In the brilliant cult classic Zoolander, male models Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) must stop the evil Mugatu (Will Ferrell) from killing the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Hansel is looking for files that contain evidence, but all he sees is a computer. He calls a friend who sets him straight:
Hansel thinks he’s figured out the problem. But a fundamental misunderstanding of how computers work—namely how a “file” can be “in the computer”—leads to disaster. Hansel smashes the computer on the ground in hopes of releasing the files, thus destroying all the evidence in the process:
It seems silly now to make that mistake; we all know what “files in the computer” means. But this kind of misunderstanding is exactly what’s happening around the “metaverse”: it’s a place, it’s an app, it’s the thing Mark Zuckerberg is building. Indeed, Mark Zuckerberg has added to the confusion by renaming “Facebook” as “Meta” while simultaneously announcing his personal vision for the metaverse (not a coincidence). And everyone who uses the term “virtual” to describe anything that is not in-person (I’m looking at you, Zoom) also adds a layer of fog to the concept.
Whether we understand it or not, the metaverse has already surpassed even the highest projections, set to reach $800 Billion before 20301, with many global brands leading the way.2 And though it may seem like a wild frontier full of scary unknowns, you’re actually on very familiar ground. In its infancy, the metaverse is still an extension of the internet, which means that marketing in the metaverse follows the general rules of marketing in any digital context: know your audience and create experiences so your audience can connect and grow along with you. This is really good news, and the perfect time to get your feet wet. All you need right now is to learn some basics, so let’s get to it.
What exactly is the metaverse? What is it not? What do you need to get started? And what can your company do with it?
What is the metaverse?
Simply put, the metaverse is a simulated, real-time environment where you—represented by a digital avatar—are completely immersed and can interact with the digital space, objects, and people around you. Gamers understand this concept because they’ve been playing in mini-verses this whole time: Minecraft, Fortnite, even Animal Crossing, to name a few. Anyone who has used a VR headset understands the feeling of being immersed in another world without leaving the living room. And after thousands of collective hours on Zoom, we all understand the concept of our non-real selves (video representations) interacting.
The Metaverse with a capital “M,” the one that Mark Zuckerberg keeps talking about, refers to a singular virtual world where you exist as a singular avatar and can do everything that you do in your real life. That Metaverse doesn’t exist yet, though watching the movie Ready Player One gives you an idea of what it may look like.
For now, the metaverse is still in the lowercase “m” phase, a collection of discreet “worlds” which are nothing more than separate software programs. Not a problem for you, you use software programs all the time!
What is the metaverse not?
First, the metaverse is not Meta, that’s just Facebook’s new name. Second, the metaverse is not a “virtual event platform” like Socio, Remo, and Airmeet, all of which are gamified versions of Zoom (the OG virtual platform). Third, the metaverse is not limited to experiences that require a VR headset: Decentraland and Roblox, two of the biggest metaverse programs, launched strictly for web browsers. And conversely, many headset-dependent applications are not necessarily part of the metaverse, like the 3D art program Tilt Brush. The easiest way to tell the difference is the preposition you use: you’re on Zoom, you’re not in it; you’re in Decentraland, you’re not on it.
What do you need to be “in” the metaverse?
You need some technology, some practice, and some patience. Like anything new, there is a learning curve, but the reward is worth the effort.
Note: augmented reality (AR) experiences can also be part of the metaverse (seen in Free Guy), but for this article we’ll be focusing on virtual reality (VR).
- Hardware. You’ll need either a VR headset or a desktop computer. For the headset, you interact with the world either through hand-held controllers or via a hand-tracking setting. You can get accessories like haptic gloves and body trackers, but they’re not necessary when starting out. Headsets come either tethered (directly wired to computer) or wireless (there’s a computer in the headset itself). All headsets come with tutorials so you can get the hang of it.
If you don’t like headsets, or the program doesn’t support them (e.g. Roblox), do not fear: most programs have a desktop mode. For a smooth desktop experience, make sure your computer has adequate processing speed, graphics capacity, memory, and storage.
- My Top Picks: Oculus Quest 2, HTC Vive Pro2
- My Top Picks: Oculus Quest 2, HTC Vive Pro2
- Software. Programs range from workspaces to concert venues, many even with their own economies (Roblox’s virtual currency Robux can be cashed out for real money). For work-related activities, programs like Spatial or Horizon Workroom allow your digital avatars to conduct meetings, network, share and collaborate on documents, watch videos, and hold conferences. If you first want to get used to the headset and controllers, try Tilt Brush or Google Earth VR. If you just want a non-interactive experience where you look around as a 360 video plays, try Everest VR: Journey to the Top of the World. Many programs also let you build your own custom environment, so you can host your meetings in a virtual office recreated to look like your real one, design your own concert venues, or build a virtual store to sell your virtual products (like RFKT who sold 600 pairs of virtual sneakers for $3M in less than 10 minutes3).
- My Top Picks:
Work/Collaborate: Spatial, Engage, Horizon Workroom
Social/Commercial: Decentraland (desktop only); Roblox, Horizon Worlds, VRChat, Sandbox (headset or desktop)
- My Top Picks:
- Connectivity. As long as you have good internet connection (and sometimes Bluetooth), you can enter the metaverse anytime, anywhere. “Good” depends on what program you’re running and what hardware you’re using.
- Personalization. In the metaverse you have a digital version of yourself, or “avatar,” where you can control what you look like, down to your eyebrows. Avatars come either full body or from the waist up (legs are “expensive” in the world of real-time computing). One day when the Metaverse (capital “M”) is one single universe, you will likely only have one full-body avatar, though you will no doubt have a full virtual wardrobe.
What can your company do in the metaverse?
Remember when you didn’t know how to leverage your website or social media? It’s the same thing here: do some research, try things out, and use your imagination. Create a replica of your favorite international beach spot for an exotic virtual happy hour; Throw a concert (Travis Scott’s concert in Fortnite grossed $20M, almost half of what he earns after an entire year on tour4); Build your store as an experience like Disney World (Nike built out Nikeland to allow visitors to experience the brand through sport and play. 25% of Nike’s total revenue now comes from digital products, which includes Nikeland5); Or host your next conference in either a pre-build or custom environment.
Whatever you do or dream of, don’t wait too long: the metaverse may be virtual, but the growth potential is very real.