The ‘metaverse’ is something of a buzzword, helped no doubt by the rebrand of Facebook, the business that is, as Meta. The term itself was coined 30 years ago by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash and referred to a virtual space where user avatars and software agents coexist. Insider recently defined the metaverse as “a variety of shared spaces and assets that people can access via the internet, sometimes using virtual reality and augmented reality devices, and interact with each other and buy virtual goods.” Reportlinker defines the Metaverse as being, “simply put, is an integration of immersive presence in a virtually interactive self-sufficient ecosystem of mobile networks, augmented reality, social media, gaming, virtual reality, ecommerce, cryptocurrency and work environments.”
Tech giants are pouring money into the metaverse. Microsoft, Google and Apple are all working on their versions of the metaverse, while Meta announced it is investing $10 billion into its efforts. According to Earthweb, the metaverse is predicted to reach a market size of $800 billion by 2024.
Clearly, the metaverse is a huge deal, so what are the opportunities for marketing?
The metaverse is, to all intents and purposes, the next iteration of the internet and it is radically changing the customer experience to something completely immersive. Gaming has been the first industry to really seize on the potential of creating and monetizing immersive worlds with games such as Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft enabling users to roam and in some cases create worlds and modify their avatars through in-game purchases. For many of us, it’s probably hard to reconcile spending actual money to buy things that only exist digitally, but it enhances the gaming experience and is clearly a significant market, given the continued growth of immersive gaming communities.
In terms of marketing potential, the metaverse offers the ability to merge content with customer experience in a way not possible before. Combining our digital and physical worlds, the metaverse is set to fundamentally influence the way we communicate, work, play, learn, and make purchases. In highly ubiquitous markets, the customer experience can be a key differentiator for brands, and the metaverse provides a platform for brands to connect with audiences in new and inventive ways on a deeper level through types of experiences the scope of which are almost unlimited.
We have seen a surge in affordable VR in the last few years as it has edged towards the mainstream. This in turn is driving a future convergence of that technology and ‘bricks and mortar’ stores. Consumers creating a realistic avatar in VR could soon try out a new bed, sofa, and clothes, for example, inside virtual storefronts, then purchase ‘in the real world.’ These blended experiences have the potential to generate new types of user data and understand behavior. For example, storefront design, the amount of time spent looking at individual items, and so forth.
So, as brands seek to figure out (a) what the metaverse is to them, and (b) how to best build, deploy and leverage it, what should marketers be thinking about?
Define Your Purpose and Resource Accordingly
- As with any new technology, the brands that get a handle on it correctly and early in the game stand the best chance of gaining market advantage. Early adoption provides space and time to test, evaluate, course correct and improve this new ‘blended’ engagement.
- What do you want to achieve? What will appeal to your customers? How do you envisage the journey, both for customers and for the brand?
- The customer journey should be engaging but easy to take up, so what will be the most effective way to move customers from ‘traditional’ methods into the metaverse?
- How will you measure success?
- Customer satisfaction is key and expectations for resolution will be expected in real-time. Plan for that.
- Brands are actively recruiting tour guides with a specific focus on implementing the metaverse and providing dedicated support, acting as virtual guides to take customers through the engagement process, show how everything works, and how to purchase.
Privacy and Data Transparency
- Initially we can expect some trepidation around the metaverse so clearly-defined policies relating to customer data collection, sharing and security has to be paramount.
- Comprehensive data integration across channels has to be watertight and completely tracked with stated customer preferences.
- Clear communication with customers should be front and center.
- Brands need to encourage participation so incentives could be introduced such as rewards, discounts or services only available via that platform.
- When looking at customer engagement, integrate the metaverse into marketing campaigns as an integral digital layer of customer experience.
- Produce unique interactive content or experiences which audience members can actively participate in. Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, do this through live events when they launch a new season of the game. Players can join and interact in the event and there are playable elements. It’s been hugely successful in adding customers and driving viral brand value.
