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From Avatars to Augmented Reality
How brands can nurture fans in the metaverse
How do you get started in the metaverse? For former Decentraland Marketing Director, Marja Konttinen, the answer is - “You don’t need LAND to get started”.
Let’s rewind. Having spent more than a decade leading marketing for games, including Rovio - the eponymous studio behind top-listing game Angry Birds, the notion of a virtual world has always been an extension of Marja’s growth and marketing journey. Virtual worlds are not new - just talk to any World of Warcraft or Runescape player from the early 2000s, and they would describe their in-game experience as a function of social interaction online. The metaverse then, is a natural progression of this “online meeting place”, except in a 3D environment. As Marja describes, “We are not just names, images, 2D profile pictures. We are emotions and expressions that 3D helps to reflect”.
For the skeptic who sneers at the adoption (or lack thereof) of metaverses in current times, Marja draws on her rich mobile game marketing experiences and reminds us - “In the early years, few believed in mobile gaming. The mobile phone was a communications and work device - a Blackberry to send emails from. No one thought that there is the desire to play games on a small screen of a mobile phone, with a full-screen experience at home with a PC or console.” Fast forward a decade, mobile gaming has leapfrogged all other forms of gaming, making up 60% of market share and 3.2x its older “sibling” - console gaming.
Whether metaverses follow in the path of mobile gaming or becomes the next Segway, only time will tell. What is undeniable is this - the metaverse presents an altogether new form of interaction and engagement brands can have with consumers. The 3D, always-on virtual environment, turbocharged with virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality, will be radically different, and these early days present opportunities for brands to be ahead of the curve.
A growing number of brands seem to agree with Marja, as more begin to explore the metaverse. We sat down with Marja to hear her advice, having most recently led marketing at Decentraland, one of the most popular virtual worlds enabled by web3 technologies such as land NFTs, Wearables and Emotes. While these NFTs are the most popular “entry point” into the crypto-native consciousness, Marja articulated - among other things - that acquiring land is not the best move for a brand looking to explore the metaverse. Instead, Marja unfurls the blueprint for brands to nurture fans in the metaverse across three pillars: rapid experimentation, amplification of community, and building a narrative.
Metaverses are suited for rapid experimentation
While it is tempting for brands to dive into the metaverse through the purchase of metaverse land, Marja suggests a “try-before-you-buy” approach. With the variety of metaverses, ranging from web3-native worlds like Decentraland and Sandbox to more traditional game-focused environments like Roblox and Fortnite, brands should optimize for experimentation over commitment. While interoperable metaverses are exciting, we are still a distance away from realizing the dream. Decentraland offers land “rental”, where brands can independently rent space or collaborate with metaverse design studios to rent space and experiment building with the community prior to committing.
Beyond the decision to purchase land on any metaverse, brands that thrive in nurturing fans in the metaverse are those who come in with an experimental mindset. The audiences and behaviors across most of these platforms remain new and untested, and there is no proven playbook towards audience engagement yet. As user numbers also remain relatively limited, there is often inadequate data to drive evidence-based decision making. Thus, Marja proposes the 3 “q”s - quick to market, quick to learn, quick to iterate.
“Brands should create a strategy that includes quick experimenting within a long term plan - it could be a one week activation campaign, see how people react, then adjust accordingly. One of these experiments that led to new insights was role of fashion in the metaverse. Fashion brands like Tommy Hilfiger have learnt that virtual activations need not always tie or lead to physical merchandise. Often, virtual apparel can be desirable. This insight led to the brand claiming the spot of ‘most claimed free wearable’ during the Metaverse Fashion Week 2023 with their AI puffer jacket, after completing challenges inside the brand’s metaverse space.”
Digital wearables by Tommy Hilfiger on Decentraland
In short, brands that participate in the metaverse today are pioneers, and the essence of paving the path for others lies in the willingness to test out new approaches to engage with new audiences in the digital world.
