In late October last year, the digital world as we once knew it, changed. Facebook announced that it would change its name to Meta as part of its plans to refocus the company’ sights on the “next digital frontier,” namely the metaverse.
Since then, interest in the metaverse has exploded. Where brands once dipped a toe, they are now jumping in. Where previously terms like Non-Fungible Tokens were rarely used, now they seem to be common parlance amongst the public.
From the start of the year alone, the number of brands we have seen announce new partnerships have been plentiful. Prada teamed up with Adidas to launch its first NFT, Gucci delved deeper into its numerous metaverse collaborations by partnering with 10KFT, which will include a virtual floating world, and Balmain and Barbie released a series of NFTs that comprised three Barbie avatars wearing digital versions of its collaboration. The list goes on.
But for many in the industry, the metaverse and all that surrounds it, still remains something to be considered. How does a brand start to experiment with these different platforms? Which platforms should it consider? What kind of experiences should they be? Are their customers even interested in the metaverse or is it just a passing phase?
For Roberta Annan and Badrriya Henry, Co-Founders of Semblance World, a platform that enables luxury brands to build new digital experiences for its audiences, the answer is simple. The metaverse, in their minds, represents endless opportunities for brands to explore communicating and interacting with their consumers.
“My definition of the metaverse is the opportunity to do anything and to be whatever wherever you want to be,” said Annan, who also the founder of a €100 million fund that supports Africa’s creative sector and a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme. “It's a phenomenal opportunity to be inclusive, and to share knowledge, ideas and really just bring the world closer together.”
Bringing the world closer together for Semblance World means helping brands create virtual showrooms, fashion shows, VIP experiences and gamified touch points. The company, which received an Epic Mega Grant from Epic Games last June, is now in the second stage of its development.
So far, Semblance World has worked with brands to create NFTs as well as exclusive events and interest is growing. “They're very excited,” said Henry of their clients. “They are constantly asking us how soon our services will be ready and when can they start going ahead and using our solutions.”
It’s something that Silvano Senn, Client Partner for Fashion, Luxury, and Ecommerce at Meta, has also witnessed. Since the company’s rebranding, interest in its services like augmented reality, virtual reality, business messaging, and live shopping has risen.
“It is definitely a term that we're hearing lots more of, especially since the announcement last October,” said Senn. “That has helped propel a lot of the interest in these new technologies. And now it is something that we talk about with our clients on a very regular basis.”
One of the clients that Meta has worked with developing new experiences is Dior, which experimented with augmented reality for its DiorSoLight sunglasses on Instagram. Users were able to try on the brand’s sunglasses and headbands through a filter to see how the accessories would appear on their faces. The experience recorded more than 2.6 million impressions from Instagram users using their Stories feature.
Another client that Meta recently worked with to create a virtual reality/extended reality experience was Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin and makemepulse. Connecting visual and virtual arts, users were able to view works of art as if they were in a gallery, but they could also choose to “jump into” individual frames and view the painting as if they were inside the scene.
“We're currently in the process of building the foundation of the metaverse together, with many other markets, players, and companies,” said Senn. “It's going to be a set of digital spaces; immersive 3D experiences that are interconnected so you can move freely from one platform to the other and it will let you do things that you couldn't do in the physical world and you can connect with people you can't physically be with.”
“You can work, learn, shop, create entirely new categories that we don't even know about yet,” he added. “We really see the metaverse as the successor of the mobile internet.”
It is important to note that it may be one thing for blockbuster brands with deep pockets to invest in experimenting with these new digital realms, it is quite another for smaller brands with less disposable capital to do so. However, the point at which we currently stand at with the metaverse is just the beginning and brands would do well to try and see how they can best understand it and leverage it to their potential, says Mario Ortelli, Managing Partner at Ortelli&Co and Luxury Society Columnist.
“I believe that art and luxury goods will be the biggest beneficiary of the metaverse, a 3D immersive digital space of interoperable digital contents in which social, communication, and co-creation components will have new territories to develop,” he wrote in his latest column.
“Its technology will help to revolutionise how companies find new business (pairing real products with NFTs or launching NFT only products), handle their resale (finally being able to track all the subsequent re-sales of their products), interact with consumers (in a world in which without the physical boundaries, co-creation and customisation can enter in new territories), build up consumer loyalty (thanks to the utility rights over time granted to NFT holders) and embed continued revenues stream over time (NFT smart contracts can foresee a revenue share to the brand for any subsequent resale of their creations),” he said.
“As an industry that already has extremely high profitability, finding new revenue streams that can greatly expand that profitability even further is like gold dust”, he added. “Furthermore, the opportunity to win big for luxury brands mining the opportunities that the metaverse offers will further accelerate the divide between winning and losing brands that we currently see in the market today.”
It's a view shared by Henry, who is also the founder of Fashion Foresight, which works with brands to find new fashion and retail solutions through technology. “If you think about the internet just before the internet, people had doubts about it and look at what we have today. So, I think we need to get to a point where we can adapt to these things.”
But to get involved, one needn’t always have to “go big.” One example of how a smaller brand is experimenting with the Metaverse in a less abstract way than other brands is Roksanda.
For London Fashion Week, the brand collaborated with the Institute of Digital Fashion and Clearpay to offer a 3D version of a dress that was sold online for money, rather than cryptocurrencies. Offered in a range of prices, customers were able to purchase different types of garment renders, animated renders, and even the software files so that they can wear the garment in the metaverse.
Roksanda CEO’s Jamie Gill told Vogue Business that the brand wanted to simplify the NFT purchase journey, making them more accessible to its existing luxury consumers whilst also appealing to new audiences like crypto-savvy Gen-Zs online.
“We’ve seen many bigger luxury brands enter this space and do it well, but their NFTs are available on the specific blockchain and only available through cryptocurrency,” he told Vogue Business in an interview. “We're not going to say we are in any way experts — we are learning at a very fast pace as things come to market — but it felt important to make the project make sense to our existing luxury consumer.”
Striking that balance between existing luxury customer and a younger and perhaps more digitally savvy one, remains one of the challenges for brands, but one important point to note is that the opportunities to experiment and explore are abundant.
“When it comes specifically to luxury brands and fashion, the metaverse will be very much about expression,” said Senn. “For instance, we will all have avatars that you use to move freely between worlds and people will want to make sure that those avatars are expressions of themselves. So, there is a big opportunity for fashion as well as for luxury brands, to join in… and what is really important as well, is that it is so driven by creators because they have such a strong following and trust from their community.”
“It’s almost like imagination versus reality,” said Henry. “There's so much potential of what can happen in the metaverse but in reality, is the technology for a virtual try-on possible? Yes, it’s possible, we can build it, we can explore and do research and development on it. But is it ready now? No, it’s not quite ready. It’s very very primitive. It’s not an experience you would want to take to market just yet. It's in its infancy.”
“But we know that the technology will evolve,” she continued. “That's the nature of technology. There's so much opportunity. I think we're in the beginning stages where we're identifying, especially with our industry, where we’re identifying what brands need, and what technology makes sense for them. So, there's a lot of potential and I think we're in an interesting time. We definitely feel the race is on.”