The term ‘metaverse’ first entered most people’s vocabularies in late 2021, when social media giant Facebook rebranded itself to Meta, as a nod to the idea of a virtual reality (VR) world.
Since then, the concept has been splashed over every major media outlet as consumers and business leaders seek to understand its meaning.
But while experts say the metaverse is still years away from everyday use, the buzz has already begun. VR had a record year of investment in 2021 with £154m worth of capital being injected into the sector – a 72% increase on 2020.
Clearly, there are big opportunities emerging as the metaverse develops, but what exactly is it? And how should small businesses prepare for its impact?
Read on to learn more about the real-life applications of the metaverse, and how you can get ahead of what promises to be a revolutionary new technology.
If you’ve ever seen a science-fiction blockbuster from the early 00s (think Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report or the Wachowskis’ Matrix series) then you’ll already have some idea of what the metaverse is.
Simply put, it’s a ‘real-world’ version of the internet that’s hosted online, enabling limitless virtual environments for people to interact with each other – as well as create, buy, and sell goods. For the moment, you’ll need a VR headset to access it.
Although the metaverse might have first been introduced to us by tech conglomerate Meta (previously Facebook) the idea has been around for a while. Other brands from the Big Four tech companies (Google, Microsoft, and Apple) are also on-board, positioning their software products as the ‘must-have’ digital infrastructure for those wanting to enter the metaverse.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, recently announced a new AI product ‘Builder Bot’ which allows users to create a basic virtual world.
But the metaverse isn’t just one entity. It refers to a network of online worlds, which will likely grow even bigger as the market gets more competitive. That means any size business with a connection to virtual or augmented reality can enter the ‘realm’.
Rory Kenny, CEO of music technology company Loudly, gave us his predictions on the impact of the metaverse in 2022: “The metaverse has been in existence for a number of years but it’s been isolated to a small audience – most notably in gaming.
“[This year] will see a huge shift towards the transition to the metaverse as the likes of Facebook (Meta Platforms, Inc) start to encourage users to migrate to the online world.”
Local, offline businesses have been forced to deal with a reduction in trading as a result of the pandemic, as more and more companies moved online or adopted an omnichannel approach (also known as using multiple platforms – online and offline – to sell products and services).
At a time when the ‘death of the high street’ is an increasingly-discussed topic, buying into the metaverse could be not just a smart business decision, but a necessary one.
Say you own a small cafe or bakery. At the moment, people who want the experience of eating at your establishment have to get ready, leave the house, and travel potentially miles to reach you.
In ten years, the metaverse will likely be at the point where you can ‘host’ consumers online instead, delivering meals to their door and letting them eat ‘inside’, virtually. Sounds far-fetched, right?
Well, this is actually already happening. McDonald’s recently filed 10 trademark applications, including one for a virtual restaurant that would deliver to a real home.
The small retailer community has also taken initial steps into the virtual world.
Sokin, the payments provider startup and 2021 Startups 100 company, recently established full ecommerce payments for the first time in the metaverse, allowing smaller brands and businesses to grow from their physical stores into the virtual world.
Vroon Modgill, founder and CEO at Sokin, explained: “We’ve seen campaigns by retailers in which an avatar models an item of clothing but then the experience abruptly stops there. So, we close the sales loop by ensuring a purchase can be made directly within the metaverse experience.”
It would be easy to dismiss the metaverse as too advanced for most small businesses to capitalise on. But the more companies that pile onto the metaverse trend, the more commonplace its applications will become.
That’s why our 2022 Business Ideas campaign highlighted augmented and virtual reality as some of the biggest opportunities for ‘New Ways of Working’ post-Covid.
There is also a big financial incentive to get involved. Investment bank Goldman Sachs recently estimated the metaverse would be worth £5.9 trillion globally in future, and savvy entrepreneurs are already working to become the first success stories in this lucrative market.
The best way to join them is to use the current state-of-flux around the metaverse to look at your firm’s existing digital infrastructure and identify the areas that you can tweak and develop.
Optimise your online presence
Entering the metaverse will mean different things to different businesses. For one startup, it might mean building smarter AI to address customer questions. For another, it could be an entire VR world.
