When the pandemic hit and the world "shut down", marketers accelerated the creation of digital experiences so customers could continue interacting with their brands. With the rise of the Metaverse, AR, VR and our new digital reality, it’s time for businesses to take the next leap in transformation - brand virtualisation.
For many companies, a digital transformation had already been underway for years, although rarely ranking high on the list of priorities. Others were still at the starting line.
As the pandemic dragged on, real-life, in-person customer interactions became increasingly difficult. Digital transformation became vital to the survival of many businesses and would encompass anything from grocery shopping and car sales to conferences and trade fairs.
Brand virtualisation, meanwhile, is far more than translating in-person experiences into digital ones: brand virtualisation is creating distinct, digital environments in which customers can interact with brands.
Virtualisation extends well beyond pandemic-influenced behaviors. Two years later, any brand wanting to keep up with the speed of this transformation should recognise that virtulisation is the new era of growth. The new goal is to be a virtual-first brand.
To put it into hard numbers, while the digital transformation marketplace is estimated to be worth US$600 billion—and growing at a compounded rate of 20% over the next ten years—80% of that growth comes from lifestyle mobility, social innovation and other virtualisation adoption, not the pipes and plumbing that have defined traditional digital transformation.
Add in the cultural revolution enabling the complete reinvention of the internet, estimated to add over US$1.5 trillion to the global economy by 2030, and the largest growth opportunity for brands in the history of digital is up for grabs. A country like Singapore, with a rich history in innovation and gaming, could become one of the epicenters of this new economy.
Four steps to successful brand virtualisation
The like-for-like transition of analog customer touchpoints to a digital setting is no longer the end-game when it comes to digital transformation, giving way to a virtualised approach that is better built to support human behaviors online, offline and everywhere in between.
Increasingly, consumers prefer digital experiences over analog brand interactions. As a consequence, businesses must look for ways to seamlessly connect real-world and digital customer experiences, letting customers move between the two, as and when they want.
In other words, businesses must meet customers wherever they are, with the least amount of friction.
Achieving successful brand virtualisation will require marketers to adopt new skills and mindsets, while organisations must take a mature approach to build virtual experiences.
This journey can be split into four key steps.
1. Go beyond privacy
In our virtualised era, businesses have access to vast amounts of information about their customers. Understanding the rules of engagement regarding data privacy is just a basic first step; in the era of virtualisation, people expect a value exchange in which any use of their data clearly supports their experience.
The first step is, of course, setting a course for protecting and respecting the data that people opt into sharing. Taking this into a world of brand experience includes developing ways in which people want to give you data. For example, can you create a service or tool that generates data?
Think about the apps that sports brands like Adidas are creating for their customers, which create vast amounts of information about how their core customers are playing sports and exercising. These formats not only create the data companies need to be more personalised but simultaneously generate a desire to engage with your brand.
2. Building and embodying digital-first culture
The rules of engagement might change, but this does not equate to customers changing their media consumption and purchasing behaviors.
To successfully virtualise a brand, companies must lead with a virtual-first mindset that extends beyond tech and tools. Take luxury fashion house Gucci, who is one of the pioneers of using NFTs and art in the metaverse, having launched its Vault Art Space last week.
This requires rethinking strategy both internally and externally. Internally, it means onboarding your teams into the vision and focusing on how you can deliver frictionless experiences to your customers.
It’s also about evaluating the skills required for modern teams – including digital analysts, strategists, data specialists and technologists. Externally, engage your customers, seek their feedback, and bring them on the journey. To continue to innovate, you must also understand the landscape and your competitors to stay a step ahead
According to Boston Consulting Group, digital transformation efforts are massively lagging behind and only 30% of companies navigate a digital transformation successfully.
Make no mistake, being virtual-first is a necessary one for businesses today to succeed, and it means everything about your business is focused and built on anticipating and delivering against your customer's needs.
3. Quality in content and community is key
To successfully achieve virtualisation, quality in content has to be part of your strategy. After all, content is the oil to your brand virtualisation engine. It's how you show up to the world, it is how you communicate to your customers, build your base, trust and credibility.
According to the Hubspot State of Inbound report, content creation is a top priority for 80% of marketers.
That’s because the quality and consistency of the content are one of the many factors that determine the growth and success of your business.
The biggest challenge for brands is often in executing and delivering rich, fit-for-format experiences at scale, in which every piece of content is tailored to context, location, and the individual consumer’s preferences.
The brands that are virtual-first, however, understand where and why communities form and as a result, they co-create with them the content and experiences that audiences want. Take language app Duolingo’s use of Roblox, a virtual environment that has been estimated to be an $800m market opportunity.
4. Consolidate and integrate
Successful brand virtualisation requires consolidation and integration of customer touchpoints in both the analog and digital realms.
Companies must build and blend seamless analog-digital customer experiences that provide for unique and personalised interactions between customers and brands. With the first eSports hotel set to open in the next month in Singapore’s Bugis area, this integration of offline and virtual worlds is already taking place.
If you are still talking about digital transformation, then it’s time to shift your mindset to virtualisation. A new generation of audience is already ready and waiting for new ways to experience your brand.
Yasmine Mansour, regional head of growth, Southeast Asia, Media.Monks
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