Technology

The Metaverse Is an Extension of the Real World With Sukhi Julta

The Metaverse Is an Extension of the Real World With Sukhi Julta

VENTEUR spoke with Sukhi Jutla, an award-winning entrepreneur and author based in London, about the Metaverse. Jutla is the co-founder and chief operating officer of MarketOrders, an online platform for the gold and diamond jewelry industry. She has won numerous awards, including Asian Women of Achievement and Female Entrepreneur of The Year, and was named Top 100 European Digital Pioneer by The Financial Times and Google. Jutla holds board positions with the Mayor of London’s Digital Skills Partnership and the Department of International Trade in the UK. She is an Industry Associate at University College London Centre for Blockchain Technologies (UCL CBT).

Photo courtesy of Sukhi Julta

Metaverse Generally

What barriers prevent businesses from entering the Metaverse, and why?

The Metaverse is still relatively in its early stage of development and, as a result, can be costly to enter or to experiment with in its infancy. This can prevent businesses from exploring what the Metaverse can offer and prefer to wait until it becomes available at a lower cost. 

Those who experiment early tend to pay more as the technology is still being worked out. It helps to have a healthy research and development department (like Meta, for instance) where you can afford to play around with, test, and innovate with new technology without damaging profits or diverting essential resources away from the central part of the business. 

The user experience is also still at a relatively primitive stage and requires a certain level of knowledge to use it.

Another critical reason that prevents businesses is that they simply don’t understand what the Metaverse is and what its impact on business could be. As a result, businesses can’t tell what role the Metaverse will play in its broader business strategy. 

A lack of knowledge is a big reason people don’t do certain things - it can lead to lower confidence and scare people away from exploring new areas. 

When social media platforms were launched a decade ago, no one could predict what new opportunities social media bring. Still, those who entered the area early benefited the most. So there is a benefit to entering the market early. Still, you can only do so when you understand what this new technology is (or at least have an appetite for learning…and failing, often) to realize its full potential. 

Many businesses are busy with tight cash flow, so they may prefer to sit back and wait it out to see if it's worth their time and energy to enter the Metaverse. But on the other hand, waiting too long could cost them new business opportunities.

What roles will businesses and consumers play in the Metaverse, and how will such roles redefine how businesses operate? 

The internet, to date, has primarily been a 2D place. A place where consumers interact with a digital screen and information flows from one place to another sequentially. Interactions are still limited to a degree. 

The Metaverse opens up this space by bringing the consumer to the center of a virtual reality conversation. Communication is much more dynamic and in real-time. For the first time, the internet is becoming an experience in and of itself. 

The Metaverse has moved off the 2D screen and become a destination for consumers and businesses with which to interact. 

Its intention is not to replicate the real world but to become an extension of it by providing consumers with immersive reality experiences. 

Just like your social media handle is an extension of your brand, the Metaverse becomes an additional space to consume, communicate, and play.

Brands will use these spaces to create digital and immersive business experiences for their consumers. Consumers can create ‘avatars’ of themselves (a persona or representation of themselves), and these avatars can buy goods and services in the Metaverse. 

Brands can provide a more real-time and interactive shopping experience for consumers. Consumers can attend concerts and purchase land in the Metaverse. We have already seen many property companies buying up this space and then renting it out to consumers! 

For the first time, we can now own a piece of the internet, and a crucial part of this revolution was the introduction of Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs) which will play a pivotal role in the emergence and use of the Metaverse. NFTs allow you to own digital assets. The total use cases of how consumers and brands will interact in the Metaverse have not been fully realized. Still, it's fair to say that it will revolutionize how brands and consumers interact, leading to new ways of targeting consumers.

Metaverse Pros

How will the Metaverse enable businesses to reach and monetize their existing customers?

Businesses can create dedicated experiential spaces for their customers and offer them extra products and services to build brand loyalty. 

Imagine buying a pair of trainers from your favorite retailer and being invited to an exclusive ‘behind-the-scenes tour of their manufacturing plant to show you how your trainers were made, where you can interact with the staff at the factory and ask them questions about how the products are made sustainably. 

Businesses can offer unique and exclusive content that can only be accessed if you are a part of their virtual reality space in the Metaverse. 

Consumers will also need to create avatars to enter the Metaverse. Think of this as an interactive version of your social media profile pages. Just as businesses currently use social media to find and target you online, they can also target your avatar and send you much more relevant information and adverts. Imagine seeing adverts straight into your virtual reality headset with the immersive sounds and sights surrounding you compared to seeing the same advert on a flat 2D screen (where, no doubt, your browser has multiple tabs opened and other distractions flashing or beeping at you!). 

For businesses, the Metaverse could prove to be a highly lucrative space to sell to consumers when they have their full attention immersed in their space. 

By creating more detailed digital consumer profiles, they can improve their targeting by seeing how you act and behave in real-time, thereby being better able to anticipate your needs…and be willing to jump in and provide them (sell them!) to you. 

How will the Metaverse serve as a platform to enable businesses to reach new audiences, and why does it matter?

The Metaverse (or Web3 as it is often called) will allow brands to create experiences using immersive reality technology. Businesses will gather their communities in this virtual space online and, being digital, can reach an unlimited amount of people and target new audiences in this way. 

They can create customized experiences based on your digital avatar preferences to bring you a fully personalized experience. 