Don’t stifle. Amplify your community
Rapid experimentation is not limited to brands only. Participants in the metaverse also want to get involved, and it is critical for brands to not only encourage, but also amplify these “community generated content”, as Marja coins. In her capacity leading marketing at Decentraland, she works closely with the community’s most engaged members to collaborate and co-create marketing campaigns together.
Take the recent Metaverse Fashion Week in April. The icon of one of Decentraland’s most significant events was a community member - Tangpoko. The undoxxed member became the official model for the fashion week, with her avatar’s signature pumpkin buns prominently featured on the runway fashion shows and served as the centerpiece of the four day event.
Tangpoko at a Vogue rooftop event in Decentraland
By placing community members “on a pedestal”, Marja describes the benefits - “you have the opportunity to work with some of your most engaged fans to get feedback, and ensure that marketing or product decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. More importantly, you are inspiring the future influencers. By giving a platform to current influencers, you inspire others who see a metaverse that is able to amplify its own contributors, and this in turn attracts more people to participate and contribute. This creates a viral loop that is self reinforcing.”
“The role of open minded brand marketers is especially important, as it detracts from the traditional roles of web2 marketers as gatekeepers. Instead of seeking approval, decentralized marketing is about creating a platform where creators like Tangpoko and others have access to self-service tools, the assets and the context needed to make their own informed decisions how to create their own marketing content, supplementary to the core campaign. This allows them to create completely new things that we would have never thought about,” says Marja. This opportunity to push boundaries and break “traditional marketing” norms was captured by fashion brand DKNY, when the invited community members to express their takes on the fashion house’s logo.
Example of a user-created DKNY logo to celebrate the closing party on Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week
Marja and her team have also experimented with different ways of showing recognition to members who contribute to Decentraland, especially after these fans are behind some of the most authentic pieces of content that were created. While the motivations of these fans are often intrinsic, Marja always makes it a point to give back - whether in the form of tokens, wearables or the simple act of amplification.
For those brands who want to go the extra mile, they can take a leaf out of Decentraland’s playbook too. In addition to spotlighting the creator’s content on socials such as Twitter and Discord, Decentraland’s marketing team takes the extra effort to highlight these creators behind the content. Through a video recap, social media highlight and website blog post, Marja highlighted the creative process behind producing the content. The result? Two pieces of content - one that in itself is inspiring (by the creator), and another that showcases to other creators “here’s how you can do it too” (by Decentraland), building social recognition and interest.
Build a narrative for your fans to engage and share
In the metaverse, narratives can often be more impactful than the products or services brands have to offer.
Another insight Marja shares from Metaverse Fashion Week is that small fashion accessories in the digital realm such as watches and jewelry may not necessarily enjoy the same visibility and desirability as in physical form. Yet activations need not be limited to creating “metaverse” versions of the physical product. Often, a compelling story that is well crafted can be even more powerful.
Jeweler Ben Bridges crafted a well-designed gamified experience for participants during Metaverse Fashion Week, with several pop-up interactions to chat with the owner and learn about the story behind the family-owned brand. These interactive, fun and sometimes even challenging experiences kept people coming back, and left a lasting impression.
Ben Bridge’s narrative for the metaverse
The potential of narratives is not only confined to brand experiences, but also extends to user-led initiatives that can spin off as business opportunities. As one of Decentraland’s early users and core contributors, Shelley Van created a virtual “band room” for new and emerging independent artists to showcase their music in Decentraland. From October 2021 till February 2023, the space, known as TRU Band Room, hosted more than 500 live events for 125 musicians that nearly resulted in nearly 2,000 unique event attendees. The narrative of Decentraland as a launchpad for musicians to perform to a virtual audience caught on, with overwhelming community support by Decentraland’s DAO to retroactively fund expenses on top of expanding future operations.
Through rapid experimentation, amplification of community, and building a narrative, brands can discover the uncharted opportunities behind marketing in the metaverse. While new, there are advantages to being early even when audiences are small.
Marja concludes, “Dollars can buy visitors, but you cannot buy true engagement. Well designed engagements in the metaverse can inspire users to fall in love with your brand and want to get involved as creators and owners. That is the pinnacle of engagement - when users become your ambassadors.”