Accenture’s Interactive Lead for the Middle East, David Fregonas explains how marketers & brands can give a direction to their curiosity about the world of Metaverse.
Where many brands like Nike and Gucci have already dived right into the deep waters of the Metaverse, others are just trying to find their footing, looking for a start. The Metaverse might be the hottest talk of the town but nobody is as eager as marketers around the world to experiment with it.
In an exclusive interview, David Fregonas, Accenture’s Interactive lead in the Middle East tells us how brands can make the most of what Metaverse is offering at the moment, and what can be expected in the near future.
In image above: David Fregonas, Accenture’s Interactive lead in the Middle East
What do you think the metaverse offers to the future of brand experience? Where do you see the greatest opportunities?
The metaverse offers infinite possibilities for people and brands to interact, create, consume and earn. It won’t be worth a lot if it’s not compelling. From Decentraland to Gucci and Nike, companies across industries are raising new possibilities for how people can experience a brand in a new dimension and changing assumptions around the form and function of product offerings. The last time the internet went through a shift of this magnitude, companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Google went from being e-bookstores and renting DVDs by mail to becoming nearly synonymous with the internet itself.
Right now, we have more questions than answers on what the metaverse will ultimately become. But we know that the metaverse will be less a fantasy world. It will look to be an evolution of the internet where a user can move beyond ‘browsing’ to ‘inhabiting’ in a persistent, shared experience that spans the spectrum of our real world to the fully virtual and in between.
We think that opportunities broadly lie in four areas: product lifecycle and experience, customer experience, employee experience, and back-office operations. The metaverse can rewrite what companies sell (think about how virtual twins are used in the design and test approaches of new products), how they engage with customers or clients (virtual commerce and new ways of brand advertising e.g., gamification sheds new light on brand experience), how their employees do work (the metaverse can be a digital center of gravity beyond email, video conferencing and chat), and everything in between.
We are at the cusp of change. 77% of global CMOs state that the metaverse will have a positive impact on their organizations, with 45% believing it will be a breakthrough or transformational. Now is the time for companies to decide the role that they will play – if they want to be part of the wave, or merely watch how it plays out. It’s not a simple decision; there’s no clearly defined end-state to the metaverse. It will evolve continuously and iteratively through the visions of those leading the change.
Are we going to see a reality where there will be multiple metaverses as brands begin to experiment with new technologies and explore unique blended physical and digital experiences?
The truth is a single identity seems a bit far away at the moment as efforts to build the metaverse and Web3 layers to the web are currently playing out separately, with many novel approaches towards the future. As brands explore the metaverse, some questions must be raised and looked into: Is interoperability i.e. the ability to move seamlessly between worlds the goal? If so, how can we unite the entry points into the metaverse? What does consumption in the metaverse look like? Collecting seems to be a big effort now, but a lot of us are not collectors too. How can we make it appealing to non-gamers? How does content or interaction moderation happen in the metaverse, when people now have bodies and voices, not just usernames and text? How do we blend the virtual and physical in a way that ensures a metaverse-driven workplace doesn’t leave employees isolated and without critical real-world human interaction?
The future of the metaverse is still open. The possibilities are infinite and it’s not unreasonable to be optimistic, but there are fundamental ethical and experiential concerns that need to be addressed in this new “place”.
When do you think the metaverse will become a “norm”?
When discussing the full vision of the metaverse, it’s important to understand its evolution may be at least a decade away. While we don’t know the future of the metaverse, we know that companies who build restrictive or unappealing versions of the metaverse will not compete well against those who do factor in ethical and experiential concerns that appeal to consumers. Unintended tech consequences are impacting humanity right now, and openness about that impact will need to be part of building trust in the metaverse—particularly around behavior control, sustainability, and accessibility.
How can we ensure that the metaverse shifts from hype to reality? What advice would you give to businesses/ brands trying to use the metaverse to drive a unique brand experience for long-term growth?
Shifting from hype to reality requires brands and companies to first look into how technologies can be combined to achieve the metaverse’s distinctive form and function. The foundational technologies enabling the metaverse such as cloud, extended reality, artificial intelligence, and blockchain aren’t new, but these combined will power a unique metaverse experience. Users will see, experience, and engage with virtualized users and things in their physical spaces or be able to be mentally transported to virtualized spaces that engage a multitude of senses. Accenture has identified five layers that power the key components in building the metaverse and these are critical for the seamless interaction between the virtual and real worlds: infrastructure, software & platforms, digital identity, economy, and experience.
