consumers could ‘feel’ what it was like to wear their clothes and products while in action. Different from your typical try-on/order and take-home type of transaction, this added a cool new concept to the retail world.
Lululemon added workout studios and snack bars to its Lincoln Park location in Chicago. And they took the same concept and added yoga and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) studios, meditation rooms, locker rooms, and “fuel bars” to another location at the Mall of America in Minnesota. The idea was to extend the thought of how the primary consumer would use the brand’s apparel offerings and realizing the notion of an entire community Lululemon speaks to – beyond exercise.
Casper, an online mattress company, opened its first physical store in the Noho neighborhood in Manhattan in 2018. This experiential retail environment consisted of six “miniature homes” that would rotate throughout the year coinciding with seasonality and demonstrating different ways consumers imagined using a Casper product in various settings. Again, this allowed customers to see the “how,” vs. the “why” in purchasing a Casper mattress. Its experiential retail stores would go on to even include events teaching people how to get a good night’s sleep, as well as holding other educational sleep seminars.
THE SHUT DOWN OF EXPERIENTIAL RETAIL – THEN OPENING BACK UP
Unfortunately, when Covid-19 hit global markets, these experiential retail stores shut down quickly. Going out to run errands and shop your favorite store became a thing of the past. Caught completely off guard, companies needed to figure out another way to market their products, as the ability to encourage people in-store was becoming impossible. Successful were the brands with an online presence. E-commerce was winning in terms of sustainability and customer revenue. The marketplace soon became popular with delivery brands (restaurant and grocery), free shipping (practically a necessity with retail), and shopping online. AR shopping experiences with mobile apps, like Amazon, now often allow consumers shopping for furniture to virtually place furniture in your home to see how a particular piece of furniture would look in your home. And years before that, consumers could virtually “test” paint colors on any wall with apps like the Sherwin-Williams Color Snap Visualizer. This was our “new way of living.”
Over time, through Covid-19 medical treatments and natural immunity, it seems the pandemic may be on its way out. And the metaverse, naturally – on its way in. Brands of cryptocurrency fight for market share; AR and VR are starting to be used by consumers more than ever before; even AI is taking off in terms of personalization and optimization.
WHAT MARKETERS ARE DOING TO PREPARE FOR THE METAVERSE IN 2022
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of talk out there among advertisers regarding the metaverse. How can they take part? And is now the time to jump in, or do we have more time than not to figure this all out? There’s still some confusion around what the metaverse is – let alone what marketers can do to jump on the metaverse train today in a way that benefits them.
Though company executives are split on how beneficial/important it is for their brands to be active within the metaverse this year (or even over the next couple years) – there ARE things advertisers can do in 2022 to be a step ahead. Some businesses are looking at different ways to become early adopters of this new and exciting technology, and here are a few examples:
Carry out an idea that puts your company out there in this new digital world. You can output your own NFTs (non-fungible tokens) representing your company. Nike, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Charmin are minting their own NFTs and selling them on the blockchain markets to consumers wanting to buy original digital photos/art/GIFs/short videos/etc. as a potential investment or to add to their collection.
Partner with entities that are creating metaverse gaming technologies. Companies are signing contracts with gaming leaders like Microsoft, Epic Games, Meta, and more. Brands like Gucci and Chipotle are integrating themselves into Roblox, a global gaming platform that attracts over 49 million active daily users that program their own games/worlds to play, or for other people to play. It’s cutting-edge for your products to be seen in these experiences. But be careful as to how your brand is seen in these places – you always want to portray your company in a positive light, according to the viewer.
Offer personalized shopping experiences. Virtual showrooms, virtual try-on solutions, and in-store navigation are just a few of what e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers are starting to provide consumers. For example, Lowe’s – a leader in home improvement – has an in-store navigation that overlays directional prompts helping customers shop conveniently. Additionally, personalization will be key in communicating with consumers. Marketing with highly custom content toward your various target audiences should be important in cultivating trust between your brand and users/potential users this year.
Team Up with Virtual Influencers. TikTok stars are moving their reach to media outside of social and mobile. Some are launching movies and programs with entertainment houses like Netflix and Amazon. Scanning social media for trends is important – the ability to build relationships with creators that think out of the box can take your brand to another level. For example, Prada has Candy, a virtual muse that replaces the traditional celebrity influencer to focus on the techy Gen Z audience. This topic is definitely…for a future blog.
This is really just scratching the surface. The global metaverse revenue opportunities could be somewhere around $800B by 2024! Getting in from the ground floor is a topic of conversation among many advertisers. Continue to test how people interact with your brand in different spaces and earn credibility as an early adopter. Obviously, the metaverse is a new technology that is still working itself out. Likewise, privacy concerns still need to be addressed across the board. So, keep an open mind in this exciting time over 2022, but always make sure your brand maintains integrity and a good look to your consumers.
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