Why it’s time for B2B organisations to pay attention.
Over the past year, there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the metaverse.
Most B2C brands have readily embraced it. According to Forrester, more than 75% of U.S. marketers are planning to invest in metaverse-related activities this year
B2B organisations, however, are still slow to realise what the metaverse could do for their business.
But it shouldn’t be that way.
Trade shows, product demos, client meetings, and online ads are all core pillars of B2B marketing. And they all have the potential to be altered by the metaverse.
That’s why a ‘wait-and-see’ approach may no longer work for business-to-business companies. This article explains what the metaverse is, how it will transform B2B marketing, and what you can do to prepare for it.
What is the metaverse?
Like with most industry buzzwords, there is some ambiguity over what the metaverse actually means. To put it simply, it’s ‘like the internet, but in 3D’.
In the virtual reality (VR) space, the metaverse is an immersive world where people can interact with each other using personalised avatars. You can purchase things, attend events, buy virtual real estate, socialise, and more.
A brief history of the metaverse
The metaverse isn’t necessarily a new concept; the term was coined in 1992 by author Neal Stephenson.
Any virtual world can technically be considered a metaverse. The most famous examples to date are Second Life and Roblox.
Released in 2003 by Linden Labs, Second Life is a vast virtual world that users can freely navigate and roam. The most groundbreaking aspect of this platform, at the time, was the fact that avatars can do almost anything can do in real life. This includes listening to music, playing games, and watching movies.
A few forward-thinking companies that wanted to showcase some thought leadership also saw some use cases for it. Cisco, for instance, hosted virtual meetings on Second Life for over a year with their channel partners.
Roblox is another free-to-join metaverse platform that has recently exploded in popularity, even though it was originally launched in 2006. Compared to Second Life, it’s much more gameplay-focused and relies on users creating experiences and virtual worlds for other users.
Currently, the number of brands and retailers creating experiences and selling virtual goods on the platform is growing fast. In 2021, Roblox reported $1.9 billion in annual revenue—up 108% from 2020. The company earns by enabling organisations and creators to sell digital items in their in-game stores, which users can purchase using real money.
So what’s behind the recent metaverse hype, and is it warranted?
As far as businesses are concerned, yes (but more on this later).
And the metaverse has been at the forefront of the tech industry for a few reasons. First, the technologies we typically associate with the metaverse have matured. Quality wireless virtual reality headsets, like the Oculus Quest, are now commercially widely available.
The second reason was the recent rapid shift in lifestyle patterns (as brought about by the pandemic). With an increased number of people across the globe working remotely, tech companies now have a renewed interest in creating immersive virtual environments that allow people to socialise in unique ways.
Facebook’s rebrand to Meta was what sealed the deal. In his 2021 Facebook Connect keynote speech, Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s vision for the metaverse, positioning it as the ‘next successor to the mobile internet’.
Since then, B2C businesses have been looking for opportunities to deliver new customer experiences with this technology.
Luxury brands in particular have been especially eager to establish a metaverse presence. Take Ferrari as an example—users were able to create an avatar on Fortnite and test-drive the Ferrari 296 GTB in real time. You could also look at the Gucci Garden experience, a temporary exhibition hosted on Roblox (in it, avatars entered the showroom as blank mannequins and came out as one-of-a-kind creations).
B2B organisations, in comparison, have been largely reluctant to embrace the metaverse.
How will the metaverse transform B2B marketing?
B2B buying experiences will be different
The B2B buying process is notoriously long-winded and complex, with multiple stakeholders and decision-makers involved at the same time. Compared to B2C, there’s much more emphasis on value exchange—so buyers will typically conduct more extensive research on the solutions they plan to invest in.
B2B marketers will be able to speed up the buying process by creating immersive buyer experiences in the metaverse.
Virtual events, conferences and trade shows that allow prospects to directly interact with your product may help them understand its value on a deeper level, greatly increasing the chances of conversion.
The metaverse can also help you with customer retention, not just customer acquisition. Thanks to the flexibility it offers, you can create branded customer service experiences that go beyond impersonal chatbots.
Instead of waiting to speak to a call agent on the phone, customers can visit enterprise help desks in the metaverse. Here, B2B organisations have a golden opportunity to design semi-physical venues in a way that leaves a positive and memorable impression on those who matter most.
New avenues for customer research
The rise of video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams has largely solved the problem of geographical constraints in qualitative market research. Before the internet, focus groups and interviews could only be held at physical venues.
But now, the metaverse will open up even more ways for marketers to collect customer and user data. This will be an extremely valuable commodity as companies seek to create personalised experiences. As Mastercard’s chief privacy offer Catherine Louveaux recently put it, “the metaverse will be data collection on steroids”.
This means you won’t only be able to talk to customers from all over the world, but you’ll also be able to record your research participants’ body language and gestures (something that isn’t always possible during video calls).
The metaverse may also have an impact on quantitative research. Thanks to the virtual reality equipment people need to enter the metaverse, businesses may be able to record biometric data (e.g. tracking voices and eye movements).
Along with AI predictive modeling techniques, this opens up the possibility of collecting biometrically inferred data (BID), which involves using biometric data to infer a person’s characteristics and behaviours.
This will give marketers the power to create hyperpersonalised ads in the metaverse, which can be a good thing—but the potential data privacy issues it presents must still be considered.
More possibilities for creative promotion
Promotional activities that B2B businesses do today simply won’t translate well in a virtual world. In the metaverse, customer expectations of what marketing and advertising should look like will be different, so marketers will face a new set of challenges.