Secondly, having the right talent to support the evolution of the metaverse is critical. Spaces within the metaverse are likely to evolve into more neutral spaces where subtle and sophisticated interactions can take place and fluid and free-form ways. Designers, digital product developers, creatives, and technologists will play a central role in virtual world-building and content placement as everything is 3D-based. Development methods in gaming will become mainstream as more 3D experiences come online—like playtesting, for example, where gamers give quality control feedback on experiences before a game is launched to the wider public.
Thirdly, partnerships across organizations will take the metaverse to the next level, and trust will be the new currency. Through a multiparty system – a shared data infrastructure between individuals and organizations to enhance collaboration, build resilience, and, ultimately, create new revenue streams – concerns around security, privacy and control can be alleviated. Powered by a combination of blockchain, distributed ledger, tokenization, and other technologies tailored to ecosystem needs, organizations can tap into multiparty systems to strengthen partnerships across organizations to create secure experiences in the metaverse.
What are some key risks for brands and marketers must consider in the metaverse?
Just as early innovation in this space can carry outsized value, it can carry outsized risk as well. Leaders are not just pioneering a new digital future, but a new future for human and enterprise interaction, and many of the rules remain undefined.
In the metaverse where people can meet and interact, and where digital assets – land, buildings, items, avatars, and even names – can be created, bought, and sold, we can expect ethics, privacy, security, behavioral issues, equity and inclusion, safety & integrity and environment issues to emerge as challenges that everyone has to overcome.
Brands branding the metaverse must be prepared to answer some of these questions: How will users’ data be used and stored? What are the cybersecurity and data privacy systems in place? How can new algorithms be developed that block sensational and clickbait headlines, thereby ending polarisation and disarming the trolls? How can child protection be designed into a metaverse experience from the start? How are the underrepresented minority groups being represented in the metaverse? How can we create sustainable non-fungible tokens (NFTs) platforms and marketplaces?
The democratization of access to the metaverse might lead to a new wealth of shared cultural experiences and new economies. Innovating responsibly will be the foundation of every brief to ensure that the metaverse is a safe new reality for us to operate in.
How can we avoid/ minimize those risks?
If the metaverse is truly going to provide democratized access and be an inclusive space “for everyone”, then embedding ethics and taking into account the potential risks cannot be an afterthought. Brand owners are therefore in a prime position to write the future.
For companies, consider your product in the metaverse – how it’s seen, purchased, where it goes and how your metaverse customers use it. The lifecycle of your product, brand, and experiences requires a complete mindset shift. The metaverse is a place and not just another channel.
Next, focus on the user experience: How will customers access you in the metaverse? Why will they stay and interact with each other? Companies need to draw out a roadmap of the customer journey in the metaverse. It will also be essential to provide the same level of user experience across different channels – whether in the metaverse, internet or physical stores and outlets.
Work with trusted partners and providers who can act as strategic advisors with experience design capabilities for experience creation, and ability to assemble, build and operate tech and have the required moderation for metaverse companies and clients. From a security standpoint, it’s having capabilities to help with risk assessment, improving safety and trust in business operations by protecting digital identity, virtual assets, NFTs, etc, along with content moderation in the metaverse.
How can we build a metaverse that avoids deepening existing inequalities, and is instead inclusive?
Taking the cue from the gaming community where the metaverse has its roots, designing meaningful experiences is key to attracting new users. Gaming experiences are increasingly similar to those on social media platforms, where attracting and retaining users are key drivers of success. Fostering healthier and more inclusive gaming spaces is not only the right thing to do – it can also become a clear differentiator. Accenture’s research shows that gamers increasingly want companies to take action – almost 70% of them want companies to do more to prevent unacceptable behavior than they’re doing at present.
If the metaverse is truly going to take over the world and be for everyone, then it must represent everyone. Roblox, a gaming platform built around young people, creates a safe experience for users via moderators, augmented by AI, machine learning, and chat filtering. In the same vein, when companies design their vision of the metaverse, harnessing technology to build inclusive experiences will give them an edge. Building a metaverse that is inclusive is fundamentally a question of design, and it is up to us to shape the metaverse.