In Neal Stephenson’s popular 1992 sci-fi novel “Snow Crash” the author introduced the term metaverse to portray a futuristic world where people interacted in virtual 3D worlds using avatars. While his avatar-laced society is a familiar playing field for virtual game fans, few others but forward-looking marketers envisioned much usefulness in the realities of e-commerce.
That is, until now. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg turned the M-word into a vibrant new name for his now rebranded metaverse company, Meta.
Since the “Snow Crash” novel craze, the metaverse term described multi-user, persistent virtual worlds that incorporate social interaction. The game Second Life, which launched in 2003, was the first metaverse to achieve meaningful user adoption, according to Wendell Lansford, co-founder and CEO of MarTech firm Wyng. Multiplayer online games and platforms, like Minecraft, Roblox and Fortnight, may also be considered as variations of a metaverse.
“Today, the term metaverse describes shared environments that bring together aspects of social media, virtual, and augmented reality, multiplayer online games, and cryptocurrencies to create immersive, digital experiences that both reflect and bridge to the physical world,” Lansford told the E-Commerce Times.
New Frontier for E-Marketing
The metaverse is a digital universe where people as avatars live, play, interact, and work. In the virtual community of the game Second Life, many users work full-time jobs creating and selling digital goods.
That concept of bringing shared environments together gives new life to some tired old marketing strategies. It also suggests exactly where Facebook and the marketing industry plan to go. To borrow a “Star Trek” slogan, it’s a place where no advertisers have gone before.
The online shopping world will become an exciting place. Facebook’s name change as a business force may well carve a place out of the metaverse. Suddenly, metaverse has generated a huge buzz over the potential benefits that this 3D shared environment has to offer.
This new metaverse frontier of digital development may well have unparalleled advantages for enterprising technology enthusiasts. The metaverse concept may well be the driving force to take e-commerce marketing to the next level. But many people are questioning how it could be used.
Digital relationships between brands and consumers and the risk/reward strategies of third-party data have shifted immensely in recent years. As marketers begrudgingly shift away from the practice, the rise of the metaverse presents a unique opportunity for brands to start fresh and employ new privacy-first initiatives.
Being that each user in the metaverse is an authorized user, both brands and consumers are empowered to get the value exchange they want. In exchange for certain coupons, digital goods or access to areas, brands can ensure they are collecting data that was shared with explicit consent.
This eliminates guesswork from both sides. If done correctly, it has the chance to change how we look at data forever, noted Lansford.
Lansford’s company Wyng is positioned to help companies and their customers successfully co-exist with effective online interaction strategies. Wyng uses API-powered infrastructure for zero-party data (ZPD).
Zero-party data is all the consent-based, personal context data that customers share to improve their experience with brands. It gives customers transparency and control over their profiles and builds trust. The process involves personalizing experiences in real time across channels.
Discussing Business in the Metaverse
The E-Commerce Times discussed with Lansford how metaverse technology will impact brands and their customers.
E-Commerce Times: How is the metaverse different than what is non-metaverse?
Wendell Lansford: Think of the non-metaverse as today’s internet as exemplified by Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, and any web or e-commerce site.
Metaverse environments, on the other hand, run in parallel to today’s internet. It works much like multiplayer online games. Compared to today’s internet, emerging metaverse environments will offer richer experiences where the virtual and physical worlds converge, and the experience of interacting with others approximates real life.
Is the metaverse concept strictly aligned with e-commerce — meaning doing business over the internet — or does it have connections to other industries, too?
Lansford: In addition to e-commerce, metaverse technologies will have applications in a range of industries. These include entertainment, gaming, social media, education, fitness, travel, real estate, and marketing and advertising.
For example, one popular application today is watching movies (and chatting) with remote friends in a shared virtual theater.
As another example, in November, a plot of virtual real estate in Decentraland (a popular crypto-powered metaverse environment) sold for $2.43 million. The land, purchased by Metaverse Group, will be developed to facilitate fashion shows and commerce within the exploding digital fashion industry.
Fair value exchange (FVE) is a key element of business in the metaverse. How is the importance of FVE instead of not shorting consumers in data exchanges a new concept?
Lansford: In the past, brands have primarily collected data about consumers by purchasing data from data aggregators/brokers (i.e., third-party data) or by tracking consumers’ clicks, searches, and purchases on a brand-owned website or mobile app (i.e., first-party data). These ways of collecting data happen behind the scenes, typically without the consumer having any knowledge of the data being collected.
As a result of privacy regulations and privacy-aware consumers, brands are now investing in zero-party data. This is data that consumers knowingly and intentionally share with a brand in exchange for something of value, like a personalized recommendation, loyalty points, and/or a coupon. Consumers will share their data with a brand they trust when the brand makes it worth their while.
How can brands gather zero-party data in the metaverse?
Lansford: The only way to gather zero-party data is by asking for it. On the web, brands ask for zero-party data via micro experiences like guided shopping quizzes, next-best questions, surveys, polls, sign-up forms, and conversational chatbots.
These same techniques can be adapted to the metaverse, but with richer interfaces. The metaverse also opens new possibilities for asking for zero-party data.
For example, imagine a virtual store with a knowledgeable shopkeeper who is there to help customers by engaging them in conversation. The shopkeeping gets to know customers’ personal needs, preferences, goals, and interests (again, zero-party data). Then, with the customers’ permission, the retailer uses that data to provide a more personalized experience with the brand.
Moreover, NFTs or non-fungible tokens, open up new possibilities for value exchange in the metaverse. They can be redeemed for real goods on a brand’s site or in a physical store.
Metaverse commerce is in its early days, with lots of innovation and improvements still to come, Lansford observed. However, the multiplayer online gaming market offers an analogy for virtual worlds and e-commerce coming together.
“[Last year] for example, nearly 20 million people visited a two-week Gucci exhibit, where they could purchase limited-edition Gucci accessories for their avatars,” he said.