6 Ways Franchisors Can Use the Metaverse to Grow Their Brands
In capitalist economies, business leaders continually hunt for an edge over their competition. Today forward-thinking executives look to the metaverse for ways to drive profits by pleasing customers, nurturing their loyalty and improving operational efficiency. But what is the metaverse? And how can it be harnessed for franchise growth?
The metaverse is still evolving, although it’s generally described as an immersive blend of virtual- and mixed-reality worlds that are entered via a browser or headset. After people enter the metaverse, their avatars can interact with objects and other avatars there. Instead of being an observer of the action, metaverse users are part of the action. Participants’ activities in the metaverse can generate a real-world response – for example, people can order a product that will be delivered to them. Cue capitalism!
But will consumers invest in the equipment needed to experience the metaverse? Research firm Gartner says yes with this February 2022 prediction: 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse by 2026. That’s just a smidge over three years from now.
Possibilities for Franchise Brands and the Metaverse
Franchises fulfill wide-ranging customer needs – educational enrichment, health and fitness, repairs and upgrades to commercial and residential buildings, landscape services, pet care, real estate sales and rentals, restaurants, senior care, vehicle maintenance, and much, much more. Yet marketing, sales, customer interactions, training and information-sharing represent metaverse capabilities for all, both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) brands. Following are six areas of opportunity:
1. More Personalized Remote Interactions
Move over, Zoom. Next-generation work meetings can involve people throughout franchisor operations: franchisees, franchise executives, managers, employees, trainers. Better networking, information sharing, collaboration and improved communication are possible in 3-D interactions such as training sessions and project collaborations that carry the added benefit of eliminating travel costs. Other possibilities: Franchise consultants and Discovery Days could lead potential franchisees through experiencing a day in their new life.
2. Improved Customer Experiences
A Kubbco.com blog predicts the metaverse will facilitate personalized services, easy access to self-help with problems or questions (saving money by freeing up staff), transparency and faster service. Consumer feedback from metaverse experiences can help franchises refine their offerings.
In trying before buying, customers can visit a destination (perhaps a gym, store, restaurant or specific vacation home rental) and realistically test the perks before taking a real-world plunge. To demonstrate a service – a home or business painting project, or a moving company – consumers are on the spot, witnessing the care taken with their possessions and interacting with employee avatars. A beauty service might offer a 3-D peek at post-treatment appearance, perhaps eyelash extensions. A property owner could stroll around a property before, during and after tree removal and/or with new shrubs and flowers virtually planted and avatars skipping down the sidewalk.
And here’s a fitness possibility from OutdoorFitnessSociety.com: As people stride on a treadmill, they interact with avatars jogging alongside. Virtual pals can encourage each other to run an additional quarter-mile. Fitness clients also will appreciate performance-tracking in the metaverse. At metaverse fitness centers, personal trainers are beside the client, demonstrating proper form and pushing repetitions. Boutique fitness franchise TRIB3 is betting that customers will be enticed by being able to exercise at more places and at a pace they choose. TRIB3 will deliver its services, construct a virtual gym and sell its products through its presence in the Sandbox, according to Global-franchise.com.
3. Hosting Events and Entertainment
Concerts have already unfolded in the metaverse as entertainment. But Tutors on Demand goes a step further with concerts promoting its brand. All franchisors could do the same, in some way publicizing products and services during a virtual event. (Metaverse gurus expect entertainment to be particularly important for wooing young consumers.)
But concerts are just the beginning. Consider holiday-linked sales, product introductions and promotions, and contests. McDonald’s served up a non-fungible token (a digital creation commonly known as an NFT) several months ago when publicizing its McRib sandwich. Think of athletes competing in races or scavenger hunts with real-world prizes such as food or service coupons. The takeaway is that enjoyable experiences nurture favorable opinions of franchise brands.
4. Advertising and Branding
Marketing probably holds the most obvious potential of the metaverse. In 2021, Warner Bros. Pictures held a virtual party on the Roblox platform to promote its film In the Heights. And any virtual enterprise will have signage and trademarks raising the brand’s profile.
The Kubbco.com blog notes that the metaverse opens a franchise’s doors to an all-new customer base. Some 97% of Gen Z shop based on what they see on social media, according to that blog, so franchises should set up their social media to enter the metaverse and give customers a brand-boosting, immersive shopping experience for real-world goods and services.
5. Sales of Virtual Goods
Direct sales of virtual items can create a supplemental revenue stream. For metaverse concerts or races, franchises could sell branded T-shirts for avatars to wear; the sale of NFTs, especially one-of-a-kind or limited-edition digital creations, is another opportunity. Gucci sold NFTs resembling the company’s real products for use by avatars and in metaverse displays.
6. Digital Real Estate
Speculators have already bought concert locations and shopping malls. Virtual restaurants offer a customer experience that includes placing real-world food orders for takeout or delivery. A visiting avatar also can assume the role of employee, something the Wendy’s franchise already does; Chipotle has offered a burrito-building experience in the metaverse.
Franchises Staking Their Claims
Many franchises are poised to enter or are already in the metaverse, among them Arby’s, Bareburger, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chick-fil-A, Jimmy John’s, McDonald’s, the aforementioned TRIB3, Wendy’s, Wingstop and Yum! Brands (parent to Burger King, among other franchise restaurants).
“From a brand and PR point of view, [the metaverse has] driven wide-reaching coverage and excitement. But commercially speaking, we have the ability to drive serious revenue and reach,” TRIB3 CEO Kevin Yates told Global-Franchise.com. “The opportunity the metaverse presents to brands is incredible – but only for the brands which can realize and recognize it.”
Early Steps for Franchises Entering the Metaverse
Franchisors probably should act now to lay foundations for operating in the metaverse. A Kubbco.com blog and What-franchise.com suggest franchisors take the following steps to either preserve their options or get started with their metaverse presence.
- Work with a Metaverse Platform: Some common ones are Decentraland, The Sandbox and Roblox. Gucci purchased land on The Sandbox in advance of building a store in the metaverse. Through a platform collaboration, franchises can also host virtual events that bring customers together and partner with a social media influencer to promote their brand.
- Develop Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) Experiences: Franchise customers will enter the metaverse to interact with real physical products and services. Through AR, Amazon customers already can place virtual furniture in their homes before purchasing. With VR, customers can examine items and participate in demonstrations. Besides serving as sales, marketing and loyalty tools, a business can reap valuable feedback after consumers engage in a metaverse experience.
- Hire a Consultant with Expertise in Franchising: This person can hit the ground running to help a franchisor leverage the powers of the metaverse.
- Protect Trademarks and Other Digital Intellectual Property: Franchisors with registered U.S. trademarks should investigate whether to protect digital assets such as trademarks and unique non-fungible tokens (digital creations commonly called NFTs) internationally. After all, it’s cheaper for franchisors to register trademarks than to enforce their rights if infringed upon.
- Seek Sound Legal Advice: Selling franchises in the metaverse probably will incur the same regulatory requirements as franchise sales closed elsewhere. Other issues: May national marketing funds be used in the metaverse? How will territories and locations be determined? What currency may be used in making royalty payments?