We can’t predict how this Web3 party will end, but the best advice on the metaverse that I heard at Cannes? Follow the people.
This might sound contradictory, especially for a machine-made metaverse, but human insight has always been the key to brands engaging with customers and it will continue to be crucial in this brave new world.
Quoting my colleague Tom Morton, global chief strategy officer at RGA: “You could follow the tech, but you’ll end up in a tech rabbit hole. You could follow the money, but if you only follow the money, you end up in a place of scams. Follow the people. Most of us here are communicators, marketers, builders—our job is to serve people.”
With this in mind, here are three human-led things you need to know about the metaverse:
Identity—not content—is king
Content is king, right? Well, the kingdom is changing and content pales in comparison to the power of identity in Web3.
The inclusivity potential of the metaverse is immense. This is a world where we can move beyond limitations of our physical selves into expressing who we truly are, or want to be. The metaverse levels the playing field physically, geographically and financially and—on the basis of inclusion—is actually more human than the real world.
According to research from RGA, 50% of Gen Zs feel more confident engaging with others in the Metaverse, while 28% of Gen Zs surveyed by trend consultancy WGSN said they would like to be somebody different compared with their real-world selves.
This fluidity of identity isn’t new—we already portray ourselves differently on Instagram, vs LinkedIn vs Facebook, shifting our image in the context of each platform.
The metaverse takes this to the next level. Identity fluidity combined with the accessibility of luxury labels for avatars has created a compelling playground for fashionistas, who are now flocking to virtual worlds like Zepeto.
This is a world where virtual goods—like a Gucci handbag—have a higher value in Roblox than an IRL store.
This is just one segment of the direct-to-avatar (D2A) economy, fuelled by the desire for self-expression. Sales for wearables, skins and collectibles are major contributors to the prediction of the metaverse being worth US$500 billion by 2028 (Global market insights inc.).
Even more than a revenue generator, identity is a massive opportunity for fan engagement and loyalty.
A community effort
A big draw of the decentralised web is that it does not belong to big corporations. Built on a foundation of community, marketers cannot simply apply broadcast or social post fundamentals to the metaverse.
So how do brands make their mark in the metaverse? By creating with, rather than for, communities.
Success stories like Nike’s ‘Magic is in the air’ are a case in point. Nike enlisted kids to help build its presence on Roblox. Turning creative control over to the community resulted in Airtopia, a popular metaverse wonderland created by children for children.
In the near future, brands and communities will go beyond co-creation and instead step into new commercial models. Communities will move from sharing spaces, as emerged in Web2, to becoming shareholders in Web3 with profits and equity in the brand tipped to be a large part of the decentralised web.
Advice for brands getting started with communities in the metaverse? Listen and learn first—spend time on Discord really getting to know how you can help a community before stepping in.
Co-creation is the new black
The internet has not had the best reputation when it comes to taking control. Case in point: The R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface, a research ship named by the Internet at large in 2016 after a British government agency went ahead with the idea.
Fast forward six years and co-creation is firmly on the menu for the Metaverse. Gen Z, who already spend more time on Roblox than on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube combined—according to Luke Eid from TBWA—don’t just want to be part of the conversation. They want to create it.
Take for instance the Stapleverse, an on-chain world of collaborative storytelling created by communities. Jeff Staple, its founder, said at Cannes that the narratives in Stapleverse are not dominated by his ideas. The community puts them forward–with a little curation from him—but even that could stop in the near future.
Staple is not the only one handing over the reins. Vice Media’s chief creative officer Chris Garbutt also believes that the days of the creative director are over.
“It’s no longer about creating an end-to-end campaign, it’s now providing a co-creation platform,” Garbutt said at Cannes.
So, where to now?
This space has the potential to be a betterverse, but only if we get in there and shape it that way. The really exciting, progressive stuff will come when we move past this phase of replicating the real world in the virtual. Just as brands have influenced and shaped culture in the past, they can co-create the metaverse of the future—but we must build from community-up, with humanity at the core.
Build it in isolation and they will not come.
Claire Waring is ECD at RGA Australia.