There’s plenty of intrigue in Meta’s lovingly produced video vision of the metaverse, shown at Connect 2021. But one particular part caught our eye, as Mark Zuckerberg (or a digital version of the Facebook founder) enters the metaverse.

After choosing an outfit, Digital Mark materializes inside a virtual reality spaceship. He’s welcomed by four of his friends seated/floating around a table. Two are digital human avatars, one’s a nondescript hologram of some sort, and the other is a big red robot.

“Boz, is that you?” the Meta CEO asks with a note of disbelief

“Of course it’s me,” expresses Boz. “You know I had to be the robot, man.”

“I thought I was supposed to be the robot,” says the Zuck.

Even though the metaverse is in the earliest days of development, Meta has already answered the question: “Can I be a robot?”

Although, there’s a more pertinent question yet unanswered: “How does an autonomous world exist around human-controlled experiences?”

It’s fair to assume that Boz isn’t really a robot. Most likely he’s Andrew Bosworth, vice president of augmented and virtual reality at Meta. But what if the Meta CEO was actually interfacing with an artificial intelligence – one of many? A clunky, rust-worn cartoonish robot in appearance only, and a sophisticated piece of conversational AI underneath?

And what are the opportunities for brands in the new internet?

What if Boz was an interactive avatar employed by PokerStars to run their games 24/7 in the metaverse? Because humans cannot “live” there, but AI can.

It’s a question probably only ever asked in science-fiction shows and stories. But this is where we leave science-fiction behind and start discussing commercial applications of the metaverse.

How brands will enter, live, exist and thrive in this metaverse. What the commercial applications of the metaverse are. How customer service will work in a newly minted metaverse. And what role digital humans will have in this new world.

Defining: What is the metaverse? Mark Zuckerberg quote

What is the metaverse? In the smallest of nutshells.

The metaverse is a digital environment that will be created much like online worlds in video games are today. However, it will exist as an immersive social environment, where people can meet up, interact and experience life digitally – without being constrained by physical space.

Meta in Greek means ‘beyond’ or ‘transcending’. So we can think of the metaverse as a universe that transcends our own. Or, more specifically, a universe within our own

That’s the metaverse in a nutshell. But is it really a big deal? Mark Zuckerberg is perhaps one of the biggest proponents of it, and believes it will be a VERY big deal.

“We believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet,” explains the Meta CEO.

“We’ll be able to feel present, like we’re right there with people, no matter how far apart we actually are … And that’s going to unlock a lot of amazing new experiences.”

How will brands and businesses operate in the metaverse?

Commercially, the metaverse is new ground for every brand and business. Some may be wincing at the idea of managing a new channel; others will be rubbing their hands at the opportunities.

But it’s incredibly exciting to think of the things brands can do in the metaverse that they can’t do in the physical world.

  • Retail brands could open and run vStores (or virtual stores) – spaces in which to sell their wares. Users will be able to visit the store at the click of a button, and buy digital or real items in real time.
  • They can showcase products in the virtual world, even those users will eventually own in the real physical one. Think of a car showroom, where buyers can take a tour of photo-realistic 3D vehicles. Or a cell phone store where shoppers can get a virtual hands-on with the latest models, all from the comfort of their own homes.
  • Brands can hold virtual events, or sponsor them. Musicians have already held concerts in virtual spaces like Fortnite and Roblox. It’ll likely be more cost-effective to get virtual celebrity doubles to show up than the real thing, too.
  • Brands can use the metaverse as a customer service channel. Think of how cell phones have become the go-to customer service medium. If Zuckerberg is correct about the metaverse being the successor to mobile, customer service might well become virtual-first.

So where do digital humans fit in? Populating the metaverse!

You may be wondering why we’re so excited about the metaverse. 

Well, the innovation has actually been discussed for some time. Meta’s potentially huge investment in developing the metaverse has no doubt taken the tech from the theoretical drawing board to something we could be experiencing within the next decade.

And the more you start thinking about, the more the metaverse will need digital humans. 

