Otherworld Retail

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Do your eyes glaze over when you hear the term “metaverse?” Maybe Covid updates or supply chain bottlenecks are more riveting. Or comp-store sales versus a year ago. A 45-year-old athlete’s on-again, off-again desire to retire. Anything else. Well, congratulations. You must be a CEO of a major retailer or CPG brand. Now, at the apex of your career comes a dodgy idea forced upon you by Silicon Valley narcissists who know nothing of fashion trends or packaged food fixations.

In the ImagiNation we might construct in the metaverse, we can use our imaginations to create experiences that engage, enlighten, and enthrall the citizens of this new world. We have this one entry point moment now when we can attempt something else, something better.”

The Metaverse Isn’t Going Away

My great friend and world-renown futurist Faith Popcorn tells me that speaking with senior executives about the metaverse and its implications for businesses reminds her of nothing so much as Mark Twain’s comment about the weather, “Everyone talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.” Perhaps the best way to think about the metaverse is to imagine it as the new weather. It’s real. It’s formidable. It’s, well, a looming force of nature. We ignore it at our own peril. So, why would we?

  • Reason one to ignore the metaverse: We can — for a bit longer. Unlike the disruptions forced upon us decades ago by online retail, the omnichannel imperative, and Amazon — all of which are now happily in the rearview mirror — the metaverse is still out there, somewhere. We’re heading towards it as quickly as it speeds towards us. The deer-in-the-headlights moment will soon come, but perhaps not as fast as to affect this year’s bonus.
  • Reason two to ignore the metaverse: Your competitors are. Oh yes, there are the random anecdotes about young girls paying more for a Louis Vuitton tote in the virtual world than it costs in the business-as-usual shops we know. But hey! That’s just a “kids today are so strange” story, right? Not a “we may have to do something differently.” It’s really a “no one is ever going to wear goggles to shop!” story.
  • Reason three to ignore the metaverse: What can we do about it anyway? It’s a Gen Z thing. Who in our company would be equipped to even figure it out? Make a plan? Our agencies all want us to do NFTs, which we barely understand. But this? Trying to compete in a world that doesn’t exist using a currency that may not retain its value? Inexplicable to the board.

The Metaverse and You

But on the other hand.

  • Reason one to enter the space: Well, of course, there’s the first mover advantage. Still taught in MBA classrooms.
  • Reason two not to ignore the metaverse: Mark Zuckerberg, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon. This approximates planetary scale.
  • The best reason not to ignore the metaverse and what it might mean: Recall a line from Miracle on 34th No, not the one about Macy’s sending folks to Gimbel’s. The real or imagined Santa Claus tells wee Natalie Woods, “There’s the French nation, the German nation and the ImagiNation.” That’s why we need to focus. We – and by “we” read all of us, albeit some may be kicking and screaming – are crossing the border into the ImagiNation.

Imagination and Possibility

Now, for sure, we can envision the pedestrian metaverse as pretty much like this world, only more vivid. It’s like the world we’ve already made with online corollaries. A metaworld can easily be filled with the same real-life coupons and dollars-off signs, devoid of any joy, anticipation and discovery of our wares beyond the daily email blast promising 70 percent off. Those offers can be customized to fit a virtual shop’s virtual windows. You bet. And it requires no imagination to get there. Take a look at your personal email inbox and start deleting everything that isn’t a discount offer. I’ve done it recently and am chagrined to notice nobody but first-quarter-sales-results-starved and panicking marketers want to commune with me.

But the ImagiNation we might construct in the metaverse doesn’t have to go there. Really. We can decide to use our imaginations to create experiences that engage, enlighten, and enthrall the citizens of this new world. Develop a new vocabulary, indeed a new language of this new world. We have this one entry point moment now when we can attempt something else. Something new. Something vital. Something essential. Dare we imagine it? It won’t be perfect the first, or second or even third time. What ever is? But that’s no deterrent.

We see that left to their own devices, the intrepid, next-gen explorers of this space use products and brands as totems and signifiers. This is a pretty traditional approach to push prices upwards with remarkable margins. This isn’t novel. It’s actually lazy to do what we’ve always done, just on another platform. That defeats the purpose of what’s new. We’ve landed right back where we started.

Brave New World

Full disclosure: The metaverse isn’t this world. Or at least it doesn’t need to be. It’s an opportunity for real leaders to recalibrate and create the “thing-behind-the-thing” that shoppers want to find as they enter and transport themselves around and through this otherworld. Engineer that unmet customer emotional need into the products and brands you consciously place in their virtual paths. Discovery. Treasure hunt on a different level. Experience and excitement. Surprise and slightly off-balanced realities. After all, if our consumers and customers were joyously thrilled by this life, they wouldn’t be donning goggles and escaping to meet-ups with virtual friends. Make it worth their time.

The metaverse isn’t simply a new Peoria in which to test market new products and marketing campaigns. Faith asks her clients to begin otherworld exploration by taking the Hippocratic oath’s “first do no harm” edict seriously. She tells them to make their brands and business ESG credos come alive here. Not a rehash of the platitudes and boilerplate of press releases and annual reports.

A Better World

The opportunity is to become change in this new world. Recognize – as so many platforms refuse to – that content is destiny. Make sure not to import this world’s bad habits into a new world. No more bullying, body shaming or “pink taxed” portfolios. And no lies, fabrication, misinformation allowed in your part of the landscape. In other words, be your best brand self.

Take the inherent values of the virtual world seriously. What is more sustainable and has fewer negative impacts on the environment and waistlines than a supple leather-inspired hobo bag rendered in 3D to highly nuanced perfection or three virtual Oreos and a glass of virtual milk? In a meta world we can re-learn the markers of quality and bring that knowledge back with us into physical reality. The metaverse offers us a second chance. We can re-learn the unarguable logic of moderation. Who wants to be the avatar with self-induced constraints and attitudes that send us farther down the rabbit hole? Who wants to watch an inebriated version of ourselves stumbling along its byways?

Meta Retail

So, why do ever-increasing numbers of us prefer to enter a parallel universe, rather than go to the mall? It’s not just Covid worries. It’s the lack of imagination we find in our day-to-day slog. Why do ever-increasing numbers of us decide to hop off our work-a-day hamster wheel and leave? Same answer. Freud teaches us that all we want to feel is significant. Consider that word in all its potential: Significance. If your customers and consumers feel insignificant in your store, online or physical, you’re losing them. Use your second chance to up your game and feed your customers’ hunger in the metaverse. Be there and be ready to thrill. Suspend disbelief. Dare to imagine it. Why not?

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