“Through the use of electronic mirrors inside the computer, this beam is made to sweep back and forth across the lenses of Hiro’s goggles, in much the same way as the electron beam in a television paints the inner surface of the eponymous Tube. The resulting image hands in space in front of Hiro’s view of Reality….so Hiro’s not actually here at all. He’s in a computer generated universe that’s drawing onto his goggles and pumping into his earphones. In the lingo, this imaginary place known as the Metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse."
What you’ve just read is the first mention of the word Metaverse. It’s from Snow Crash, published in 1992 by author Neal Stephenson, who coined the phrase to describe a virtual world that his protagonist could access. The Metaverse would teleport Hiro from his physical home — the inside of a storage facility in a decaying urban dystopia — to a multi-player online game populated by avatars.
Fast forward 30 years, and we are witnessing the world’s largest technology behemoths carry on freakishly accurate extensions of what Stephenson depicted in his science fiction novel: virtual reality headsets worn by users escaping their physical world; the adoption of avatar versions of oneself; access to enormous multi-player universes; and all of this powered by fibre optic networks.
While the race is on for these technology giants to plant their flags atop the myriad iterations of what a Metaverse might typically become known as to prospective users like us, so too is the land grab underway for brands that are keen to utilise or be present in worlds where—just like Hiro—users can live some sort of second life that ought not represent their physical realities.
If brands wish to communicate to their customers in the Metaverse, then Cognito needs to be there to advise them accordingly. Our teams in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific have been exploring the benefits, risks, practicalities and costs of developing a presence and are now positioned to assist with strategy and execution for communications in a virtual world.
There’s an increasing number of brands announcing plans for further activity in the Metaverse, and plenty of experimentation taking place. But at this early stage there are also still many unknowns. Despite these, with so much opportunity at play, it’s time to start learning now, even if some brands are not quite ready to start experimenting. Metaverse marketing should feel like other touchpoints with your brand, on and offline, so start thinking about those moments where a virtual world could extend and enhance the audience experience.” – Jade Bestley, Head of Digital at Cognito
The Metaverse’s 30-year-old philosophical and practical history highlights that fears of missing out, and perceived first-mover advantages, may have been overhyped. The concept is not new and commercial applications are likely being run on experimental budgets that are carved out to demonstrate thought leadership. The ‘crypto winter’ has somewhat put the brakes on a rush to claim virtual real estate, given the crypto-funded NFT assets that drive many of the business models, such as that of The Sandbox.
Given this, now is likely a much better time than late 2021 or early 2022 to begin to explore an approach. We’ve put together some examples of brands in the financial services sector that have taken the plunge.
Case Study 1
Brand: JPMorgan Chase
Why: Across the business, JP Morgan has demonstrated a willingness to invest in technology and stay ahead of the blockchain revolution. “We're actively exploring applications of blockchain technology across all of our lines of business,” said Larry Feinsmith, Managing Director and Head of Global Tech Strategy, Innovation & Partnerships at JPMorgan Chase.
Virtual real estate ownership is a key area JP Morgan seems to be focusing on when evaluating their foray into the Metaverse.
According to a report published by JP Morgan titled Opportunities in the Metaverse, "Supply and demand dynamics are driving people into the meta-economy. Over time, the market for Metaverse real estate could evolve in a similar way as the real estate market in the analogue world.” Given that the average price of a parcel of land doubled in a six-month window in 2021, we can already see the foundations of this trend taking root.
Looking further down the line, JP Morgan predicts that, “The virtual real estate market could start seeing services much like in the physical world, including credit, mortgages, and rental agreements.” JP Morgan is eager to get first dibs on that pie.
How: JP Morgan lays claim to opening the first “bank branch” in the Metaverse. The branch was established by Onyx, JP Morgan’s blockchain unit formed in 2020. Onyx offers a blockchain-based platform for wholesale payments transactions.
Considering services are not yet available at this branch, it is mostly referred to as a ‘lounge.’ The lounge is located at the Metajuku mall in Decentraland, a browser-based Metaverse that is considered a “hip” district. Outside the branch, there is a sign that says ‘Onyx by J.P. Morgan.’ Inside, it is a two-storey outlet with a stray, roaming, virtual Sumatran tiger.
With the formation of Onyx, its very own JPM Coin, and considerable investments made to be the first Wall Street bank to debut in the Metaverse, it is safe to conclude JP Morgan has been a strong proponent of blockchain technology.
How much: JPMorgan Chase invests $12 billion USD annually on technology. This includes investments in the areas of machine learning, AI and, of course, blockchain.