Much like you have NPCs (non-playable characters) in video games, digital humans will be the personas you interact with throughout the metaverse. The characters that aren’t human but fill the metaverse with living, breathing… well, life.

In a digital world where we can be and do virtually anything we want, who’ll want to do the always-on roles that make the metaverse tick?

We need experiential, conversational AI to populate the metaverse and make it immersive. And we strongly believe that AI will have a human face, body, voice and personality.

Three ways brands will thrive in the metaverse using digital humans

Unlike the metaverse, digital humans are employed by brands and businesses today, adding a human touch to their digital worlds. But what will digital humans do in THE digital world – the singular, decentralized metaverse?

We’ve come up with three use cases that could be low-hanging fruit for brands wanting to thrive in the virtual world.

1. Virtual brand ambassadorship: Meet your favorite influencers

What if we predicted that the brand influencers, ambassadors and mascots you know today will exist tomorrow in the metaverse and just… be there? They’ll chat to you not as a means to sell you things, but simply as a form of embodied, living, breathing, walking, talking brand awareness.

You might think that’s a stretch. But let us introduce you to exhibit A: Jake from State Farm.

The low-key, cool-as-a-cucumber brand ambassador is an NPC in the video game NBA 2K22. Jake doesn’t exist to sell you insurance; he’s around to interact with your character, give you some virtual State Farm-branded clothing for your avatar, and ultimately just leave an impression. 

It’s interactions, not only transactions, that allow brands to build connections with customers today. And it’s interactions that will allow leading brands to thrive in the metaverse.

2. Retail channels: The metaverse as a means to shop

People might mostly use the metaverse to game, socialize and just hang out. But that doesn’t mean their worldly wants are completely satisfied.

What if Mark Zuckerberg – while he and his robot entourage are playing poker in space – wants to order pizza? 

Will he take his VR headset off, take out his cell phone and order one through the Domino’s app, before returning to the metaverse? Or will he access the Domino’s storefront within the metaverse itself?

It’s the second one. And we’d bet our bottom dollar on digital humans being the interface of choice for even small metaverse transactions. 

Voice technology will be more efficient than typing on a virtual reality screen, after all. And, as they do today, brands will want to provide interactive, humanlike interfaces that can build better emotional engagement with customers. Experiences that feel natural in the metaverse, and won’t force users to leave it.

That means brands will have to consider the metaverse a serious part of their omnichannel customer experience strategies. Daunting? Sure, but we have time to work up to it – and the technology available to start building today

3. Concierge services: Guides around the metaverse

Noel Leeming is part of the largest retail group in Australia/New Zealand – and one of the most innovative retailers in the world. When the brand opened its flagship store in Auckland, it employed a digital human, Nola.

Nola acts as an in-store concierge. She guides customers around the store, helps them find certain products or just chats to them – taking a selfie should the customer want one. Nola can even escalate and find a real member of staff to help the customer. 

The metaverse needs a Nola – or many Nolas, to be precise.

Whether it’s for online shopping or as a tour guide to the metaverse, there’s a lot these digital human experts can do. If we think of the metaverse as similar to a video game world, these would be the NPCs who man the shops, or act as guides to the complex virtual world.

But they’re way more interactive than any NPC that exists in video games today. They’re characters who you can chat to with open-ended dialog, turn to for advice, make a joke with – and they might even make you laugh in return.

Becoming well-versed before the metaverse – today!

As Nola and many others will tell you, these digital human solutions exist today

They’re going to be crucial in populating the metaverse, and helping brands exist, engage and thrive within it.

But before that, digital humans will continue making online interactions more emotionally engaging. 

Defining CX in the age of AI is only in its infancy, and will develop as the metaverse does. But the basics of what we want as humans remains the same. We want interaction, emotional engagement and personality in our digital worlds – on websites and apps. When brands provide it, whether it’s in the metaverse tomorrow or online today, the results can be seen across the customer journey.

To start your digital human journey, you can sign up for a free trial of UneeQ Creator – our platform for designing, developing and deploying digital human employees. Or get in touch with one of our experts, and we’ll help you get ready for an exciting future of possibilities.

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