There has been a lot of hype over the metaverse. A Google search of the term metaverse returns 189 million results. The company that owns two of the largest social media networks in the world even changed its name from Facebook to Meta in 2021. Yet the metaverse may not be living up to the hype.
Early reports indicate Meta’s Horizon Worlds isn’t meeting expectations. A year old in December 2022, Horizon Worlds has just 200,000 monthly active users, below Meta’s goal of 280,000 from an already lowered initial projection of 500,000. Simply building a virtual world without a special interest, unique selling point, or target community is a challenge.
We should have learned this lesson from the hype over Second Life in 2007 when big brands invested heavily in virtual real estate. Back then founder Philip Rosedale proclaimed, “The 3D web will rapidly be the dominant thing and everyone will have an avatar.”
After 19 years Second Life hasn’t built a mass virtual world but does have 1 million monthly active niche users. It also has graphics that seem to look better than Horizon Worlds. Second Life is also free to join via the web – you pay to own land. Living in Horizon World first requires purchasing $400 Meta owned Oculus headsets and downloading the app.
If you build it (the metaverse) they (mass audiences) may not come. Business Insider reports that only 9% of the worlds built Horizon Worlds are visited by 50 users or more. Most users abandon the platform in the first month, and over half of the VR headsets are out of use within six months.
This doesn’t mean that the metaverse isn’t relevant to marketers. It just isn’t a mass media play. There are already existing metaverse niche communities out there. Remember that Facebook’s platform of nearly 3 billion monthly active global users was not created overnight. It also started with a niche audience of U.S. college students.
You don’t need Horizon Worlds to engage in the metaverse. Most of the existing, populated, and active metaverses are game-based browser virtual worlds such as Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, Avankin Life, IMNU, and, of course, Second Life. These 3D virtual worlds have been around for at least five years with many existing for a decade or longer.
Below is an amazing infographic of the existing metaverse by Nic Mitham of Metaversed Consulting created in part from data from W. James Au at New World Notes. As you can see in the MAU’s below, you don’t need to wait for Horizon Worlds to take off to experiment with metaverse marketing.
How are brands using the metaverse for marketing? Vans partnered with Roblox to create a virtual interactive skate park, Vans World. It allowed Roblox users to virtually visit skate parks with friends earning points through game play to spend on virtual Vans sneakers and apparel and to build customized skateboards in a virtual skate shop. Vans World attracted over 48 million visitors in a couple of months.
Nike created Nikeland metaverse in Roblox. In a couple of months, 7 million visited Nikeland to enjoy brand experiences, such as celebrity appearances by LeBron James, games with rewards, and ownership of their own “yard” or personal space to show off their collectibles. Exclusive branded digital products can also be worn on fans’ avatars around Roblox environments to create digital brand ambassadors.
With these examples, keep in mind that 54% of Roblox users are under 12 years old and just 14% are over 25 years old. These demographics may match Vans’ and Nike’s target audience, but probably don’t fit with many marketers’ target customers. Package goods like Tide don’t need to be creating Tideland virtual Roblox laundry rooms to engage fans and sell more detergent.
Dip your toe in the metaverse with “phygital” experiences. Other brands have created merged digital and real-life experiences through the metaverse. During New York Fashion Week Puma launched an integrated physical and digital experience called “Black Station.” Visitors to the website interacted with the brand’s Fashion Week show as if they were there in person. Digital exhibits featured 3D sneakers and NFT holders could redeem tokens for physical pairs of shoes.
Phygital marketing blends digital metaverse and physical real-life brand experiences. Instead of jumping completely into the virtual world, phygital combines the physical and digital experiences that consumers may be more comfortable with including AR/VR and 3D modeling or metaverse experiences that reflect a physical one.
Some of these hybrid experiences are happening on Decentraland. Dentraland is a newer 3D browser-based virtual world built on NFTs and cryptocurrency. Samsung’s New York flagship store had a physical sustainability fashion show that was simultaneously created in the brand’s metaverse space in Decentraland. This is called a “simuverse” experience. Simulverse is when a physical event is simultaneously played out in the metaverse.
Another phygital strategy is “twinning.” Twinning is crafting digital experiences that mimic a physical one, or vice versa. An example of twinning is when Gucci created physical figurines of its “SuperGucci” NFTs. Or Prada which added NFTs to its limited-edition physical clothes.
A related strategy is “tokenization.” Tokenization is when physical items are reformatted into NFTs on a blockchain. Tommy Hilfiger created NFTs of luxury and exclusive physical merchandise on the Boston Portal marketplace in Decentraland. Their release was timed with the physical world fashion week but hosted in the fashion district of this 3D virtual world.
The bottom line for marketers? The metaverse isn’t mainstream and may never be, at least in the next several years. Instead of going all in, go partially in with “phygital” experiences and by reaching relevant niche audiences in existing virtual worlds. Simply building a brand experience in Horizon Worlds will not make your customers come.
If your target audience is already active in a metaverse then go where they are spending time. This is the same strategy for selecting social media platforms. First, define your marketing objectives and your target audience. Then look at user demographics and psychographics of metaverse platforms searching for a match. Also, go beyond monthly active users (MAUs) and search for daily active user (DAUs) data.
Want to learn more about the broader topic of Web3? Check out my previous article “The Future of Digital and Social Media Marketing With Web3.” Or to learn more about matching target audience to digital platforms see “Are You My Audience? 7 Misconceptions About Target Audiences in Social Media and Digital Marketing Strategy.”