In the world of corporate communication, one theme has been impossible to avoid of late: the metaverse. It’s a concept that blurs the boundary between the physical and digital worlds, but which is still hard to pin down, with people offering competing visions that range from the thrilling to the humdrum. Yet it’s already a key area of focus for the digital professions that are revolutionising the field of communication.
Here are some stats about the metaverse that I’ve taken from ByBit:
- More than half of metaverse users belong to GenZ and Gen Alpha
- By 2030, it’s estimated that the metaverse market will be worth 1.5 trillion dollars
- In the US, almost 40% of people believe that the metaverse will bring benefits to their everyday lives
While the dizzying levels of hype seen in the summer of 2022 will pass, the metaverse will remain something to watch and explore. That’s why we recently posted this primer on the metaverse. Scott Guttenberger, VP of marketing at blockchain Topl, succinctly sums up what the metaverse is and why it’s important:
The metaverse sounds intimidating at first, but in reality, it is easier to grasp when you think of it as virtual experiences brought via the internet. Many small businesses already use the internet to bring an experience to prospects or customers.
That’s why we wanted to hear Mauro Lupi’s thoughts on this often misunderstood concept.
Mauro is a digital veteran: he helped to create and develop the Internet market in Italy, starting out in search before moving to online communication. Strategy Director at DigitalBreak and an expert educator, he has written several books, the last of which – Digital Business Strategy (FrancoAngeli, 2021) – fast became essential reading for entrepreneurs, students and others interested in the digital space.
We were eager to get his view on the potential and opportunities that this technology holds out.
Hello Mauro, many thanks for speaking to us. What does the word metaverse mean? Which definition do you think best explains it to a newbie?
It’s safe to say that there isn’t a single definition of the metaverse, because there are different types and because it depends on whether we mean existing metaverses or those that will be created in the future, which will be created by tech companies and will be very different. For example, one of the features that doesn’t exist today but that is hoped will one day be reality is so-called interoperability. In other words, the possibility to move from one metaverse to another, using our same data or avatar with the same characteristics that we perhaps we’ve personalised by buying accessories or enhancements. It’s a feature that doesn’t yet exist; perhaps it will in future if platforms agree on a standard, but at the moment there’s no sign of this happening.
What are the biggest paradigm shifts that the metaverse promises compared to what came before, and what interests you most about it?
I think that one of the most exciting aspects is the defying of the laws of physics and, therefore, the possibility to build spaces, to project environments with completely new criteria that aren’t based on the rules of classical physics and concepts of space as we’ve always understood them. I was struck by a talk given by an architect who has switched from designing physical settings to virtual ones. He spoke about how, at a certain point, you find yourself faced with the possibility of inventing virtually anything. Buildings float, you stop worrying about foundations or gravity, and so on. This is where I think that human imagination and creativity will find incredibly fertile ground.
When talking about a business, brand or product in the metaverse, what might change compared to other communication environments, and what might stay the same?
There’s an interesting aspect when it comes to corporate communication if we look at it from a broader standpoint. In the pre-internet period, communication was generally one-way. Then, more recently, we realised how, in social environments, corporate communication had to be more compelling because organisations are part of a conversation. I think that the metaverse – and virtual environments in general – allow businesses to switch to a role of host. A role which isn’t just about communicating, but creating compelling experiences that are collective and immersive. Experiences designed with facilitators and channels offering opportunities for more direct communication, as well as concentrating on creating context, “place” and what happens “inside” it.
I don’t think there’s any point in imagining the metaverse just as a new space for sending promotional messages. Rather, the opportunities and technical aspects that these new extended-reality environments offer need to be studied and understood in depth, with a view to creating things that are specifically designed for the metaverse. Otherwise, we’ll be in a situation analogous to when the first websites were made by simply digitising paper brochures. So the functionalities and mechanisms for interaction offered will need to be carefully analysed so that people get something different out of it compared to traditional digital platforms. Otherwise, it’s just special effects – and the history of corporate communication teaches us that they don’t work.
What role does the metaverse have to play in an overall digital business strategy?
It depends what the strategy is! I don’t think that any one role is necessarily more suitable than another; the opportunities are many: from incremental change compared to the past, like the creation of new spaces for interacting with the market, to more disruptive ones, such as selling new products or services that are completely virtual.
At the end of the day, the metaverse should be seen as one of many tools available to a business, particularly the marketing function. But, as I emphasise in my latest book, “Digital Business Strategy”, these tools can only be assessed once a firm’s positioning in the market has been properly understood, and, above all, once the the needs and behaviours of existing customers and prospects have been mapped.
Can we already point to examples of success and good practice? If so, which are the most interesting?
It seems to me that there are 10 or so significant and accomplished cases. Then there are hundreds of experiments across pretty much every sector, but especially in the B2C world. There’s an interesting EY report that reveals:
- That 42% of a sample of Italian managers say that they will definitely or probably invest in the metaverse
- At the same time, 43% don’t plan to invest more than 50,000 euro. Basically, they plan to run some experiments but not much more.
When it comes to the metaverse and new digital environments, I’ve put together a free short course in which I outline the use cases that are most tangible and effective for businesses, and warn of the pitfalls to avoid as things currently stand.
Is it possible for SMEs to position themselves effectively in the metaverse too? What advice would you give entrepreneurs?
My advice is to first familiarise yourself with the phenomenon with realism and pragmatism, and then perhaps think about it more deeply.