The Metaverse, Health and Life Sciences
Although the metaverse has been firmly rooted in gaming and entertainment markets, we can expect to see it moving into different markets such as health and life sciences. Drug manufacturers and healthcare providers, for example, are two markets that could leverage platforms and seek to encourage customer engagement. This has to be strategically viable though, constructed and executed in a sensible, accessible way, of course, but it could well be a valuable channel for drug and healthcare companies to involve patients in the co-creation of user-generated content, to tell their stories in a way that has both meaning and authenticity.
Over the past couple of years during the COVID-19 pandemic, patients have generally become more familiar with digital health, sharing health data, virtual or telehealth consultations. Technologically, the next step would logically be to leverage the metaverse in a holistic health way, with physician consultations, sharing of patient data, pharmacist visits, interactive treatment plans, vitals monitoring, even nutrition learning and fitness sessions being part of an overall healthcare provision metaverse offering.
Mental health is an area that has already embraced VR to help patients with conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s by transporting patients back to familiar places to stimulate memories or placing them in pleasant virtual life-like environments, such as in this video produced by Tribemix.
The metaverse can be used to help patients suffering from other illnesses and conditions such as anxiety disorders, PTSD, phobias, hallucinations.
AR, VR and AI are already used by surgeons in several ways, firstly to generate 3D views of a patient’s body to plan and illustrate procedures and secondly to perform a number of minimally-invasive procedures. The metaverse can help to augment these technologies further to provide realistic interaction between doctor and patient to explain surgical operations, potential complications, and so on. Medical training and education are obvious areas of great potential for the metaverse with AR spaces created that enable the human anatomy to be studied at a cellular level. Real life procedures can be simulated under immersive conditions, and various challenges and complications factored in, with student performance monitored.
In the pharmaceutical market, the metaverse, that combining of VR and AR with real world scenarios could certainly have implications in areas such as clinical development, supply chain visibility.
In January 2022, Becker’s Hospital Review reported that “The Wall Street Journal interviewed three drug makers to weigh in on this new digital frontier, an immersive, virtual reality-powered world.” Paul von Autenried, Bristol-Myers Squibb CIO, stated that scientists would benefit from the metaverse. “We have scientists doing real work in laboratories with beakers and chemicals, and their ability to do their work and free up their hands is very valuable,” he said. “The metaverse for me triggers an avalanche of thoughts and technology in the space of augmented reality and sort of technology that lies at the intersection of human physical interaction and what could be done with digital innovation.”
In the same article, Dave Williams, Merck & Co. CIO, said that he feels the possibilities of the metaverse to be endless. “We’ve got some really good examples in our environment of how we leverage those existing technologies, especially during the pandemic, to connect experts who are in very different parts of the world. I see that can be a huge opportunity in terms of connecting people, learning, development.”
In South Korea, pharma companies have been quick to embrace the metaverse. In October 2021, GC Pharma “conducted introductory training for new employees from the MZ (millennial/generation Z) demographic at an online training center using metaverse for two days” reported the Korea Biomedical Review. “The company used the views of the headquarters, the R&D center, and the training center in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, in the metaverse program.”
GC Pharma chose to use the metaverse to make new employee learning easier and improve the experience amid the COVID-19 pandemic, taking it into a much more immersive space.
“In a virtual space, which is familiar to the MZ generation, we provided a two-way education program using voice recognition, video connection, and screen sharing. As a result, new employees said they were very satisfied.” GC Pharma recognized that generation MZ are familiar with, and interested in, the metaverse and plan to expand and use experiential training in future.
Clearly the metaverse is here to stay and opens up boundless experiential digital worlds for businesses to develop blended customer experiences. Consumer brands are leading the charge and are already well-advanced in development, with brands such as Nike, Coca Cola, Louis Vuitton and Gucci already using the metaverse to build brand awareness in digital worlds. Figuring out how to best leverage the metaverse will be key for science marketers. It’s important to understand the elements of engagement, and factor in the metaverse as a growing, immersive digital tool in the marketing mix. As science marketers, we deal with often complex concepts which may lend themselves favorably to more immersive and interactive storytelling. Time, as ever, will tell.Keywords: Marketing Trends, Metaverse, science marketing, virtual reality