This platform will allow eCommerce to continue with purchases made in digital marketplaces. By being online, consumers will leave behind digital breadcrumbs from which businesses can gather data about demographics, geographics, and purchasing behavior. 

This information will help businesses design precisely what is needed to attract the customer they want. With more and more people coming online, we will live in a world where almost everyone will be shopping or working online. 

The Metaverse has the potential to bring everyone even closer together, more than the internet and e-commerce (Web2) did.

How will the Metaverse enable businesses to further develop their brands through experiences, and could this be a double-edged sword?

Brands can use this collaborative and immersive space to hold virtual press conferences, investor presentation days, and house virtual customer care departments. Your brand is not just your logo or the product or service you sell but also how the business acts and behaves online and offline. 

Trusted, deep, and loyal relationships are built over time. 

The more innovative ways you can reach your customers, the more they will remember you, especially if the experience was positive. 

Imagine inviting your customers to an immersive workshop or demonstration of how they can use the products they have purchased from you. Creating these experiences invites your customers to become more engaged with your brand. They may order the product on their 2D laptop screen and then choose to join your immersive and realistic live demo that same evening. 

These experiences will only add to the buying experience as long as they add value to the consumer. The downside to this could be that brands may only focus on those customers who choose to interact in the Metaverse and de-prioritize those who do not, thereby creating different ‘tiers’ of customers who may receive different levels of customer service. 

What brands need to do is to ensure their brand persona is the same across all channels and that consumers don’t feel left out, especially those who cannot afford to join the Metaverse (as it requires a strong and stable internet connection as well as access to expensive headsets).

Photo courtesy of Sukhi Jutla

What brand experimentation opportunities do the Metaverse present businesses, and why do they matter?

The Metaverse’s full potential can be realized when businesses can create and bring their communities together on the platform. For example, if you are a gaming business, you can create in-game currencies and ask your customers to make purchases while they play using your currency.

Or perhaps you are in the music business and can host ‘listening parties where you can play your music to those attending in the Metaverse and host concerts that millions of people can attend. Attendees can then even purchase digital merchandise using tokens and NFTs.

Or perhaps your business sells software, and you can host virtual panel discussions or workshops in the Metaverse teaching customers how to use your product by giving live demos, which will be much more interactive and immersive than a standard Zoom call. Or perhaps you want to get early customer feedback from your customers and invite them to experiment with products yet to be launched.

Why do these experimentation opportunities matter? Because consumers are demanding a better experience from brands. The digital space is heavily crowded. Brands are fighting for as much pixel space as possible online, trying to grab your attention via mobile ads and social media content. 

With the Metaverse, once that headset goes on, you will be fully immersed in the experience from the perspective of sound and sight with a 360-degree surround sound experience where the customer will interact with others in real time. It will feel more ‘real,’ and the brand may find that they can build more trusted and loyal customers in this way.

Metaverse Cons

How can a poorly executed Metaverse strategy adversely affect a brand, and how can such a disaster be avoided?

The Metaverse will be an extension of your brand that exists in a virtual reality world. So the same rules apply to brand building in the ‘virtual’’ world. 

For example, you want the virtual brand experience to be complementary to what your customers are already experiencing. Your customers’ in-store or online behavior must match the behavior and expectations your customers expect in the virtual world. Getting this seamless experience right could be a challenge and, if done wrong, could lose your customers. Brands will have even more access to customer data through headsets with eye-tracking technology to see exactly what their customers are looking at. 

This, of course, is a marketer’s dream. This data can send highly personalized and targeted adverts to the customer. Still, every business needs to maintain and protect privacy regulations and secure its data. Any data leaks would harm a brand and cost them customer loyalty.

How much money does it take to create a brand-aligned experience in the Metaverse, and what are the ongoing costs?

As mentioned above, early entrants to new technologies usually face higher costs simply because the technology is new and a lot of testing will take place. Deep pockets are needed to be in a position to test these innovations. 

Large enterprises such as Meta (formerly Facebook) have the financial capacity to invest in the Metaverse. In October 2021, Meta announced it is spending at least $10 billion on Facebook Reality Labs, its Metaverse division tasked with creating AR and VR hardware, software, and content. 

With high startup costs, you can expect ongoing costs to be as equally as high until the technology is developed to a level where it is stable and can be rolled out to the masses in a low-cost manner. 

How will the Metaverse expose businesses and consumers to new types of fraud, and what steps can be taken to prevent such nefarious acts?

NFTs can serve as digital IDs for customers, but NFTs can be transferred and sold. This opens up a vast potential for identity fraud to flourish in the Metaverse, with people being able to create identities and sell them. Privacy issues are already an issue with the internet. 

Web browsers are tracked, and cookies follow your online journeys. 

Imagine the amount of data we will generate in the Metaverse. 

With headsets tracking eye movements and wearable devices tracking our emotions and physiological data points, companies could exploit so much data. 

This leads to the next issue of hacking. 

Data is called the ‘new gold,’ giving businesses and brands incredible insights. There will be even more hacking attempts in the Metaverse to steal and sell this data. 

Worse still, your online avatar could be hacked into and wreak havoc both in the Metaverse and the real world. 

The internet opened up even more ways for financial fraud to take place online, and this could also happen in the Metaverse with your digital assets being stolen or your avatar being scammed out of them.

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