From Building the Metaverse to Engaging With It – Those Brands Who Enter First Will Not Always Win the Race

digital image of face with AR glasses

By Gonzalo Brujo, President of the Interbrand Group, and Interbrand’s Horizon Board

Perhaps the most important outcome of Facebook’s famous re-brand to Meta is bringing the debate about the so-called metaverse into the public realm. Since Facebook’s name change, fundamental questions have been raised around the metaverse and the implications — and limitations — for brands.

While some brands might be building the metaverse, most (if not all) brands at some point will need to figure out how (and when) to play in it. There are already a number of pros and cons for brands in this new virtual world. At its most ambitious, the metaverse is imagined as a liminal new world ready for us to inhabit; the central and most seductive idea being that in this world, you can be any version of yourself — for better and for worse. At its most dystopian (and yet most tangible), we are invited to imagine a world in which we attend school as avatars of ourselves.

The metaverse is a growing ecosystem, one where we don’t yet know where the limits are in terms of safety and reach. We acknowledge that it is an open door to innovation and a new playground for brands to connect with their audiences but history has taught us that the ones who arrive first don’t always win.

With the fast approach of web 3.0 and the metaverse driving this new era of the internet, we could see brands transform, overhaul and completely rework their marketing and advertising strategies to thrive and even survive in a modern world.

But before doing so, the metaverse should be carefully considered and, most importantly, understood.

Flourishing Ecosystems or Walled Gardens

One of the key principles of the metaverse is the idea that we could be inhabiting an integrated and interconnected ‘entity’. Even though Facebook’s new name might suggest differently, right now there are only multiple closed metaverses, such as Microsoft Mesh and Roblox. The metaverse as such is not yet a connected network but a set of independent nodes that grow under their own rules, each one seeking to scale to the point that it achieves a form of dominance.

If brands are to navigate their way around the metaverse, multiple platforms may seem daunting. Which do you enter? How to you choose? Historically many of the Best Global Brands and fastest growing businesses in the world are those with the most connected business systems. Apple, for example, has shown how ecosystems drive value through its integrated model — software, hardware and touchpoints are connected not just by beautiful design aesthetics but by systems working together.

Similarly, the biggest player in this space, Microsoft, has completed a slew of acquisitions, including most recently the $75bn deal to buy Activision Blizzard — maker of some of the world’s most popular games.

All of this activity makes Microsoft the third biggest gaming company in the world and, combined with its dominance in the enterprise space, suggests a gamified and comprehensive vision for the future of the web, in which education, work and play come together.

But what about the brands that are less well placed to build the metaverse but poised to drive new affinity, presence and engagement in the space?

Well, it’s not hard to come by examples of brands experimenting in the metaverse. We’ve seen companies like Nike (through RTFKT), Adidas (collaboration with Bored Ape Yacht Club), Balenciaga, Gucci, H&M and many more moving into the NFT market by developing exclusive collections and collaboration items.

What is most interesting about these first movers is that each of them falls into the arena of self-expression — a fluid competitive landscape of brands competing to enable consumers to construct and express their identity.

Expressing ourselves, our habits and our desires is key to spending time online; we can be who we want to be without physical/digital boundaries (e.g., Anthony Joshua vs Spiderman) and it can have huge benefits. Morgan Stanley has already predicted that, in 2030, 10% of the turnover (about 50,000 million euros) of luxury brands will come directly from the metaverse.

The Right Time to Move to the Metaverse

While some brands might be building the metaverse, the majority of brands still need to figure when and how they should enter it.

During the early 2000s we saw strong brands such as Nokia and Kodak decline in value from being some of the world’s Best Global Brands — all due to their slow adoption of digital advancements.

Although, in some cases, slow and steady wins the race.

Apple didn’t come first in the PC or mobile phone race but its ambition propelled it to become the world’s most valuable brand. Google did not launch the first internet search engine and today our lives cannot be understood without its services.

Their trajectories help us draw important lessons about the metaverse — satisfy and anticipate the real needs of users; obtain quality insights that lead to the generation of business ideas and turn it all into memorable experiences for customers.

Even though the future of the metaverse and how it will look is unclear, we know it isn’t going to go away. In fact, the metaverse will only grow and further embed itself into our lives, the services we use and the products we buy.

While brands will undoubtably all have to enter this new and exciting playground at some point — with transformed and improved strategies — there is no rush. The metaverse should be monitored, understood and then used in the best possible way.