A year and a change after entering the discourse, the Metaverse appears to be a must-have for brands looking to reach Gen Z. Standing out from the pack is tough in the rush of new entrants, which means marketers marketing must be deliberate in building virtual worlds suited to a cohort that has expressed a clear aversion to ads, but could reward companies that cater to their preferences for online community and self-expression.
“They’re playing, I believe, the long game,” AJ said. Dalalgroup vice-president data strategy at Publicis Sapient, on brands joining the metaverse. “They’re entering this space in terms of Gen Z to brand, teach and connect with these young consumers.”
Evangelists position the metaverse as a key part of the next evolution of the internet, called Web3, and believe the chain will eventually become a serious income generator as consumers buy virtual goods and even goods to personalize their online presence. That dream remains far from realized, but brands should still probe the interests of Gen Z now, as the group sees its buying power soar online with more robust tech integrations and accelerated Web3 adoption.
Nearly two-thirds (62%) of Gen Zers who have heard of the Metaverse believe it will be the future of e-commerce, according to data from the Wunderman Thompson Intelligence survey. This suggests that they will be open to transacting in the metaverse once these lanes become more readily available.
“There’s a lot of experimentation going on and we need to understand how it’s being used before we can move forward with any kind of monetization,” said Emma Chiu, global director of Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, of the metaverse. “It paves the way for engaging a younger audience who will end up making money and spending their money with this business if engaged.”
True Web3 activations that apply decentralized technology like blockchain are rare and limited to early adopters. In reality, most metaverse-related marketing efforts would fit easily into Web2 definitions, centered around multiplayer video games that have been around for years like Fortnite and Roblox.
That said, gaming and the metaverse go hand in hand, and marketers shouldn’t shy away from viewing gaming platforms as a testing ground for future-facing experiences. Established video games are also the surest way to reach an audience, with Roblox commanding 52 million daily active users.
“Traditional advertisements are not seen in the same way and there is many more age restrictions when it comes to social media“, said Chiu. “If the younger generation plays, it is likely that they can come across a mark in this game compared to any other online channel.
The low barrier to entry into the game has resulted in a high volume of metaverse activations in recent months, few of which create a lasting impression. A common theme among the successes is sharing a long-term roadmap that sets concrete expectations for consumers and hooks them for the long term, according to Dalal.
Incentives for repeat visits could include accumulating rewards through in-game activities, receiving limited-edition virtual goods, or access to real-world perks. Nike introduced its Nikeland world on Roblox last November and said from the start that the space would change over time. Nike Land attracted over 21 million players nowadays.
“It’s important to share with them what you’re trying to achieve in six months, a year, two years,” Dalal said. “Once you make those statements to them, you are authentic to your customer base and they can then assess it competently.”
Beyond distributing collectibles and designing addictive mini-games, marketers should consider the metaverse as an experiential channel. The pandemic has proven that tens of millions of people would look to performance on gaming platforms, an idea on which brands continue to bet. Walmart today (October 6) is host a music festival with Gen Z headlining plays Madison Beer, Kane Brown, and Yungblud in her new Electric Island experience on Roblox.
“Look at the last couple of years: these great cultural moments, they happened in virtual spaces,” said Laura Connell, consumer trends manager at GWI.
Community and creation
Just as metaverse marketing shouldn’t be a one-time game, neither is it a one-channel tactic. One of the biggest reasons Gen Z stays hooked on games is the sense of camaraderie, yet marketers often don’t ramp up their campaigns to foster outside discussion through apps like Discord and Twitter.
“The discord has really been the primary platform Gen Z have truly connected with“Dalal said. “I haven’t really seen a lot of brands launch a metaverse experience and complement it with some type of social channel to enable authentic discussions and communication.”
Within metaverse platforms, brands should keep in mind that Gen Z values a sense of self-expression and is the most diverse generation to reach maturity. More than half (57%) of surveyed group members said they can express themselves more freely in games than they are in real life, according to a recent study.
“They want to have a safe space where they can hang out with their friends,” Chiu said. “They also want to have a place where they feel comfortable exploring their identity further and maybe making new friends as well.”
In the same vein, maintaining trust is paramount. Sites like Roblox have come under scrutiny from industry watchdogs due to a lack of transparency around marketing communications, and are now introducing ad formats that are more clearly labeled as such. According to GWI’s findings, one in four consumers who are not interested in the Metaverse cited privacy concerns as a barrier.
“Privacy and security concerns should definitely be a priority for brands,” Connell said.
Despite the lingering skepticism and the risks of failure, marketers shouldn’t be surprised if the metaverse continues to dominate discussions and absorb more budgets in an increasingly connected world.
“That’s how technology evolves,” Chiu said. “I don’t think it’s something preventable.”