Is it just me? Or has 2022 exploded with references to the metaverse? In October, Facebook set the stage for this emergence by announcing that it would change its name to Meta. After a period of relative quiet, as the marketing and social media worlds digested this change, we are now seeing an explosion of coverage of this topic, and for good reason.     

To give just a few examples, the first week of January, AdWeek noted that hiring for metaverse-related jobs jumped 400% between May 2021–October 2021. It also cited a Vantage Market Research forecast that the market size for metaverse-related products and services would grow at nearly 44% over the next seven years. A few days later, one of eMarketer’s top stories was the “clear momentum” in China around AR and VR experiences in online shopping as the “necessary ecosystem” has come into place, a trend that many U.S. companies are already starting to exploit. Just a few days before, Social Media Examiner asked (and answered) a question that all of us should be asking: “What does this mean for marketers and why should we care?”

Even until recently, many people had never heard the word “metaverse.” Today, it seems that I cannot open my email without seeing the word. It’s as if Mark Zuckerberg’s October 2021 Facebook (now Meta) Connect conference, where he announced Facebook’s corporate name change, took something that had been quietly but steadily bubbling in the tech space and exploded it into our mainstream consciousness.

So, what is the metaverse anyway? The metaverse is a digital world in which people live, work, and play much as they do in the physical world.

This sounds futuristic, but it isn’t really. “Metaverse” is just a fancy word for many of the things we are already doing right now. For example, when you are in a Zoom meeting, you’re technically interacting in the metaverse. (In a more robust experience in the future, however, Zoom meetings might use avatars of ourselves sitting at a table, interacting with one another as if we were actually in the same room.) In a home environment, it’s using augmented reality to walk around your house, looking through your phone to watch your floors morph into completely different looks right before your eyes. In the world of gaming, it’s your children interacting with one another, miles or continents away, playing the same game, at the same time, as if they were in the room together.

The metaverse is simply any type of virtual or augmented reality, on any device, that allows people to enter a virtual world and interact with people, places, and things.

Until recently, the metaverse was seen primarily as techno-nerd talk that wasn’t applicable to the world of regular people or businesses. Much of the chatter has revolved around things the average person cannot relate to, such as the artist Beeple, who creates artwork for the metaverse and recently sold an NFT (nonfungible token) for a singular digital creation for $29 million, or the sale of NFTs for a collection of virtual sneakers at a price of $3,000 a pair.

Yet there are many ways in which the metaverse, in a very practical way, applies to PSPs and MSPs, both as providers and users of these technologies. Here are some real-life use cases of how the metaverse is being used by printers and agencies right now:

  • Offering virtual tours of their plants, allowing clients and prospects to “walk” their production floors and visit their offices as if they were actually in the building.
  • Creating 3D interactive models of products to boost clients’ online sales by allowing those products to be rotated, viewed, and examined as if shoppers were holding the product in their hands.
  • Attending virtual tours of demo centers to see new printing equipment before purchase. Once the equipment is installed, printers can place holographic images of the vendor’s service techs next to the press to show their operators how to fix issues or do routine maintenance.
  • Boosting donations and donor engagement by using holographic twins and augmented reality portals to speak directly to donors right in their homes and offices and take them “on location” so they can see the impact of their donations in a more personal and interactive way.
  • Deploying games in the metaverse to promote product sales for their clients. As potential customers play the game, they collect parts of the end product for which they can place an order once it is complete.

Over time, use cases like these will become more sophisticated, but the point here is that, even at a more simplified level, they are being done now.  So when you read about—or hear about —the metaverse, know that this is a practical reality that you should be considering and investing in, not because it’s tomorrow. It’s because it’s today.

Stay tuned for details on the use cases mentioned above (and others).