How brands can make smart moves into the metaverse

There’s opportunity in digital retail—but companies are going to need a map.
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Virtual Brand Group / Forever 21

4 min read

Every brand and its mother are scrambling to figure out a plan to enter the much-hyped metaverse. (Meanwhile, our mothers are still texting us once a week to ask what an NFT is.)

“Games [are] an extension of social media. These are environments where people aren’t just playing; they’re purchasing and socializing,” explained Charles Hambro, co-founder and CEO of Geeiq, a gaming/metaverse consultancy and data platform.

  • It works with companies like Tommy Hilfiger and L’Oréal on gaming strategy and helped Gucci with its meta moves.

With roughly 2.7 billion people playing games globally, there’s opportunity in digital retail—but brands are going to need a map.

Hambro says it’s crucial to begin by laying out your objectives. “Start with the why. Why are you getting involved with gaming and the metaverse in this industry? Before we get involved, we have a policy where we don’t work with brands on a one-off project. We will only work for brands who have the ambition to have a long-term strategy in the space,” he told Retail Brew. “Don’t just come in because you think it's the cool next thing to do.

What’s your point? The reasons to get meta vary from brand to brand, Hambro explained. Some want to connect with younger consumers; others want to express their values or messages in a way that they’re unable to do through a typical digital platform.

“All of these are very different objectives,” Hambro said. “Once we’ve defined those objectives, we look at opportunities that match those objectives.”

With the Roblox-based Gucci Garden, for example, the fashion house wanted to create a virtual installation that paid homage to past ad campaigns and let users browse and buy its digital collection.

  • Geeiq gave Gucci the space to craft a fantastical shopping experience—a maze of colorful lights that transform into a patterned garment, an open forest, a pool—without using any literal space.

A lid for every pot

When Authentic Brands Group decided to explore virtual reality, it enlisted the help of Virtual Brand Group, which dubs itself a “metaverse creation company,” to see what made sense. VBG CEO and founder Justin Hochberg surveyed ABG’s roster, with a few top-of-mind questions: “What assets and IP does this brand have that make it recognizable and marketable to a demographic that we think is in the metaverse? What resources can it bring?”

It became clear to Hochberg that Forever 21 had promise in the metaverse, so last year, VBG partnered with F21 (holy acronyms) for the fast-fashion company’s grand Roblox entrance.

  • The plan? Further building out the brand experience, introducing a new revenue stream, and creating an “infinite marketing loop.”

A digital universe like Roblox is ongoing, Hochberg said. There are always people online, consumers to tap into. “Living a virtual life is not distinct from a physical life,” he told us. “So we try to make things really personal and relatable.”

  • Taking into account the social and discovery elements of Roblox, VBG built a virtual Forever 21 Shop City, where users can explore the grounds, open a virtual F21 of their own, communicate with creators, and buy both the physical and digital versions of avatar outfits.
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Out of this world: When thinking about the metaverse, Hochberg recommended an experimental mindset. Treat it like a “virtual innovation lab,” he said, one where you can test out new products and create items that test the marketplace. “If time and money were no object, if the laws of gravity didn’t exist, what would you build?”

But, one mistake brands make with new tech, Hochberg explained, is that they don’t learn what kind of work a specific digital world requires.. For example, the person in charge of developing a virtual store is different from the person who makes an in-game map or the person who designs digital merch. (Some brands are even saying it might be time to hire a chief metaverse officer.)

Hambro added that brands have to think community first when entering the metaverse. “These games are places where people want to have fun, and they want to relax, and they want to socialize. They don’t really want to be advertised to,” he said. “How can you enrich the experience of the user?” Hambro emphasized the value-add over the advertising opp, cultivating experiences that bring users together and speak to the platform.

“Going in and just saying, ‘Hey, we’re here to advertise and nothing more,’ that’s not a value-add. And I don’t think that’s going to make anyone happy, brand [or] consumer.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.