For brand owners in 2022, The Metaverse presents a new type of marketing opportunity. But, with opportunities come challenges. For many consumer brands considering a virtual world marketing strategy (and particularly fashion and clothing brands), the first decision they have to make is how to manage the unofficial representations of their products already present in these spaces. In virtual worlds that allow User Generated Content (Roblox, Minecraft, Second Life and Decentraland to name a few) it's very easy to find in-world stores selling unofficial versions of real-world brands. The Five Rules of Metaverse Brand management explains the options available to marketers.
Well, you can make your own mind up on that one. However, some brands may choose to simply ignore the presence of their products in virtual worlds. This decision might be made because the brand manager has insufficient knowledge of virtual worlds and therefore is unable to make an informed decision about a strategy, so in this instance the option is to ignore.
Secondly, the concept of ‘No such thing as bad publicity’ may also be present. Of course, if people in virtual worlds are choosing to purchase branded items then at the very least they are selecting the brand above others.
Thirdly, the decision might be made because at present only a relatively small number of companies actually generate a revenue stream at present from virtual world activities. Therefore, virtual trademark infringement is not stealing a meaningful revenue stream from the brand. If the company is not present them there’s no revenue stream to protect.
But is choosing to Ignore really an option? Simply turning a blind eye to unofficial virtual world activity has several consequences. Too many companies are devoting significant amounts of effort and money in virtual worlds for them to be considered insignificant. Coupled to this the profile of a typical resident and the population numbers and growth, already in the hundreds of millions of users globally and the decision to ignore virtual worlds becomes a poor decision.
Importantly, valuable market intelligence is completely lost if a brand chooses to ignore Metaverse activity. This is not only research into how their brands are being used but also a loss in intelligence on what the competitors are doing in virtual worlds.This is particularly important in categories that already have adopted virtual worlds faster than others. Companies that are already engaged in Metaverse activity are harvesting data, insight and market research not only about their competitors but also on how the marketing initiatives they are using are actually performing.
So, from a competitive positioning perspective, the strategic position of a brand is weakened if activity is ignored in virtual worlds.
Taking steps to get unofficial brands removed from virtual worlds once they have been discovered is probably the first decision considered by brand owners. Afterall, their brands are being used without their permission, which, in the real world is an illegal activity. There’s also the lack of control to consider and potential in-correct guideline usage. So, for some companies, it’s the right decision to remove unofficial brands. Here are some other reasons that could lead this decision.
The Metaverse sector is still a relatively new marketing and communication channel and on this basis, not all companies benefit from entering in the initial stages of real-world brand adoption. This might be because the audience of virtual worlds is at present the wrong target market for the brand or product in question or any other marketing-led reason. In any event, following a review, in some instances a brand may opt to remove unofficial brands in virtual worlds in order to totally remove all brand-related presence: the Control - Alt -Delete approach.
If it's the case that a brand has decided to enter The Metaverse and is in campaign planning mode then it makes a lot of sense to have a thorough audit of unofficial brands prior to deploying an official campaign. This clears the way for the approved project to enter the Metaverse knowing that the only way avatars will come into contact with the brand will be via official channels.
Brand consistency and management on an on-going campaign is another potential reason to Remove. Real-world counterfeiting typically takes place when brands launch new products and services and new demand chains are created as a result. The same principles apply in virtual worlds. On this basis, a brand owner may take the decision to remove unofficial versions of their products whilst they are running approved Metaverse activities.
A lot can be learned by studying how brands are created and used inside virtual worlds. For companies not concerned with the presence of their brands being copied and traded unofficially in the Metaverse, an excellent first proactive approach is to closely watch how their brand is being used. This is a first-hand technique to gather market research.
So, observing how brands are recreated in virtual worlds can greatly assist real world marketers in better understanding how the platform can be leveraged and how users of virtual worlds view and interpret their brand values.
Of course, once someone has created a brand or product in a virtual world, they need to then use a platform to display it. And, again, in many ways,virtual worlds mirror the real world. Second Life for example has thousands of virtual stores selling UGC and unofficial branded items.
So what can be learnt from this type of activity? Firstly, retailers can learn about traffic patterns - do avatars move around stores in the way way that they do in the real world? Do different configurations make a difference? What are avatars attracted to?
And a key benefit of using virtual worlds for this type of research is that changes can be made instantly at virtually zero cost.Secondly, marketers can learn about how their customers interpret brand values in a virtual space. After all, all creations in metaverses start from nothing. People that create unofficial brand presences start with just an idea and from here then visualise these thoughts. It’s a useful insight into the minds of their customers and how they view their brand. The way that products are presented in virtual worlds will be an interesting space to monitor over the next few years.
For example, inside a virtual store products could simply be suspended in mid-air - because in virtual worlds you can do that.Alternatively, why not enlarge the products to an unreal size, this allowing avatars to see the design and features on a more detailed basis.
Perhaps one of the most useful benefits of observing virtual brand activity is more to do with the consumer of the product rather than the creator.
From a clothing perspective for example, one area that would benefit marketers of these types of products would be the way avatars change their clothing for different events or purposes.
Putting an official stamp of approval on unofficial virtual world activity might at first seem like a strange decision to make. However, as this section will demonstrate, this policy opens more doors than it closes.
The act of endorsing unofficial brand activity in virtual worlds basically means acknowledging that the activities are taking place and making a clear statement that the company permits it.
One very obvious benefit to endorsement is instant marketing access into virtual worlds. A typical development lead-time for a commercial project into the Metaverse is three months. By opting to approve existing products, immediately the brand can claim to have a virtual world presence, at zero hard cost.
Endorsement bypasses this issue because the brand existed prior to commercial attention. But it’s not just instant access in terms of having an official virtual world presence. Arguably more important is the instant access to statistics and research relating to the brand. A fair trade-off for real-world brand owners should be access to this information in return for the usage endorsement.
Another concept to be considered when thinking about Endorsement is the Sponsorship approach. Inside virtual worlds is a thriving number of communities. These communities are typically interest-led and the people involved with these groups use virtual worlds to complement their interest in the various genres and groups. It’s important here to remember that these enthusiasts in many cases are interested in a particular topic regardless of the platform.
The most collaborative approach when considering how to manage a brand in a virtual world is Engagement. As explained in the following section,this approach can yield significant upsides.
What does Engagement mean? When a company discovers that their brands are being used unofficial in virtual worlds, engagement relates to an approach of actively working, collaborating and opening a two-way communication channel with the creators of the unofficial products. Encourage them to create and share the fruits of their labour. Run competitions and events to bring these people together and have the double bubble of socialisation under a brand umbrella as well as stimulating further activity.
Who better to steer the future of a brand in a virtual world than the people who are already shaping it? Probably the largest opportunity for engagement is the concept of actively allowing people to create new products related to the brand, thus harnessing the knowledge, creativity and know-how of the brand advocates - this is Metaverse New Product Development.
Virtual worlds are becoming more popular than ever with today's consumers and this trend will continue to grow at a rapid rate.
Real-world brand owners now have a new channel to assess and consider, The Metaverse. And,without direct involvement, many brands already have virtual world presences without the permission of the owner. This means that brand owners now have to strongly consider the concept of virtual world brand management in order to future proof, position and protect their most important asset, their brand.
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