On the plus side, this means there will be more opportunities for creativity.
For instance, you can sponsor virtual events or advertise on virtual billboards—next to spots where crowds gather.
You can even use the metaverse’s lack of physical constraints to your advantage. Take a look at how Absolut created an ‘anti-gravity dancefloor space’ in Decentraland. With over 90,000 visits, the vodka company successfully leveraged the virtual platform’s lack of gravity to reinforce its positioning as a festival-friendly lifestyle brand.
B2B brands should adopt a similar bold approach when it comes to promoting their offerings. And as there’s no real limit to how many people can be in a single metaverse space, you’ll be able to reach more prospects and buyers than ever before.
Content will be more interactive
I think it’s safe to say that no one will be visiting the metaverse to read a static white paper.
Most B2B businesses today understand the power of audiovisual content (photos, videos, animations, etc.) and how they can be used to enhance the effectiveness of marketing messages.
But in the metaverse, the medium is the message. If its potential is realised, marketers will be able to use AI-assisted tools that allow them to deliver content in a much more interactive, immersive, and intelligent way.
For instance, you could create a 3D virtual library that contains your most successful blog posts and eGuides—but present it in a format that resembles a physical book. Other content marketing examples include moving one-pagers, interactive infographics, and eGuides that change according to user characteristics.
Loyalty programmes will thrive
Some B2B companies today are already incorporating gamification into their loyalty programmes.
According to Oracle, tapping into competitive psychology of the human mind can be a powerful way to increase engagement and encourage loyalty. This still applies in a B2B context.
In the metaverse, you can take this to the next level. You’ll be able to offer your business partners the chance to win memorable and creative benefits. This is where NFTs (non-fungible tokens) come in.
NFTs refer to one-of-a-kind digital assets that lives on the blockchain, a decentralised ledger of transactions in a peer-to-peer network. Every NFT has a ‘smart contract’ associated with it, meaning every one you sell has certain ‘rules and benefits’ attached to it.
That means businesses can create unique loyalty programme based on NFTs. SaaS vendors, for instance, could sell NFTs that grant buyers access to software discounts, VIP customer support levels, and exclusive events.
What’s more, if a buyer no longer wanted to use your software, they could simply sell the NFT to someone else. You could even earn money from this transaction, provided that your ‘smart contract’ states this rule.
How can B2B companies prepare for the metaverse?
Even though the metaverse is still in its early stages, B2B companies that want the first-mover advantage should start preparing for it.
Determine the true value of the metaverse for your company
Before you start, consider how likely it is for your target personas to join the metaverse—how quickly do they adopt technology? And what about your competitors?
If they’re already there, you might want to increase brand awareness. Alternatively, you might want to make strong customer loyalty or positive brand sentiments your number one priority.
It’s important that you determine the true value of the metaverse for your specific organisation. If you could offer people the best virtual customer experience possible, what would the value of that be? If you didn’t, what are the risks?
If your goal is to become a challenger brand in a well-established market, being the first to promote your business on the metaverse could help you position yourself as an innovative brand.
Keep a close eye on the tech
Once you’ve determined how much your organisation will benefit from the metaverse, the next step would be to make sure everyone in your organisation is up to speed.
Let them know about your goals, and be clear about the value it brings to your overall organization.
And because the metaverse is still in its early stages, assign a specific person within your company to keep track of the latest tech developments so everyone can stay in the loop.
Identify metaverse platforms that provide the best brand fit
Not every metaverse platform is created equal, and not every one is suited to your B2B organisation.
Right now, Meta’s Horizon Worlds, Decentraland and Sandbox are just a few of the metaverse platforms available.
Some platforms like Roblox are primarily geared toward certain demographics, like Generation Z (who, according to TrustRadius, currently don’t have a great deal of buyer influence yet). Others have potential to be more B2B-focused. Meta, for example, just launched Horizon Workrooms—a virtual reality meeting world that lets teams collaborate in real time.
Overall, there’s ample opportunity for companies to explore what works and what doesn’t.
Assess how you can adapt your current brand
Now comes the thought-provoking part. Start assessing how people currently interact with your brand online. Examine the types of content you currently have and brainstorm ideas on how you can adapt it for the metaverse.
The true challenge here is to figure out how people will actually see, hear, and feel your brand.
People won’t sit in the metaverse simply to read a webpage; they want a multisensory customer experience. This means your B2B brand will have to be much more than just your logo, fonts, and brand colours.
But even so, for the vast majority of companies, the metaverse seems to be too far into the future. But the good news is: it’s a real possibility that will get any marketer buzzing with excitement.
Consider how you’ll measure success
It’s always important to measure your return on marketing spend. But the content marketing metrics you should use to gauge your success in the metaverse may not be what you expect.
Most marketers consider traditional content metrics like the number of site visitors and engagement rates to be vital.
In the metaverse, however, you may have to redefine new engagement metrics in order to account for unique behavioral economics at play (such as the ‘scarcity’ of NFTs). What that looks like is not yet known, but it’s something that any marketer interested in the metaverse should keep in mind.
- The metaverse is a term that refers to interactive virtual reality worlds.
- This concept is not new, but there is recent buzz around it due to three reasons: the availability of high-quality virtual reality equipment, the rise of remote working, and Facebook’s ambitious rebrand.
- The metaverse will change B2B marketing in various ways. The buying process will change, and so will the way marketers conduct research, deliver content, and design loyalty programmes.
- You can prepare by assessing the metaverse’s value, tracking the latest tech developments, and brainstorming opportunities on how to adapt your organisation’s brand.