The cost to build a store in Decentraland is approximately $4700 MANA (US$13,500). However, it is worth noting that property prices vary significantly in Decentraland, similar to in the real world. The most expensive pockets of virtual land in Decentraland can go for as high as US$3.5 million.
Case Study 2:
Why: Mastercard states that it sees the virtual worlds of the Metaverse as a way for financial services to be more inclusive. According to Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard, “We want to engage with people in different ways and give them experiences in these new spaces, from a diversity and inclusion point of view."
Mastercard’s involvement in Metaverse Pride is a continuation of their “Priceless” campaign. “As a proud, long-time supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community, Mastercard is delighted to collaborate in building an experience in the virtual realm where people can be their true selves—there’s nothing more Priceless,” says Rajamannar.
In a similar vein, Roberto Ramírez Laverde, SVP of marketing and communication for Mastercard Latin America and the Caribbean said, “With the creation of Mastercard Pride Plaza in the Metaverse, we created a space on the Web3 with global access to celebrate inclusion and diversity at its best.”
While Mastercard’s Pride Plaza does not involve banking or payments, it does aim to demonstrate the payment network’s corporate values and attributes.
How: Mastercard partnered with Decentraland to sponsor this year’s Metaverse LGBTQIA+ Pride Parade and launch “Pride Plaza”. Throughout pride month, Mastercard held conferences and panels with LGBTQIA+ thought leaders in the Metaverse. They also commissioned a carnival float attraction where visitors could take selfies with their avatars, and they had a showcase of limited edition NFT wearables created by artists from the community.
Before the launch of Pride Plaza, Mastercard integrated its card offering with seven NFT marketplaces, including The Sandbox Metaverse. Earlier this year, Mastercard also filed for 15 NFT and Metaverse related trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
How much: Considering the size of Pride Plaza within Decentraland and the attractions and events held within it during Pride Month, Mastercard undoubtedly committed considerable investments into this campaign. No specific cost estimates, however, are publicly available.
Cognito’s view: “While researching Metaverse use cases by global brands, I found two driving forces: to build brand equity and better relate to consumers who are early adopters of technology; and to deploy speculative investments into a frontier technology market that may gain critical mass in the near future.” – Vera Lau, Senior Account Executive, Cognito Singapore.
Cost of a hosted Metaverse presence
There are many approaches brands can adopt when entering the Metaverse, and there are many ways in which brands might perceive what the Metaverse is, in relation to their businesses. The term is open to interpretation. Internally, Cognito conducts meetings via Meta Quest virtual reality (VR) headsets between its six offices, which simply required the purchase of headsets and the use of Meta’s free Workrooms business meetings environment.
We approached an agency to provide a scope and quote for a full-service approach to design, implement and host a Metaverse environment, which included work such as:
- Design and development of a branded Metaverse environment
- Creation of immersive 3D locations with multiple meeting rooms and casual breakout environments
- Creation of custom avatars
- GDPR-compliant recording for meetings and events
- Provision for live Q&A, live chat etc. for audience participation
- Hosting for up to 500 participants
- Training, dashboards, analytics, live support etc.
The cost of this full-service, hosted solution was US$40,000 with a US$1,000 per month hosting fee.
A hallmark of Web 3.0, which this concept slots into, is decentralisation. So referring to ‘The Metaverse’ is somewhat presumptuous. An individual or company can determine what ‘A Metaverse’ is from their perspective and choose to create and host a Metaverse in any way they are capable of. In this sense, following examples of other corporations is useful if it helps anticipate outcomes; however, it also might send you racing past the processes of asking yourself, “How can a Metaverse help our brand fulfil its vision?”
Any Metaverse—whether it be hosted on a major platform or created by your developers—is yours to play and learn from. However, if you’re using it to offer an experience to your customers and prospects, you will want to be where there is foot traffic. Unfortunately, The Sandbox and Decentraland average just a few hundred thousand monthly users, according to various reports. While uptake of this medium may change significantly in coming years, one would be naïve not to argue that—equally—it may not change significantly enough to push the needle for brands that are used to social marketplaces like LinkedIn, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, which count users in the hundreds of millions, or billions.
The bottom line is, brands should begin to play and learn, no matter the budget. With a few hundred dollars each, your employees can pick up VR headsets and begin to experience the nuances of communicating and presenting virtually, as avatars. With no budget at all, you can explore the examples set by large brands in Decentraland or The Sandbox by diving in and doing some research.
This post was written by the head of Cognito's Sydney office, Scott Schuberg, with input from digital experts across Cognito.