But the metaverse is essentially the future version of the internet, which means the first stepping stone to success should be building a website.
You can use a simple website builder like Wix or Shopify to design your own, official webpage. Brands with ecommerce capabilities are the best route to go as you will likely want to sell virtual goods and services on your site.
Both of these software platforms also have huge app marketplaces which you can use to integrate third-party metaverse add-ons to your website – for example, an AI or VR chatbot.
How do you build an ecommerce website?
Our expert team of researchers has reviewed the top platforms available on the market to make it as simple as possible for your business.
Read our guide to the best ecommerce website builders for small businesses to find out more.
Consider adjusting your business model
It might make sense to adjust your business model in preparation for the metaverse, so you can carry out more of your operations in virtual reality. If you’re a tech company, this is a particularly strong recourse to think about.
PixelMax is a good case study of a tech startup that pivoted towards a metaverse-friendly model as a result of changing trends. The Manchester-based tech firm, which featured in our top 100 Startups index in 2021, changed tactics as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2020, the company had been all set to begin digitising key manufacturing processes in aerospace. But work dried up when those industries were hard hit by the national lockdowns.
As a result, PixelMax changed tactics to develop its unique and immersive communications platform to feed into the drastic changes happening in the technology industry.
Market for the metaverse
As we’ve highlighted, the metaverse is going to be a highly-competitive landscape in the coming years.
You might be building a metaverse-based business in the “real world”. Or perhaps you’re planning a strategy to ensure your products are found by users within the metaverse.
Whatever the context, you’re going to need a long-term marketing game plan to ensure you stake your claim in a world, community, or platform that matches your audience.
Using key word searches is a good way to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for terms related to the metaverse. Having these in your brand name, product or headline is helpful for getting found in search and social channels.
Such tactics are already evident online. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, the hashtag #metaverse is widely used on Instagram, with more than 60,000 posts on the social media platform and is tweeted more than 500 times per hour on Twitter.
Another idea you could explore is selling your product or service in the metaverse, using virtual or immersive advertising to enable a new revenue stream for your company.
Bidstack, an advertising tech agency, has already transitioned from real-world outdoor advertising, to placing ads on virtual billboards for customers to gain tangible profits from.
Read our comprehensive guide to find out more about the best SEO tactics to get your business ranking higher online.
It might seem early to be jumping on board with these ideas, but now is actually the perfect time to experiment with different marketing strategies for the metaverse.
And remember: if you’re unsure how to approach metaverse marketing, you can always partner with an expert strategist that can help you to trial new procedures and establish best practices.
Carry out customer research
Research rounds can take a long time so it’s important to plan early for upcoming developments, such as the metaverse.
Ask yourself: who are your target demographics? What behaviours are trending with your current and prospective consumers right now that are indicators of how they might engage with the metaverse?
Similarly, keep an eye on your competition and see when, how, and if rivals are rolling out the red carpet for VR tech.
Market surveys are an excellent way to get an idea of a timeline for when your customers will be ready for metaverse technology. Which brings us to the next point..
Don’t leave your customers behind
While the above are smart solutions to prepare your business for the multiverse, it’s important not to carry out any dramatic alterations to your organisation too quickly.
Virtual reality is, for the majority of the consumer market, not the accepted norm just yet. You risk alienating your existing customers if you completely give up all other traditional operational methods.
Instead, make sure any new products or services you choose to introduce are optional.
For example, if you decide to start offering virtual discount vouchers to customers then make sure these are being supplied alongside recognisable systems, like QR codes or paper tickets.
The metaverse is still a speculative area at this point. But with the world’s biggest tech firms making significant investments into the space, its abstract ideas are becoming increasingly tangible.
Just as we’ve seen SMEs adapt to the new world of remote working post-Covid, we are beginning to see businesses shift even further into virtual reality.
Preparation for the metaverse will take many different forms depending on your industry. But the most important first step is getting started online, and building a strong website that will mark out your digital real estate for when the time comes.
Helena is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has previously written for a popular fintech startup covering everything from money-saving tips to cultural reviews.
She is particularly interested in project management software and the films of Peter Jackson.
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