The Metaverse: How Can Brands Enter Something That Doesn’t Yet Exist?
Merchants and brands say they’re entering the metaverse by releasing non-fungible token (NFT) projects or buying land in virtual worlds like The Sandbox and Decentraland. The reality is neither brands nor NFT owners are in the metaverse because it hasn’t been built. They're exploring digital worlds, sure, but we can't have multiple "metaverses." And as you read this, the word metaverse lacks a defined meaning.
That said, what will this metaverse look like? Could it be a virtual shopping mall with brands owning real estate? Or will it be a web3 version of Second Life, the visionary virtual world created in 2003? Or is it going to be more like Neal Stephenson’s novel, “Snow Crash,” which leans into a dystopian outlook? Fingers crossed, it’ll be a Minecraft-inspired boundless world constantly self-generating, not focused on the finite ideas of buying virtual clothing or land that’s currently being propagated.
Where We Are
We've seen brands, including Under Armour and Prada, add another e-commerce revenue stream by releasing NFT projects — i.e., static images, sometimes dynamic or looping, and recently mp4s — on NFT marketplaces such as OpenSea or SuperRare. Until now, most NFT sales have been transactional relationships, not emotional relationships. Brands should be aware they cannot approach or sell NFTs the same way they did with product collections in web2, or they’ll miss out on the loyalty wins and long-term engagement the web3 wave can offer.
The concept of the metaverse has the potential to be anything, but at this point in its infancy, massive tech companies like Meta, formerly Facebook, are looking at how to use their massive infrastructure and influence to build what they desire. Right now, the “metaverse” that fits the definition of a truly 3D web3 internet is being built through the use of Discord.
The group chat app first took off in 2015 as a place for gamers to hang out while sharing interests and creating channels that weren’t always connected to their server. It has taken a front seat in the crypto space by being the main community builder around NFT communities. The excitement Discord brings to brands of all sizes is that it allows for real-time interactions between users and a community leader or founder. Brands like Gucci are wisely launching in Discord with its Gucci Vault, an online concept store, as a way to learn what luxury consumers want or think the metaverse will be, as well as how the brand can best serve its customers. This frank community creation and interaction will be a key component for all brands and creators as we explore this new frontier.
The metaverse is inevitable. When we do enter whatever it is, I’m confident we’ll see a new class of digital world builders — artists, developers, gamers, strategists, and storytellers — creating individualized and communal branded adventures. If there ever was a time for brands to create immersive, omnichannel experiences, it’s now.
B. Earl is a partner at SkyView Way Studios.