Another year, and another exciting week for technology enthusiasts, such as myself, when CES unfolds in the beginning of January. Despite a string of top brands opting to not have a physical presence, CES packed several promising examples of how technology can improve human life. The resounding key theme of CES was the metaverse, what it is and how brands plan to take part. After consuming many of them (and definitely not everything), I’ve put on the hat of a CX futurist to list the top metaverse takeaways from CES that excite me, with thoughts on how it’s going to push CX to evolve:
1. The metaverse will be the crown jewel of the experience economy.
The metaverse might seem like something straight out of a sci-fi movie right now. But it will become an experiential reality (irony?) pretty soon for most of us and is the surest sign that the future is only poised to go deeper into the experience economy. It’s omnichannel, personalized, experiential, and does away with the limitations of the real world for consumers, and it’s potential seemingly limitless. From cryptocurrency to NFTs to immersive gaming, everything a consumer finds there is experiential in nature (including even currency!) and it will upend how we interact and manage our digital personas. What the metaverse poses is a newly formed pressure for brands to deliver transformative experience that is complemented by goods or services. The focus is on pure CX and not on something that’s traditionally deemed ‘tangible.’ It may not even be a stretch to say that the metaverse will expedite experiential transformation in a similar way Covid did to propel digital transformation. As is true for digital transformation, a slew of metaverse-native brands will come up and set the logical benchmarks for customer expectations. While the metaverse is still taking shape, what is certain is that it will develop with speed, and any brand that leans on experience as an important part of their brand identity and value will be all-in.
2. Interoperability and cooperation will no longer be optional for brands, as the metaverse belongs to everyone.
The metaverse doesn’t belong to a single vendor, and the best way to build experiences for mass consumption would be to use open or shared standards, make everything interoperable, and build everything for scale. It’s been said that “[s]upporters of the metaverse envision its users working, playing and staying connected with friends through everything from concerts and conferences to virtual trips around to the world.”
Unlike what we see in the world today, companies will not be able to build walled gardens to restrict the mobility of their customers. A customer who sees an ad on her laptop for a couch will expect to switch to her phone, so she can use augmented reality to place that couch in her living room and maybe even try other things. She may want to use virtual reality to “visit” the store and see the entire collection that the couch is a part of and then make a purchase there. Although the web experience, the laptop, the mobile experience, the mobile phone, the VR experience, and the VR platform may all come from different hardware and software companies, they will merge into a single, inter-connected experience for the user. Vendors who don’t support that will clearly fall behind, since the metaverse will be full of such blended experiences.Through initiatives like Matter, we’re already seeing early steps in industry-wide interoperability. If B2B SaaS is any indication, there’s certainly reason to believe that companies can come together to create common standards for integration.
3. In the short term, consumers will need to actively draw boundaries for brands, keeping them “close enough but not too close”.
With smart devices and connected applications becoming more common, and considering the kind of home automation that was showcased by companies like Samsung, Sony, LG, and others at CES 2022, it’s clear that the home of the future will offer exponentially more conveniences through technology. Multi-device platforms will become the user interfaces within the home, using voice, video, gestures, and other triggers. While the convenience is undeniable, it also presents consumers with more responsibility to carefully draw the line between what they want brands to have access to, and what is private.
Consumers will initially be faced with a roster of nuanced privacy settings, but that should eventually ease into a more palatable privacy management experience within the home. The Washington Post writes, “But virtual reality (VR) headsets can collect more data about us than traditional screens, which gives companies more opportunities to take and share that data for profiling and advertising. They could also give employers more ways to monitor our behavior and even our minds. There’s little stopping the government from getting its hands on body-related data from VR tech, and there’s little in place to protect us and our kids from unrestricted data gathering and psychological manipulation, say digital rights advocates and experts following the industry.”
Since the home is a shared private space, each member of the household is different and might need to be treated as such. This will be an interesting array of privacy management challenges for brands as well.
Undoubtedly, consumers are more privacy-aware than ever before and brands are finding ways to capture data all the while putting consumers at ease. As an industry, we’re at a turning point — consumers are wary, market leaders like Google and Apple are changing their privacy doctrines, and brands are feeling a lot of pressure to capitalize on new opportunities without compromising their business through unsavory data practices; it’s really the perfect storm.
4. Every brand will need to take sustainability and accessibility very seriously.
With more devices, more accessories, and more packaging, the number of consumable items in our lives will only increase manifold. An ever-increasing turnover of items translates into a waste management nightmare for every community. Thankfully, with recent advances in sustainable materials, it’s possible for most brands to switch to packaging that can either be reused, recycled, or even upcycled. However, rather than sustainability being a tacky checklist item on the marketing strategy, every single brand will need a strong strategic focus on sustainability. The brands that are thinking about it that way are already aware of its short and long term impact on their P&L, and have established leadership roles to steward their efforts. This may be restricted to a set of pioneering brands today, but will certainly become the norm in the next few years, sooner rather than later. Governments and community administration bodies will also make locally applicable legislation to expedite these efforts.
Similarly, the metaverse presents a new level of accessibility that we’ve never encountered. It will open up the digital world in ways never seen before. Brands will need to determine ways to make themselves more accessible by delivering varied experiences that meet the needs of every type of ability. This poses its obvious challenges but is also a huge area of opportunity. I have no doubt CX is going to be the driving force behind success in the metaverse.
As a bonus, this year’s CES (being an in-person event) serves as a glimpse into the future of event experiences, what factors organizers must consider and prioritize, how they can plan for scale and social complexity, and how large events could evolve.