February 27 2023
At a time when the metaverse and metaverse marketing are simultaneously erupting with popularity and widely misunderstood, Lauren Reed, owner of REED Public Relations, sat down with Jennifer Poythress, founder of The Rabbit Hole VR & Virtual Marketing, to discuss all things metaverse marketing.
Poythress, who has a background in virtual reality, public relations, digital marketing, event planning & management, project management and strategic brand partnerships, shared her thoughts on what to consider when building a metaverse strategy, how to capitalize on the technology behind the metaverse and why she believes metaverse marketing is here to stay.
Poythress: I think first we must explain what the metaverse is. The metaverse isn’t one specific place. Instead, it’s a developing entity – a virtual version of our real world. It’s comprised of numerous virtual worlds that parallel what we do in real life, so people can shop, work and play just like they would in real life because it is real life. The goal for the metaverse is that eventually, everything will be interconnected and interoperable. Theoretically, if you have one avatar in Roblox, that avatar would be translated to VR chat or what have you. Having a solid understanding of what the metaverse is helps explain what metaverse marketing is because the marketing piece of it is simply a way for brands to utilize these channels, and the technology that’s powering them, to reach their audiences in these virtual worlds.
The techniques you would see in digital or traditional marketing are still going to be used, only now, it’s within the virtual worlds.
Poythress: Like the Internet, it removes a lot of barriers and makes impossible things possible, but it does it in a way that combines elements of virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. All these things come together to create unique immersive experiences for people to connect in a more human way than you can on social media, online forums or stagnant web pages. It’s only going to get more immersive, and that’s what’s so special. It connects people in a way that the traditional internet can’t.
Poythress: For one thing, the store is always open. You can always go in and order whatever you like. If you have a virtual storefront, someone can either use a VR headset or their desktop PC and virtually walk through your store, so consumers are seeing and interacting with an additional level of branding.
Some companies are coupling 3D models with AR technology so you can look at an item in a virtual storefront, pull it up on your phone, position your phone in your living room and see that chair or piece of clothing in the room with you. You can also point your phone at yourself and virtually try an outfit on. Studies have shown that returns greatly decrease when someone is able to try on a piece of clothing or shoes, so this function actively increases sales and decreases returns.
This is great for the business side of things, but it also helps the customer know what they’re getting.
Poythress: Augmented reality is going to be huge; I mean it already is. We’re seeing big brands dive into it, so now it’s a matter of making the tech behind it financially accessible.
Poythress: Definitely! I saw a campaign from Pedigree recently that I’m loving. They created a foster-verse. What they’ve done is used Decentraland, an existing platform, to create this foster-verse where you can pet virtual dogs. It’s very attention-grabbing, but the reason it’s more successful than what I’ve seen some other brands do is that it integrates into their larger mission. Pedigree has not only created a place where you can pet virtual dogs. They are virtual versions of real-life dogs, and you can choose to donate to support these animals. In other words, you’re seeing a virtual version of an actual dog that is in a shelter. That’s a great use of cause marketing in the metaverse, and it shows that metaverse marketing shouldn’t be a gimmicky one-time thing that gets you a couple of headlines. It really needs to be supportive of your other initiatives and align with your brand overall.
Poythress: Every brand can benefit from utilizing the technology that powers the metaverse. It may not make sense for anyone besides Nike, Walmart or Chipotle to create their own branded virtual worlds, but that doesn’t mean that every company can’t benefit from the tech behind them.
Brands should be considering what they need to do to utilize this technology to improve their business and marketing efforts, become more efficient or reach audiences they’ve had trouble reaching.
Poythress: It all starts with asking questions like what is your end goal, what is your business goal and what are your overall marketing goals. Then, working backward from there, just like traditional PR and marketing.
I would say most of it right now would be looking at what the possibilities are because a lot of businesses don’t fully understand what the opportunities are.
Then, you should base your strategy on who your target audience is. So, if your target audience is younger, like Gen Z, maybe you’d want to do an activation on Roblox. It doesn’t have to be a whole custom world, but you could sponsor some events that are going on in Roblox or roll out some digital merch in the existing Roblox world.
If your audience is older or if you’re B2B, maybe it’s creating an AR filter that you can use to promote your socials or as a pop-up at trade shows. If you’re at a trade show and you want to show someone a piece of equipment that you didn’t want to have shipped to the trade show floor, have an AR filter that shows that equipment from people’s phones while they’re at your trade show booth.
Poythress: While some companies are focusing on the creation of custom virtual worlds, there are other ways to use the technology on a smaller scale. One option would be to create a Discord channel for your customers or internal team to give you direct feedback. This helps build community because they’re all able to interact.
I would argue that metaverse is largely driven by community. We’re going to hear that word a lot more over the next few years.
Another opportunity is to create new revenue streams by selling physical or digital goods through virtual worlds. For example, you could create a branded hat for people to earn or purchase. These virtual goods have actual value, and studies show that Gen Z values digital items just as much as real-world physical items.
I’ve also been impressed by how some companies are using redeemable NFTs. I hesitate to use the term “NFT” because it can overwhelm customers, but in short, they’re redeemable digital items for real-life goods. Say you have earned a redeemable digital asset by completing a task in one of these virtual worlds. It’s just a digital asset unless you can go into a store and somehow redeem that for, say, coffee or a t-shirt. So redeemable digital assets are a cool way to get people that are interacting in your virtual community into your real-world location.
Starbucks has done a great job rolling out its latest loyalty program, which is based on redeemable digital assets, but they’re not saying that. They’re calling them “journey stamps” because it’s much more digestible for customers. They don’t need to know all the back-end rigamarole about how it works; instead, customers can focus on what they have to do to earn a journey stamp.
Poythress: A lot of what we’re doing is educating brands on what the possibilities are and then consulting them on how they should utilize their options. Some companies have heard of it but have no idea what it is or how much money they need. This happens in regular PR too, right? Maybe you’re talking with a client, and they say, “I need a press release, and we need to put it over the wire.” Like, whoa, let’s talk about what your goals are and who it is you’re trying to reach because a press release going over the wire will cost you several thousand dollars, and it probably won’t get in front of the right people.
Maybe metaverse tactics are a good fit, or maybe they’re not, but we really want to work to understand the end goal and then recommend the tactics that make the most sense. The aspect that we’re highlighting most to prospective clients is consumer engagement. It gives you a way to interact with your customers that has not been previously available and a way to reach audiences that you may have had trouble getting to in the past.
For example, Gen Z is notoriously ad-blind which means they know how to filter out ads, and they expect you to provide value to them. The metaverse provides several ways to interact with Gen Z such as gamification. Gamification is important because you can create something that is of value to your customers in these virtual worlds. Highlighting that is typically how we get prospective clients to come on board.
Poythress: I think that is dependent upon the hardware that’s developed and what’s massively adopted, like VR headsets or AR glasses. As those things roll out and we see how much the public adopts and uses them in their day-to-day lives, that’s going to dictate where the metaverse and metaverse marketing go. What’s clear is that these virtual worlds are going to continue growing. Where all this lands in five years to ten years largely depends on the hardware that’s developed and widely adopted.