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Many marketers are feeling a bit burned by metaverse promises. Take virtual real estate, which was supposed to be a safe bet, an investment that would surely deliver dividends. Now that real estate in the metaverse has lost 85% of its value, marketers who stayed on the sidelines understandably feel as if they’ve dodged a bullet.
Perhaps spending over $900,000 for a parcel of land in Decentraland is a bit premature, but make no mistake, the metaverse is coming, and it will be a major driver of the global economy. According to McKinsey & Co, it has the potential to top $5 trillion in value over the next seven or eight years. That’s not very far into the future. Now is the time for every marketer to start experimenting with the metaverse and the opportunities it holds.
One of the challenges marketers face is that the whole notion of the metaverse is quite vague. What is it exactly? And does it serve a purpose beyond providing a platform for cool games and avatars that visit virtual retail outlets to purchase virtual luxury apparel?
It does, and to be honest, time is of the essence. Here’s an analogy we can all relate to in order to understand the urgency. When COVID-19 appeared, companies were told to send their employees home. Those that had embraced digital work tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack made the transition easily. Those that had a corporate culture that demanded face-to-face interactions faltered. Put another way, those that adopted digital tools were prepared for the new reality that was thrust upon them. Their preparation paid big dividends.
The same will be true for marketers who experiment with metaverse-type trends, such as extended reality. What’s more, they can experiment without investing in virtual real estate, minting an NFT or mining a new crypto. If you’re a marketer, your biggest play right now lies in the 3D assets your company created when developing new products on a computer.
Extended reality and the role of 3D assets in solving marketing challenges
Every company that uses computers for product creation has 3D assets scattered throughout its organization, typically in an on-premise storage drive. Rather than leave them there, marketers should begin exploring how to use them in the sales and marketing funnel in new ways. 3D is the recipe for being in the metaverse, and building up the skills and assets needed to create these assets and deploy them in business use cases will be table stakes.
During the pandemic, Cost Plus World Market (a Rightpoint client) created a virtual holiday store inspired by online games. Rather than clicking on menus to access photos of items for sale, shoppers strolled through aisles and discovered new and interesting products. While conceived as a way to break the doldrums of lockdown, its true value for World Market is the way it got the company to start thinking about what it’s like to do business in a world that is inherently 3D and digital.
Extended reality is the backbone of 3D marketing. It’s a combination of several different types of digital realities, all of which will ultimately power three-dimensional and spatially-aware environments.
In a 2D world, users interact with a screen via their thumbs or a mouse and click through menus. 3D offers an extra level of depth: How does this piece of content, whether it represents a sweater or a replacement water filter for a refrigerator, relate to your body or physical scale? In a spatially-aware environment, a user can hold up the sweater to their chest to get a sense of its length, for example, which fundamentally changes how they interact with content.
Virtual experiences on par with physical ones
Spatially-aware environments open up a world of opportunities for businesses of all stripes. We’re currently working with an insulation company that only makes physical products. What use does this company have for virtual products? you may wonder. The company wants to make its factories visible to its customers so that they can see first-hand all the details that go into making insulation. Rather than fly every potential customer to a factory, they offer tours of a 3D factory that allow people to look around and explore various aspects of it. The company has added another use case for its 3D factory, relying on it to train new hires.
Consider what this means for people who have mobility issues that prevent them from accessing physical locations safely. Companies can create virtual experiences that are on par with physical ones, especially with the new tools that are coming to the market, such as improved headsets with microphone voice isolation and the ability to simulate touch.
This is game-changing. Last December, Boeing announced plans to unify its design, production and airline services operations into a single digital environment. Fully immersive 3D engineering designs will be paired with robots that speak to each other, and mechanics will be linked by Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets. The goal is to put engineers inside a virtual airplane so they can identify and resolve potential problems in the design phase.
3D assets can also solve some of a marketer’s privacy challenges, beginning with getting prospects to disclose their contact details so that the brand can create relevant purchasing journeys. Consumers are understandably reluctant to provide their email and mobile details to brands, but that may change if in exchange they get access to amazing 3D experiences. Would I provide my email address if it means going on a 3D joyride in a BMW Series X1? You bet I would. And the experience just may move BMW up my list of potential new cars to purchase.
3 steps to getting started with 3D and extended reality for marketing
The first step is to think about the possible ways you could provide user self-help with your 3D content. For instance, you may wish to use augmented reality for live triage when consumers call in about a broken product.
Next, identify the range of your company’s assets and determine how these assets can be deployed in a 3D world. For a lot of companies, this is a big endeavor, especially if your entire library of assets is with a third-party vendor or scattered throughout your organization. You may need to work with a partner who can help you integrate those assets into customer- or employee-facing environments, but the payoff will be worth it.
Finally, start experimenting. For inspiration, look at what companies like Boeing, Maytag and Cost Plus are doing. Once you think through your asset pipeline, a lot of interesting use cases will occur to you. Platforms like Gather can even allow you to host virtual gatherings in the metaverse to start engaging with customers in new and interesting ways.
These aren’t pie-in-the-sky use cases. These are the things that real companies are doing today, and they will define the way we do business in the future.
As Rightpoint’s digital product emerging technology lead, Jonathan Dominguez is passionate about building digital products and immersive experiences using 3D, VR, AR and MR platforms.