The metaverse is beginning to take shape. But this new virtual world isn’t just for tech billionaires. It’s opening up new possibilities for brands of every size and in every sector.

So what’s happening in the metaverse and what does it mean for the beauty industry?

What is the metaverse?

As with any concept, there isn’t an exact, dictionary definition of the metaverse. And as it describes something that is yet to evolve - a vision for the future - it’s often used loosely.

However, in the words of Polygon’s Oli Welsh, ‘the metaverse’ broadly describes a ‘graphically rich virtual space, with some degree of verisimilitude [appearance of reality], where people can work, play, shop, socialize — in short, do the things humans like to do together in real life.’

Welsh, and others, note that this definition could be used to describe the current world of video games, for example. But whilst these could be described as metaverses, when the term is used now, it’s seen to represent something much larger.

Theorist and VC Matthew Ball describes the metaverse as ‘a 3D version of the Internet and computing at large’ and ‘a sort of successor state to the mobile internet’. 

Examples of the metaverse, as it begins to take shape, help ground these definitions.

For instance, Fortnite has hosted a number of virtual concerts for artists like Ariana Grande and Travis Scott, who ‘perform’ to millions of users. These concerts aren’t just about listening to music: Fortnite will build each out to a bigger experience for users to enjoy.

Then there’s Gucci’s virtual ‘Gucci Garden’ on Roblox - a two-week experience launched last May where users could explore themed rooms and buy limited edition items. This experience grabbed worldwide attention when a virtual Gucci bag sold for more than its real-life equivalent.

As we can see, immersive technologies are key to the metaverse. AR and VR are - and will be - central in creating this shared, virtual space.

NFT’s for brands and consumers

Another technology important to the metaverse is the NFT (non-fungible token).

An NFT is a unique digital asset that can be bought and sold online. They can’t be replicated (‘non-fungible’) because they are securely recorded on a blockchain (the technology that powers cryptocurrencies).

NFT’s can be everything from digital art to an NFT of a tweet.

And they’re important to the metaverse, allowing users to own and trade assets online and create this virtual world.

We’ve already started to see many brands embrace NFT’s, including beauty brands.

Clinique, NARs and e.l.f Cosmetics are some of the early adopters of NFT’s and they’re approaching their release in different ways.

For instance, e.l.f’s Cosmetics created 9 NFT’s last year - digital, gold-dipped versions of best selling products. With each costing less than $9, the brand proved that NFT ownership isn’t just for the wealthy.

Clinique chose a slightly different strategy when launching their NFT’s. The global brand chose not to sell three editions of their first NFT, but instead use them to augment their customer loyalty scheme. As such, Clinique has given its Smart Rewards members the chance to receive an NFT, along with other products, once a year for the next 10 years when customers ‘share their stories of optimism and hopes for the future’.

These examples illustrate how beauty brands are beginning to use NFT’s to build community and engage with consumers in new ways. And, as NFT uptake increases, we should expect a whole range of creative applications to emerge.

Virtual beauty stores

But what does the metaverse as a whole mean for beauty brands and their marketing teams?

Some may say beauty brands have already unknowingly been dipping their toe in the metaverse when launching an AR filter, for example.

Yet the opportunities lie far beyond this.

For instance, one way beauty brands can and will be embracing the metaverse is by exploring more gaming partnerships and the opportunities for 3D virtual worlds that lie there.

For instance, last year Charlotte Tilbury sponsored the GIRLGAMER Festival which has previously partnered with brands like Sephora, Benefit Cosmetics and L'Occitane. And mobile gaming app Drest, where users complete styling challenges, launched a ‘Beauty Mode’ in 2021, featuring brands like Gucci Beauty and Nars. Such interactions between beauty brands and gaming is set to be significant as the metaverse expands.

Another avenue to explore is virtual beauty stores. An iteration of this exists on Snapchat, where partnerships with brands like M.A.C Cosmetics allow users to virtually try on different products and purchase them directly through the app.

But this can be taken further. Charlotte Tilbury provides another example here, with the brand launching a virtual Beauty Gifting Wonderland last winter with Obsess, allowing users to ‘Shop with Friends’ and navigate a 3D virtual store together with friends and family.

Such elevation of eCommerce and the creation of unique, virtual shopping experiences is a key way we should expect beauty to embody the metaverse.

Predictions for the metaverse

The metaverse is taking shape as we speak and brands are only just beginning to explore what this new virtual universe may mean.

As outlined above, in the next few years we should expect to see more partnerships between beauty and gaming brands, more NFT launches and more virtual shopping experiences.

And it’s experiences that are key. The metaverse is built around offering consumers experiences they can’t get in other forms or through other technology - as in Fortnite’s digital concerts, for example.

The metaverse will be a real test of brands’ creativity: a challenge to provide consumers with high-quality content and opportunities to engage in a different (and valuable) way. 

Many beauty brands may currently be unfamiliar with the metaverse but the time to start getting acquainted is now. Gartner predicts that by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse either for work, shopping, education, social purposes or entertainment. If consumers are stepping into the metaverse, brands who want to reach them better be entering this virtual universe too.

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