The new internet, a democratised virtual society, the convergence of virtual and physical realities, persistent virtual spaces, a digital twin of our own world. Call it what you will, but in 2022 we’re likely to see the metaverse lift off. And it’s time for B2B to pay attention.
The investments are eye-watering: Meta is spending $10 billion a year on its Facebook Reality Labs division and Microsoft paid $70 billion for gaming giant Activision Blizzard to ensure it’s “holding an ever-increasing number of important cards in the developing metaverse.”
Big B2C brands sense the opportunity, with the likes of Gucci’s virtual concept store, Nike making virtual trainers and Coca-Cola auctioning NFTs.
But as a B2B business, what’s it got to do with you? How will it help your business, your customers, and their customers?
Taking digital marketing to new heights
Firstly, forward-thinking B2B businesses were already using AR and VR to enhance experiences at real-world marketing events and – in the context of the pandemic – moving this to a virtual world; check out Cisco’s virtual trade show or Veryx’s 360 virtual product tour.
The metaverse is the next logical extension, with hugely enhanced capabilities to deliver an immersive product experience to potential customers and real-time interaction and advanced customisation features; check out shoe brand Vans World on virtual universe Roblox, the space Samsung built on decentralised meta platform Decentraland and how HTC delivered its annual conference on metaverse platform Engage for a glimpse at what’s possible.
New methods to reach new customers
And a small point of order for anyone who’s thinking the metaverse is the sole preserve of Fortnite-addicted Gen Z-ers: the oldest Gen Z-ers are about to become 30 and if they’re not already your B2B customers, they soon will be. Besides, millennials (some of whom are well in their 40s – yikes!) index just as highly as Gen Z-ers in terms of their embracing of the metaverse, according to this recent study.
But the opportunities for B2B brands in the metaverse extend far beyond virtual trade shows and immersive product demos. For the metaverse can be so much more, a place where the real world becomes more virtual. “The natural evolution of how humans interact with information and the physical world around them: the post-mobile era,” says Rosh Singh of Unit 9 in Campaign. “Think augmented layers of the world, with a wealth of information, content and interactivity enhancing our reality. A controllable, customisable contextualisation of the spaces around us.”
Now doesn’t that resonate with the complex data-driven information architectures around which B2B businesses increasingly build their offerings? (Or to put it another way: buying an industrial refrigeration unit is much more involved than purchasing a pair of trainers.)
The metaverse and service models
For B2B businesses lead gen isn’t the big pond-fishing expedition that it is in B2C. The question “where’s the value exchange” is more deeply nuanced around real business value and efficiencies. In this environment brand development is ever more reliant upon great CX, simultaneous feedback loops and deeper engagements.
It also chimes with many B2B businesses’ evolution from product to “product-as-a-service” offerings. Take Rolls-Royce, for example: historically focussed on selling big bits of complex metal and technology in the form of aviation engines, but increasingly playing in the “power-as-a-service” space. (Most recently in a new initiative agreed at COP26 to provide customers with electricity generated by a sustainable energy system as a subscription service.)
The point here is that service models enable B2B businesses to better develop those deep, ongoing relationships with customers informed by those tighter feedback loops and enhanced data sharing – something that can be supercharged in the metaverse.
With that in mind, software giant Oracle recently experimented with connecting the Nike shoe configurator to the Oracle Infinity business intelligence tool in the metaverse, capturing every click a potential customer makes – data that then becomes available for marketers.
Finessing your CX
As these metaverse innovations develop, product development, the optimisation of working processes, CX and marketing become inextricably intertwined. The ability to share, explore, and collaborate around information becomes critical, as does the need to pivot around huge data sets, and to do it with security provided by blockchain.
Going back to Rolls-Royce, they’re deploying digital twin technology, analytics, and machine learning to reduce the amount of carbon its aircraft engines produce while optimising maintenance to help its customers keep their planes in the air longer. Each flight generates half a gigabyte of data that can be used for predictive maintenance and predictive modelling. Data unique to each customer that – in a metaverse – can be leveraged securely to enhance experience.
And Rolls-Royce absolutely see the value of that data – and with the help of Candyspace recently launched an open marketplace to facilitate the sharing and monetisation of data across the aviation industry.
The metaverse: The key to a bright future?
The opportunities are flourishing in other sectors too. In construction BIM (Building Information Modelling) utilises digital twins and onward learning from active buildings to provide insights for future build and ongoing improvement. The metaverse is already beginning to provide tools and extensions which will enhance those interactions providing richer, swifter information flows, from immersive issue tracking to inspections.
Of course, much of what we anticipate in the metaverse is technology and bandwidth dependent, and it's no coincidence that blockchain, 5G and eventually quantum computers will drive the outcomes and define the routes we take into the new virtual world.
So, consider the metaverse a universe of opportunity, a tool which is unsharpened but once honed will form an inevitable and invaluable environment for lead generation, product development, collaborative working, CX and for building your B2B brand.