The morning of Miller Zell’s Metaverse event on Aug. 11, I got dressed thinking, “I’d rather be choosing a very cool outfit with a jet pack or wings or shoes that play music with each step.” In thinking about what’s possible in the Metaverse, my real-world clothes fell short of expectation.
And that very feeling is what brands want to avoid when creating experiences in the Metaverse.
While spending the better part of a day with a Metaverse expert, we furthered our understanding so much more as to what can enhance and, if not done well, dampen experiences. As Professor Elizabeth Strickler, Founding Director of the Creative Industries Blockchain Lab at Georgia State, winner of the MIT Hackathon, Ted X guest speaker and one of the leading voices in the Metaverse, put it, “While we’re talking about sort of a mirrored world or a digital twin, one of the great things about virtual worlds is that they don’t have to succumb to gravity and to building permits and to all of that sort of thing. But at the same time, you don’t want your store or your brand to be completely different and bizarre and strange in a virtual world. You want to continue the aesthetic of the brand so there’s something familiar about it but also something surprising.”
It’s a new customer experience challenge
At Miller Zell, we see the Metaverse as the next touchpoint for omnichannel businesses. The next place retail and universities, restaurants and financial institutions will create customer experiences. But it won’t be unattached or unrelated to the physical store or physical world.
You’re seeing a lot of brands blend experiences now. Strickler puts it this way: “So the real world can reflect the virtual world, or the virtual world can reflect the real world. And it’s really at the intersection of the two that is where the real interesting possibilities are.”
For example, Nike has a hoodie you can buy that has a digital twin in the Metaverse. The physical hoodie has a QR code to bring it to life there. In the Metaverse, that same hoodie’s digital version has wings and other attributes not possible – yet — IRL (In Real Life). Tiffany & Co. has a bejeweled necklace you can buy that mirrors its digital counterpart—you can have both for a mere 30 ETH (about $50,000).
Said Professor Strickler, “You want to look for the things that you don’t want to do in the real world that you can eliminate in the virtual world — commuting, waiting in line. You want to look for the delightful parts of what can happen in the virtual space but eliminate the sort of drudgery that might be in the real world.”
In working with our clients, it’s easy to walk with them down a path of simply recreating an exact replica storefront in the Metaverse. But to garner the value of presence and interaction, brands need to create something that leverages the unique aspects of the digital world to create something memorable and valuable — which may or may not directly lead to purchase.
Customized branded environments for each channel
We’ve also found in our conversations that it would be a mistake to just assume consumers are going to behave the same as they do in the store space. It might be a whole different consumer set as well. Understanding your consumers and the CX unique to each path to interaction is key to designing experiences that will resonate.
Though this involves distinctly new technology, we’re also seeing companies mistake knowing one or more of their existing technologies as akin to “being in the Metaverse for years.” While it makes sense that some current technologies that have been in our industry for a long time translate to the Metaverse, it’s a misunderstanding to assume knowing a technology is knowing an entirely new consumer space.
We would love to be experts in the Metaverse but won’t claim to be. Because no one is just yet. It’s all still forming and finding its way. Just as brands are with it.
What to do now? And next?
Asked what brands should be doing right now in the Metaverse, Strickler offer sage advice with which we agree.
“I think that now is a great time to do a small bet or a small experiment maybe just within your own company or just as sort of a private pilot or a beta,” she said. “Maybe create one experience and see how your users — or maybe just your employees — feel about how it all works and try it out and plan to iterate.”
She then added, “And also, I would suggest that people look at other brands that are similar you and see what they’ve done and replicate the great things and then eliminate the not-so-great things… Dip your own toe into the Metaverse to experience what resonates with you because companies know their brands best. They also need to look towards what the younger customers are doing and try to meet them.”
We’re excited to go on this journey with our clients and partners. We know the Metaverse is squarely part of retail’s future, so it’s squarely part of ours, too. We’ve been iterating right along with wherever retail goes next for nearly 60 years. So while the aspect of adding new frontiers isn’t new for us, the new technologies, methods of payment, methods of ownership and interaction in this world are.
It will best be traversed with a partner who treads thoughtfully. So see you there. I’m looking forward to my wardrobe choices.