Perhaps the most important effect of Facebook’s famous re-brand to Meta was to bring a debate about the so-called ‘Metaverse’ into the public realm. Since Facebook’s relaunch, fundamental questions have been raised around the metaverse, the implications and limitations of the concept for brands.
At its most ambitious it is imagined as a liminal space ready for us to inhabit; the central and perhaps most compelling idea that you can become any version of yourself, limitless versions of yourself, or even transcend yourself.
Who will build it?
One of the key principles of the Metaverse is the idea that we could be inhabiting an integrated and interconnected ‘entity’. As Facebook’s new name suggests, right now there are multiple closed metaverses, such as Meta Horizon Worlds and Roblox, with each being built for, or stemming from, different purposes such as gaming or business. The metaverse is not yet a single connected network, but a set of independent spaces that grow under their own rules, each one seeking to scale to the point that it achieves a form of dominance.
It’s worth looking at contemporary battles to win ecosystems here, to learn lessons from the leaders in how to manage a brand in a networked landscape. Historically many of the Best Global Brands and fastest growing businesses in the world are those with the most cohesive business systems. Apple, for example, has shown how ecosystems drive value through its integrated model – software, hardware, and touchpoints are connected not just by beautiful design aesthetics, but by a level of interoperability that justifies a premium and discourages defections to another platform. However, in Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft’s words, an eco-system that transcends the brands and companies that built it, is perhaps “the unfinished business of the internet.”
And Satya should know. Pretty much the biggest player in this space is Microsoft, which has recently completed a slew of acquisitions, including the $75bn deal to buy Activision Blizzard (maker of some of the world’s most popular games with staggering audience sizes). All of this activity makes Microsoft the third biggest gaming company in the world and, in combination with its dominance in the enterprise space, suggests a gamified and comprehensive vision for the future of the web, in which education, work, play and more (lives lived fully!) in these spaces.
In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Nadella said: “Metaverse is essentially about creating games. It is about being able to put people, places, things [in] a physics engine and then having all the people, places, things in the physics engine relate to each other…
The way we will even approach the system side of what we’re going to build for the metaverse is, essentially, democratize the game building . . . and bring it to anybody who wants to build any space and have essentially, people, places, [and] things digitized and relating to each other with their bodily presence.
To me, just being great at game building gives us the permission to build this next platform, which is essentially the next internet: the embodied presence. Today, I play a game, but I’m not in the game. Now, we can start dreaming [that] through these metaverses: I can literally be in the game, just like I can be in a conference room with you in a meeting. That metaphor and the technology . . . will manifest itself in different contexts.”
A Renaissance of Me(aning)
But what about the brands that are less well placed to build the metaverse but poised to drive new affinity, presence and engagement by playing in the space?
It’s certainly not hard to come by examples of brands experimenting in Metaverses. We’ve seen companies like Nike (through RTFKT), Adidas (collaboration with Bored Ape Yacht Club), Balenciaga, Gucci, H&M, and many more, moving into the metaverse and, connected, the NFT market by developing exclusive collections and collaboration items.
What is most interesting about these first movers is that each of them falls into the express arena – a fluid and highly competitive landscape of brands competing to enable consumers to construct and express their identity, in which expressing identity commands a premium. In a space in which you are building your identity, almost from scratch, as a means to build community, it makes sense that these brands have put a stake in the ground. Morgan Stanley has already predicted that, in 2030, 10% of the turnover (about 50,000 million euros) of luxury brands will come directly from the metaverses.
There are also some more pragmatic considerations and opportunities for brands. Post-pandemic our perception of time and space has shifted. This isn’t really a pandemic trend, it’s part of the wider technological revolution we’re experiencing – what the pandemic did was encourage consumers to adopt new tech more rapidly. In Interbrand’s Move arena report, we observed that customer expectations around the proximity and presence of goods and services has shifted. The metaverse will continue to reshape the way individuals interact and connect with each other across-distance and will continue to reshape space, time and expectations. How will the ease and proximity created by the Metaverse impact the way we move? Thinking on how UberEats has standardized delivery-food by transforming its mobility-as-a-service model, it is an opportunity for brands to reimagine their services and redefine how they reach out to their customer base, especially over time, as new lifestyles are adopted in light of a metaverse. What looks like competition today, will be radically redefined by the emergence of this space. Because at the end, how we move has direct consequences on how we live.
Author David J. Chalmers’s new book “Reality+,” argues that the real question at play is less about a change of format and more about a fundamental belief about what reality consists of, and about which concepts are central to our existence and sense of self. Whichever ways the metaverse shapes us, whichever version is built and whichever brands come to dominate, the existence of an immersive digital space will change the way we interact with each other and how we conceive of our relationships with each other and with brands.
This is most tangible when considered in a specific context – work, school, healthcare, etc. In a digitally mediated space in which we live our real lives and become our truest selves (even if that self is different from #IRL) data privacy will remain a critical question. How can I live a meaningful life, how can I be my most me in a space where I am skeptical over “being watched”, or I sense that my and instincts are being commoditized to drive scale? Through the Heartbeat platform, Interbrand explores the essence of what makes us human, of how and why people think, feel, and do. As the metaverse presents direct ethical and behavioral influence on how we interact with each other.
Heartbeat can serve as an inspiration and reminder of what we want and need. A thoughtful outlook on life, to better understand our Human Truths.
The Right Time to Move?
While some brands might be building the Metaverse, most brands will need to figure out how (and when) to play in it.
During the early 2000’s we saw strong brands such as Nokia or Kodak declined in value from being some of the world’s Best Global Brands due to the exponential digital growth and slow adaptation. The question that is rising right now is… does this new concept of the metaverse will be a new turning point for a whole paradigm transformation?
As in any other Ocean, risks and opportunities seem to be paired. The whole concept of the Metaverse is a growing ecosystem where we don’t know yet where the limits are in terms of safety and reach. But we acknowledge that it is an open door to innovation and a new playground for brands to connect with its audiences, even though history has taught us already that the one who arrives first does not always win.
Apple didn’t come first in the PC or mobile phone race, but its ambition propelled it to become the world’s most valuable brand. Google did not launch the first Internet search engine and today our lives cannot be understood without its services. Their trajectories help us draw important lessons about metaverses: satisfy and anticipate the real needs of users; obtain quality insights that lead to the generation of business ideas; turn it all into memorable experiences. In the end, drive Iconic Moves.