WHY BRAND PARTICIPATION IN THE ‘METAVERSE’ CAN ENHANCE HUMAN CONNECTION & WELLBEING

Developed in partnership with the University of Bath Masters Marketing Students

Virtual and Augmented Reality is becoming an increasingly hot topic in marketing. Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook will transition from a social media to a ‘metaverse’ company has only added to the buzz, leaving businesses and consumers alike questioning what exactly this ‘metaverse’ is and what impact it will have on our lives.

To wrap our heads around this we need to ditch the daunting, sci-fi-inspired name and start thinking about it as something that could amplify human experiences, rather than replacing them with an artificial one.

Brands have a key role to play in this. They can act as bridges between real and virtual life, facilitating connections across space and time, powering new, valuable human experiences and improving wellbeing.

WHAT IS IT?

As of yet, there is not one agreed definition for the ‘metaverse’. Synthesising the opinions of professionals in the tech field, it can be thought of as a fully interactive reality, an all-encompassing space crossing the physical and digital divide.

Sci-fi blockbusters, such as ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Ready Player One’, imagine a bleak future in which we are fully immersed in a virtual world, divorced from reality and what it means to be human. In truth, the likely vision of the ‘metaverse’ is not necessarily one of immersion, but one in which computing will merge into our environment and exist around us with a kind of human-amplifying pervasiveness.

Rather than representing an isolated, fabricated way of living, the ‘metaverse’ could be a connective tissue between humanity. Zuckerberg imagines a future where “instead of calling someone or having a video chat, you just kind of snap your fingers and teleport, and you’re sitting there on their couch, and it feels like you’re there together” (theverge.com).

SOMEONE ELSE’S SHOES

Without the limitations of physical distance, virtual spaces can bring people together from all over the world with similar interests and hobbies to connect, socialise and collaborate.

Thought of in this way, the ‘metaverse’ has the potential to enhance social moments — providing a medium of connection which feels far more real than speaking through the blue light of our screens.

Beyond enhancing our everyday online interactions, studies have shown that Virtual Reality can also enhance empathy. Perspective taking is a powerful precursor to empathy, and VR solutions from companies like Sony and Oculus are enabling doctors to experience specific conditions and symptoms from the perspective of the patient.

VR can facilitate a transition from just reporting on conditions to actually living them. This will of course give doctors a better understanding of diseases and ailments and the potential implications of increasing empathy, improving patient interactions, and tailoring treatments are profound.

GAINING PERSPECTIVE

Virtual experiences could not only put us in one another’s shoes, they might also help us to gain greater perspective on life more generally.

In 1987, space philosopher Frank White coined the idea of ‘the overview effect’ — a cognitive shift of awareness reported by astronauts when viewing the earth from out of space. The overwhelming moment of awe is said to provide a lucid understanding of the ‘big picture’. A powerful reminder to not sweat the small stuff, but somewhat restricted to those lucky and skilled enough to go into space.

But virtual experiences could change that. VR which allows us to experience the vastness and splendour of the world taps into our capacity for awe, which in turn promotes wellbeing. We are reminded of the insignificance of our daily stresses and made to feel part of something larger and more meaningful.

Science suggests that awe can bolster our connectivity as well as our happiness. According to Jennifer Stellar, a psychologist at the University of Toronto “people feeling awe focus more of their attention outward and value others more in social interactions(nbcnews.com). In short, feeling humbled makes us want to engage with and be more connected to others.

Rather than replacing our real lives with an artificial impression, might the ‘metaverse’ and its wealth of virtual experiences not extend and celebrate what it means to be human?

It could open new opportunities for authentic interaction, help us to understand one another and our place in the world — simplifying our lives rather than adding to the complexity.

A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON POSITIVE INNOVATION

So, what does this all mean for brands?

At Brand Genetics we believe in “positive innovation”, which means innovating with people’s happiness and wellbeing in mind. Making wellbeing the ultimate goal can help to humanise innovation and tap into a fundamental and universal human goal — the pursuit of happiness.

FMCG giants, such as Unilever, ABinBev, Britvic and Heinz, whose products have a role in facilitating shared everyday bonding moments, can innovate in the ‘metaverse’ to increase the frequency of these experiences, providing new ways for consumers to come together across the physical and virtual worlds.

But more than this, they can work to create experiences which promote our capacity for empathy and awe, help us to engage with one another and the world on a deeper level and promote positive wellbeing.

Key to this will be innovating ‘human first’, using tech with the aim of intensifying rather than supplanting authentic human moments.

Mike Woolston is a Consultant at Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. An experienced strategic and brand consultant, Mike is a proven big picture thinker with a with a passion for understanding culture and behaviour.

Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics www.brandgenetics.com