It has been a rough couple of months for those of us on a mission to build understanding and excitement around the metaverse.
From crypto crashes to dwindling Decentraland and Sandbox users and NFT prices starting to descend from their sky-high glory days, recent news doesn’t exactly paint the most encouraging picture. PR-grabbing "world firsts" are beginning to fade; some say that the bubble is bursting on the metaverse hype.
It’s true that cryptocurrency and NFTs sit firmly within the world of Web3 and blockchain technology, and that these are indeed elements of the metaverse.
But they do not represent it in its entirety, nor are they forward indicators of success of the metaverse itself. The promise of the metaverse is that it will transform how we interface with the internet and therefore what the internet feels like.
It can be seen as a merging of virtual, augmented and physical realities that blurs the line between our online and real-life interactions, and will indelibly change the way that we communicate, shop and socialise as well as pioneer a new wave of self expression.
Its importance, therefore, is much bigger than dips in user numbers on a particular platform, or pennies falling off the price of an NFT.
So although the hype bubble might have popped, we’ve now reached an even more important phase on our journey towards the inevitable – discovering how the confluence of technological and societal shifts that we’re calling “the metaverse” will really affect brands and businesses going forward.
Let’s consider the last major evolution of the internet – the mobile/app generation. Where we are standing now is very much akin to the dawn of the smartphone and social media era.
That period gave birth to the Airbnb, Uber and Deliveroo business models – services that today’s consumers can’t even imagine being without. So what opportunities for disruption lie waiting to be discovered in this next technological shift?
In order to find out, there’s research to be done. Brands need to investigate their audiences, their competitors and the general landscape to inform and identify advantageous white spaces.
With the shifting audience behaviour we’re seeing, there will undoubtedly be new experiences, products and services to provide.
Next, they need to consider what short and long-term success looks like for them. A "fire and forget" strategy does not work well in the metaverse, where the user expectation is about persistence, continuity of presence and freshness in the offering.
Lego is a fantastic example of how to do this right: its long-term partnership with Fortnite is set up to shape the metaverse into being a safe, enjoyable and creatively inspiring space for kids in the years ahead.
Nike, too, is a brand that seems to be on the path to metaverse longevity, using the new medium to continue strengthening their brand philosophy and flexing its all-important influence over youth culture.
From Nikeland on Roblox to customisable NFT drops and gamified in-store experience, the sports brand is ticking all the boxes when it comes to a connected metaverse approach that’s totally on-brand.
This should also be a time for constant prototyping, testing and learning. The launch of an experience isn’t the endpoint – brands should be carrying out user observation and data analysis to figure out what makes their audience tick.
Future feature and content adjustments can and should be made based on these findings, enabling brands to constantly evolve, improve and refine their offering.
If your brand equals the sum of all experiences across all touchpoints, then, regardless of the name given to it, the technological shifts afforded by the metaverse represent a key battleground to retaining relevance that any business should want to fight for.
The time for rushing head-first into PR-grabbing gaming activations is over.
But opportunities for long-lasting metaverse success are bubbling under the surface, ready to be snapped up by those smart enough to look for them.
Garry Williams is head of MAD Business at Unit9. This column first appeared on campaignlive.co.uk.