Brands are finding new ways to engage with consumers through immersive digital experiences and Web 3.0 technologies
Imagine shoppers walking from store to store in a virtual mall. As digital avatars, they can circle a piece of furniture to view it from all angles. They can try on a pair of pants or test the way a certain shade of lipstick looks. Virtual salespeople—powered by AI—can help shoppers find items, suggest products they might like, and offer customized deals based on each individual’s tastes and habits. When shoppers decide to buy, all they have to do is click—and their purchases are on the way.
That is just one vision of what virtual worlds and virtual economies can hold for brands. Through enhanced AR/VR, cryptocurrencies, cloud networks, edge computing, AI, and the internet of things, marketers can engage with consumers in ways they never could before. Those interactions can take place online in the metaverse, a term that describes the immersive digital world where consumers might wander virtual shopping malls, engage in web-based role-playing games, enjoy interactive live-streamed entertainment, and connect on social networking platforms. Taking virtual reality even further, brands can integrate the digital and physical spheres—as with smart homes, wearable fitness trackers, and apps that allow consumers to visualize a work of art on their own walls. These advances are powered by Web 3.0, a new era of the internet that includes machine learning, 5G, and other technologies that make it increasingly possible to overlay virtual experiences onto the physical world.
While the metaverse and Web 3.0 are still evolving, brands can set themselves apart by finding new ways to reach consumers before the market becomes saturated. To gain a foothold in the virtual world—and capitalize on the unlimited reality these technologies enable, CMOs can adopt the following strategies:
Put customers first. Rather than chasing down the latest fad simply to keep up, marketers can focus on finding ways to enhance the customer experience through digital worlds. With the consumer’s perspective as a starting point, marketers can dream big, imagining immersive virtual interactions and then enlisting the appropriate tools. These interactions should seamlessly incorporate new technologies to deliver experiences, products, and a sense of community that advance brand engagement.
For example, the NBA recently created virtual trading cards featuring brief highlight reels of the league’s top players. The cards are unique digital assets, called non-fungible tokens (NFTs), that can be bought and sold online. Consumers can collect or trade the virtual cards in the same way they would old-fashioned paper trading cards—and participate in an engaging experience that puts passion for their teams ahead of a flashy new technology. 1
Pair the physical and the virtual. Leveraging the technologies of Web 3.0, brands can combine physical products with virtual experiences—piquing customers’ curiosity and lowering the barrier to exploring virtual worlds. For example, some clothing retailers are pairing new merchandise drops with virtual currencies. Those retailers include Adidas, which recently launched an “Into the Metaverse” collection of streetwear and NFTs. Customers who purchased those NFTs could access exclusive digital experiences and claim limited-edition physical merchandise, such as hoodies, tracksuits, and beanies.
Meanwhile, U.K. department store Selfridges created a physical space devoted to virtual worlds in its flagship London shop. In the “Playhouse,” shoppers can try new video games, VR technology such as headsets and 3D eyeglasses, and even retro arcade games.2 The brand is also building community by hosting workshops and other events in the space.3
Focus on immersive experiences. Amid the ongoing pandemic, the metaverse can offer brands a way to create experiential activations without safety concerns. Virtual worlds can also allow marketers to experiment with products and experiences that would not be possible in the physical world—such as clothing that changes color or moves on its own, or live-streamed concerts that allow fans to interact with pop stars through their avatars.
Warner Bros., for example, threw a digital launch party for the movie “In the Heights,” where participants could play games, help create a community mural, and dance alongside thousands of users from around the world in a virtual flash mob.4 The United States Golf Association, meanwhile, created an AR-powered app that allowed fans to explore the course of the 2021 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open.
Conversely, today’s new technologies also open opportunities for immersive experiences that are very personal, particularly when it comes to fashion and beauty. Digital twins can enable consumers to try on clothes or makeup in a totally virtual environment, and multiple beauty brands are already leveraging AR and AI technology to allow customers to test products online.
Consider older generations, too. While new technologies are often associated with younger demographics, that is not necessarily the case with virtual reality. Games that allow users to engage with one another as characters in digital worlds, for example, have proven popular among older and younger consumers alike—meaning marketers that over-index on Gen Z may miss the opportunity to reach a broader swathe of customers.
Take the example of video games, where many brands are already active. Nearly one in five consumers who responded to Deloitte’s “2022 Global Marketing Trends” survey say they have made a purchase in a video game in the past month. Among those in-game shoppers, 25% are 26 to 46 years old, while 8% are over age 46.
There are also several product categories that appeal across age groups—such as autos, electronics, fashion, and furniture—where immersive digital experiences can improve the purchase experience. The luxury fashion game Drest, for example, allows users to compete with one another to style digital outfits, and participants can also purchase physical versions of some of their favorite clothes.
Take risks and experiment. The metaverse and Web 3.0 are in the early stages of development, and that makes the space ripe for innovation. While some companies are better known than others, there are no dominant players yet. Whether brands are exploring established platforms such as videogames and cryptocurrencies, creating their own immersive experiences, or leveraging new technologies to build virtual worlds, there is plenty of room to experiment.
Disney, for example, recently patented a “virtual-world simulator,” according to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filings. The simulator would track the dynamic perspective of individual visitors to Disney’s theme parks to create customized immersive experiences based on the person’s location, without the need for AR headsets. A group of guests could interact with a projection of Mickey Mouse as they approach Cinderella’s castle, for example, or play characters in a virtual themed environment while wandering through the park.
Just as the internet completely changed the way brands market to consumers, the rise of immersive digital experiences may also indicate an important shift ahead. CMOs have an opportunity to innovate how they engage with consumers—and for brands that get a head start on building communities in the virtual world, there could be a first-mover advantage.
— Allan Cook, managing director, Deloitte Digital, and Digital Reality Business leader, and Francesca Dijols, senior manager and co-lead, Customer Strategy & Experience practice, both with Deloitte Consulting LLP
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1. Samman, Shaker, “What’s All the Fuss About NBA Top Shot?” Sports Illustrated, March 17, 2021.
2. “Playhouse by Smartech,” Selfridges & Co., accessed March 25, 2022.
3. “Selfridges’ Gaming Destination Invites Immersive Play,” Wallpaper, Aug. 30, 2021.
4. Takahashi, Dean, “Roblox launches In the Heights experience with Warner Bros. Pictures,” VentureBeat, June 4, 2021.