The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had numerous effects on our lives, one of which is the way virtual spaces have been given a new license to be seen as a marketing channel. After all, if the experiences we have online are no less real than those we have when out and about or watching TV, the impact of marketing in those spaces should be just as effective.
We have reached a pivotal point where technology, fueled by the likes of 5G, AI and edge cloud processing, is enabling organizations to seamlessly mesh virtual and physical worlds.
Early attempts at harnessing this kind of ecosystem were a little gimmicky. In 2000-2001, there was quite a buzz around a handheld barcode reader—the CueCat—that allowed users to scan a barcode to take them to a webpage. At the time, this was pretty advanced technology, but the fact that the company behind it no longer exists goes to show that weaving the virtual world with the physical world still had some way to go.
And indeed, how far we have come since then. As we tap into augmented and virtual reality and don a range of wearable technology, our sights are now set on a future horizon that scans for “what comes next” for human creativity.
What does the future hold for marketing?
As marketers, many of us now know that the seemingly impossible is probably only a few decades away at most. Being able to seamlessly move through various digital environments to deliver entertaining and cost-effective AR and VR experiences is the principle of the metaverse, and it is opening up a raft of opportunities that are iteratively transforming the internet as we know it.
As we get used to the idea of viewing the world through AR glasses and leveraging immersive technologies, we can start defining what the future of digital marketing will look like.
Ten years from now, social is likely to be a seamless fusion of on- and offline. I believe the metaverse, which may still seem futuristic right now, will have become mainstream. Most of its key components that already exist will have been refined, and new technologies, responding to our as yet unknown needs, will be woven into the mix.
Superfast broadband, lightweight VR headsets and always-on virtual worlds are already here. Expanded UX will likely be taken for granted, meshing AR and VR to create virtual worlds in which we all interact. I think brands, healthcare, entertainment and education will all dovetail in and out of a digital world designed to enhance our lives. Content as we know it will increasingly become richer as we learn to navigate these new environments. Those days of focusing on SEO-friendly websites will likely be superseded by enhanced AR experiences that call upon information-rich content to enhance brand perception.
By 2032, I also predict non-fungible tokens—NFTs—will have come into their own. As the metaverse expands, so too will the likes of NFTs as they shift beyond adding value to digital artworks, memes and video game avatars to replacing legal documents with smart contracts. As e-commerce continues to dominate, we could well see a time when everything we purchase is accompanied by an NFT. But the potential of NFTs goes way beyond authentication—the world of live entertainment could be transformed beyond our current memorabilia—autographs and T-shirts could become retro relics. I foresee concert attendees experiencing live entertainment and acquiring an exclusive and personal digital asset to keep as a memento.
It may seem that in this projection of our future, social has not been mentioned very much; actually, in time, I think social is likely to become a redundant term as it becomes an intrinsic part of our everyday lives.
While to some this may seem like a world away from their current marketing strategies, one of the best ways to harness these new opportunities is to let your imagination run wild. Regardless of the product you are marketing, start by analyzing the current roadblocks you are facing. Think about how to improve your customers’ interactions with your brand.
Outline the best possible experience you could offer your online customers, define the challenges your product could help them solve and then go back over this virtual journey and pinpoint the potential sticking points. Whether you want your customers to try on your merchandise virtually, take their shopping cart with them as they shift from one platform to the next, ask their friends’ opinions or smell your latest perfume, these things are all possible, and it’s important to think ahead.
The likes of immersive training promises to be more engaging and more compelling and by far more accessible. Anyone in the coaching sector, be it golf, tennis or public speaking, will be able to tap into a customer base who never have to leave their homes—the world is quite literally up for grabs as golf courses and meditation classes to cycling trips through Provence can be delivered to anyone anywhere. I think smells, sounds and sensations will soon all be part of what’s possible.
In effect, the real barriers now exist only in our traditional mindset that may still balk at how this can be achieved. Our very human connection to story is poised to overcome the equally human resistance to change. I foresee future scenarios where social defines the way we experience our work and leisure lives—with readily accessible information at our finger tips and a thirst to deep dive further into our potential.
Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?