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Into the metaverse – could healthcare companies bravely go where few have already gone before?

By Eliza Hancock

Eliza Hancock

When it comes to developments in communications technology, humans seem to be eager to adopt advancements in their lives. When the first mobile phone was invented, people were dazzled by the concept – at least that’s how Martin Cooper described the reaction following its launch. Similarly, when the internet became publicly available, it fast became a tool that everyone wanted to use, and so dot-com was born. Both the mobile phone and the internet soon became commonplace in the lives of those who could access them, along with essential platforms for communication – think Friends Reunited, MySpace and Facebook.

Facebook becomes Meta
In October 2021, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had undergone a huge rebrand to become Meta. Along with this shift in the company’s identity, it would fully embrace something known as the ‘metaverse’, which it touted as the future of the internet. And how did the world react? Well, it was somewhat mixed – possibly even tepid.

Some, like myself, dived in, purchasing an Oculus headset and created avatars everywhere that would accept me (in truth, I didn’t need the headset to get involved, but that’s another story). Others were unsure of it, with many ruminating that Facebook’s lack of ‘cool’ among Gen Z might be a barrier to entry to the metaverse. For many, Zuckerberg’s announcement in the wake of global data malpractice scandals associated with social media evoked a deep-rooted sense of worry and fear. It can be tough to get your head around what it is and many individuals will gladly stand on different hills to debate its true meaning and purpose.

The immersive metaverse experience
To try and sum it up as best I can, the metaverse is an immersive experience that occurs in a virtual world but exists within the physical one. You can interact with other people in deeply realistic and life-like ways but what happens in the virtual world coexists with the physical and, in theory, offers limitless opportunities.

Many popular brands have already begun creating virtual identities and experiences. Roblox, which is a long-standing virtual gaming metaverse, recently saw Gucci create a virtual experience in one of its worlds. But 67% of Roblox users are under the age of 16, so why would Gucci spend money developing an experience there? For the same reason that it investing advertising in magazines where the readership hasn’t got the level of disposable income to afford it. Because it’s aspirational. Because in a few years’ time when they can afford it, they’ll have bought into brand Gucci.

Gucci isn’t the only mainstream brand that has dived into the metaverse, ‘The Sandbox’ has Adidas, Care Bears, Ubisoft, The Smurfs and Snoop Dogg developing experiences in their environment and Coca-Cola has created virtual ‘loot boxes’ of clothing NFTs, which could be worn in Decentraland, showing that some of the largest and most influential companies have bought into the potential market posed by the metaverse.

Early adopters are already on the virtual ground and are being rewarded for their presence, while many laggards will drag their feet before they eventually realise that there are audiences that they want and need to communicate with in these environments.

If you had asked me pre-COVID-19 whether I thought the metaverse was something that people would get involved in, I probably would have said no. But the reality is that we’ve spent the last two years communicating with people in virtual environments across Zoom and Teams, playing games on apps like Houseparty and jumping into conversations with strangers on Clubhouse. This virtual connection is essentially what the metaverse offers, just in a more immersive, emotive and striking way. You can join friends around the country, and even around the world, in Snoopland, stand watching Snoop Dogg’s performance together and then turn to the person next to you to strike up a conversation.

With Meta now putting its full weight behind the metaverse, hoping to build and shape it (although its involvement does raise some questions), it is essentially co-signing it, ensuring it doesn’t fail.

Diverse audience demographics
As the metaverse evolves, we should keep a close eye on how we can utilise it to communicate better with diverse audience demographics.

When the first mobile phone was created and the internet started to become publicly available, there will have been many individuals who dismissed it as a fad. But as time has shown us, they’ve become staples in our lives, so who is to say the metaverse won’t be next. The question is, what steps can our industry take to interact with it in a way that is beneficial to patients and clinicians around the world? Could healthcare companies bravely go where few have already gone before?

Eliza Hancock is a writer at Page & Page and Partners

Eliza Hancock is a writer at Page & Page and Partners

1st April 2022

From: Marketing

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