What Marketers Need To Know About The Metaverse

CMO at PwC US and an innovative executive at the crossroads of marketing, media and technology.

The metaverse is hot these days—maybe a little too hot, since some of the biggest ideas aren’t quite ready for prime time. But some metaverse concepts are real right now, and tech and marketing teams are integrating them into their plans. Other parts are about to get interesting soon.

How should marketers traverse this quickly evolving space? Here are some tips, based on my experience and what I’m hearing from the specialists.

First, understand what the metaverse is—and isn’t.

The basic idea of the metaverse is pretty similar to what science fiction writer Neal Stephenson came up with 30 years ago: a stunningly realistic, 3D digital world where you can do almost anything that you can do in the “real” world. I put on virtual reality (VR) and extended reality (XR) headsets for work pretty regularly, and I can tell you, this kind of metaverse doesn’t exist yet. According to the specialists I work with, it’s years away.

What we do have are some exciting 3D digital environments, where digital versions of people (avatars) can play games, attend concerts, hold meetings and buy and sell things. They can, in other words, interact with your brand in a lot of really appealing ways. Already, several leading consumer retail companies are selling digital versions of products for avatars to wear. And others may soon sell virtual products, launch their own cryptocurrencies and offer collectible non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

At my firm, we’re creating more and more VR environments where we meet with clients and recruits. The avatars don’t just talk. They also see and experience things (like 3D views of machines, facilities and cities) that they couldn’t otherwise. Our colleagues in Hong Kong SAR, China, are starting to buy real estate on metaverse platforms. Just as business leaders come to our offices in New York or Beijing for meetings, one day we may be meeting in our virtual offices as well. And we’re going to make sure our metaverse brand is consistent with our brand IRL (in real life), too.

What The Metaverse May Be Tomorrow

These are big developments, but the idea is for the metaverse to be much more than a 3D internet. All metaverse money, for example, is supposed to be cryptocurrencies and other digital assets. All metaverse environments should be fully interoperable, so you can take your avatar (with everything it owns and has done) from one to another. These environments should also be persistent: After your avatar puts those digital sneakers back on the digital rack, they stay there until another avatar tries them on. The metaverse is also supposed to offer mind-blowingly immersive experiences and have some universal rules to govern it, rather than each platform provider setting its own.

None of these concepts is mature or fully formulated yet. Some will be, someday, as the component technologies advance. Eventually, we should get extraordinary, persistent 3D digital experiences. Cryptocurrencies, as well as digital identities that people fully own and control so they can take them from one digital environment to another, are also moving fast.

While this vision of interoperability certainly could happen, the companies that dominate the internet currently make a lot of money by keeping consumers (and marketing) inside “walled gardens” that collect and control data on the internet. These platforms also provide some really valuable services. They’re planning to be big metaverse players, too.

What Marketers Should Do Today

I won’t call the metaverse a new marketing channel because most of its parts have been around for a while, but it’s a fast-moving one with new opportunities. Here are some suggestions on how to proceed:

1. Choose your speed. Are you mostly marketing to the digital natives who are leading adoption? If so, you’ll want to get on this fast, rolling out metaverse-related campaigns. Or are you (like me) addressing a wider demographic, including seasoned business executives? Then you should probably choose more focused applications. The goal is to avoid both the mistake of missing out and the mistake of overspending or misstepping.

2. Get moving. Low-cost, lower-risk marketing use cases include digital versions of physical goods or swag, virtual tours and NFTs that people can collect and trade.

3. Take extra care. For every piece of metaverse marketing, think beyond the brand. Work closely with security, risk and legal teams—and consider how it will reflect your company’s values. Just as with the internet or any digital marketing, you should take every possible step to make your metaverse presence safe and ethical, and not vulnerable to abuse.

4. Get ready for a bigger shift. Unless you’re a gaming company, metaverse marketing is probably just a sideline for now—like internet marketing was at first. But you should start thinking about what you’ll do if it really takes off. You may, for example, need to work with new tech vendors or platform providers, and you’ll probably want new ways to gather data. You may also want to make your brand presence consistent across the digital and physical worlds.

All in all, the metaverse is a thrilling development, since it’s offering new ways to reach consumers and clients. And if you haven’t gotten started yet, don’t worry. There’s still plenty of time to act now and stay ahead of the trend.

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