What should brands sound like in the metaverse?
The metaverse is opening the door to vast new possibilities for brands. It’s crucial, however, for a brand to give its consumers virtual experiences that are directly tied to those that it provides IRL. Here’s why ‘sonic strategy’ – the sounds that a brand uses in its marketing and CX framework – is an important factor when considering how to connect your brand’s virtual presence with its existing branding in the real world.
This week, the company formerly known as Facebook entered physical reality by opening the first Meta Store: a physical retail outpost where visitors can immerse themselves in the metaverse – and Meta’s programmers can learn about the habits and preferences of consumers.
Meta joins a growing list of digitally-born brands attempting to reach consumers in the real world. According to McKinsey, these businesses are growing at triple the rate of their competitors. Increasingly, this path of disruption leads them to opening physical stores – with Amazon, Tesla and Peloton standing out as notable recent examples.
But it’s not just digital brands looking to expand into physical spaces. Last month, Coca-Cola launched a new flagship retail store in London as it attempts to grow ‘brand love’ among consumers – at the same time as it revealed a “pixel-flavored drink born in the metaverse.”
Whether you are a disruptor or a legacy retail brand, you need to be able to exist across both digital and physical realms. But these experiences can’t be detached from one another. There has to be fluency between each brand touchpoint, wherever those happen to be.
So how can brands create retail experiences that exist coherently in both the physical and virtual realms? Having a solid audio strategy is a good place to start.
An extension of reality Experience is everything for modern consumers. Physical stores have evolved to become brand experience hubs as opposed to just points of sale.
Brands such as Nike and Farfetch are leading the way in reshaping retail stores. These stores are imbued with digital tech that allows consumers to seamlessly transition from browsing in-store to buying online, or vice-versa. In the metaverse, the cost of innovation is low and the potential rewards are vast. As a result, brands have license to experiment, to test how consumers react and engage. Retail brands are empowered to try out new store formats and dynamic sonic experiences without incurring huge costs. In a digital environment, brands can use this relatively uncharted space as a chance to elevate and expand on physical brand experiences. Staggeringly, we’ve reached a point where huge artists such as Ariana Grande and Lil Nas X performing live shows in the metaverse isn’t actually new anymore. These kinds of experiences are popular now, and brands should be thinking of ways to leverage them in their audio strategy. For example, what if the physical shopping experience earned you an invite to an exclusive live show or sonic experience? This would be an innovative extension of brand experience from the physical to the virtual, and it would drive differentiation.
Music, in particular, helps to immerse customers and plant brand associations in their minds. Having a solid and sophisticated sound and music strategy can help retail brands stand out in a noisy landscape and stay consistent across the plethora of audio-rich platforms and touchpoints. What if, for instance, my experience in a virtual store sounded different from yours? There’s very little that’s stopping brands from pioneering the next era of personalization based on information about music preferences, or even contextual details like the time of day. Brands can use data to shape and customize their audiences’ audio experiences.
Underpinning experience with sound and strategy While creating immersive, dynamic experiences is a tantalizing prospect on paper, brands need to carefully plan and design how they will be perceived in these audio-rich spaces. Many retailers have already woken up to the power of sound, understanding that a strong sonic strategy can be the foundation that links digital and physical brand experiences, allowing brands to naturally extend between the physical and virtual realms. To do this effectively, brands need a strong brand point-of-view on music – but they must also understand the differences in experience between these realms. The metaverse isn’t geared toward typical retail behaviors. Transactions instead happen via cryptocurrency and tokens. This isn’t new – brands like Apple used to offer iTunes download codes. NFTs are a social currency in the same sense. Therefore, these varied points-of-sale must still engage consumers, with an identifiable suite of sounds that represent the brand in this new context. The metaverse is a place to build retail experiences that drive loyalty through social currencies. For example, a brand might create a dynamic NFT that evolves through engagement. The more engaged and frequent a customer is, the rarer their NFT or social currency becomes.
Unlocking opportunities with sonic expertise There is a truckload of creative options for brands in sound. But the metaverse is still in its infancy and there are few off-the-shelf audio solutions. To effectively (and legally) leverage these options, brands need to work with partners who know the space and can navigate through complex licensing. For many brands, music rights are not sexy. They are complex and easy to infringe upon. Without the right support, brands put themselves at risk of unintentionally violating copyright and licensing laws. But the real danger lies in seeing this risk as a reason not to develop a sonic strategy that extends between the physical and virtual realms. This is where having the right music and sound expertise is key. There are a vast number of creative ways to navigate around music licensing stumbling blocks — it just depends on whether brands understand those strategies. Ultimately, it’s undeniable that all heads are turning toward the metaverse, and retail should be no different. While connecting the physical and the virtual realms may seem like a difficult bridge to build, having a sophisticated sonic strategy and the right musical expertise can enable retailers to create consistency and drive distinctiveness across these realms, connecting the two worlds in the minds of consumers.
There’s no definite answer to the question about how brands will be interacting with consumers in the future. But that’s one of the reasons why the future is exciting. For now, retailers have a blank canvas to build dynamic experiences and drive loyalty – all by harnessing the power of sound.