Do you know what the metaverse is? Do you care? If the answer to both is no, you may be missing out on future opportunities to reach prospective clients and remain as a competitive design industry business. To put this in blunt terms, if someone had asked you in the 1990s what the internet was and you didn’t seek out the answer, your company would have become largely invisible and unviable.
The metaverse is the latest iteration of internet technology, often called Web 3.0, and more immersive than its desktop or mobile versions. Right now, the experience of being ‘immersed’ in the scene you’re viewing is optimized with a headset, but it’s not required, and many new metaverse experiences (also called activations) are ditching that requirement altogether. This is great news, since most of us who aren’t gamers don’t want to wear them. And we’d rather invest our funds in home gear than headgear.
Does the metaverse hold business potential for the kitchen and bath industry? I asked four diverse professionals who are already using it in their work to weigh in:
- Leslie Carothers, a digital marketing consultant specializing in the home design industry;
- Web 3.0 technology consultant Andrew Lane, co-founder of digby and a partner in creating the Metaverse Architecture & Design (MAD) Awards;
- National homebuilder KB Home’s Chief Marketing Officer Amit Desai;
- Dallas-area interior designer and virtual architect Annilee Waterman.
As you might expect, the answer is a resounding yes.
The term comes from 1990s sci fi, but the metaverse leapt from fiction to phenomenon in 2021 when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg renamed his company Meta. He gushed about the potential of this new platform and invested billions in development. It hasn’t exactly been a successful launch. In an October 2022 post, CNBC reported a $9.4 billion one-year loss to the tech giant’s metaverse division and reduced expectations for its Horizon Worlds platform. Zuck is still bullish on the metaverse’s long-term potential, though.
So are the four pros I interviewed for this Trend Spotting. “It’s not unreasonable that in a time of significant recession and contraction, a publicly traded company would be pulling back in this area,” points out Lane. “While that organization has gone to great lengths to ‘own’ the term ‘metaverse’, the reality is the immersive 3D web is much larger, with many different voices defining what its future will be.” Carothers laments Horizon’s low quality of graphics as contributing to its lack of popularity.
EARLY MOVER ADVANTAGES
There’s definitely room for growth and improvement – and for early movers! “In the past, brands debated whether or not to launch a website, then it happened again with social media,” recalls Desai. “The metaverse is the next step in that progress, and we believe it’s important to have a presence there and on all platforms that our customers are using or will be using.”
The marketing chief adds: “Being a first mover with a new technology isn’t new to us. Our virtual new home community in the metaverse demonstrates our commitment to being the most customer-obsessed homebuilder in the world by connecting with the next generation of homebuyers and inspiring them in innovative ways.”
Waterman agrees: “Being an early adopter can give a business a competitive advantage by positioning them as forward-thinking and innovative.” Isn’t that how you and your business would like to be seen?
So, what is this metaverse platform? “It’s often helpful to think of ‘the metaverse’ as the unflattening of the internet,” suggests Lane. This unflattening is enabled with augmented reality (AR), where the user’s likeness (avatar), location and possessions can be included in the metaverse activation to experience new possibilities for them; virtual reality (VR) or the user experience of feeling like they’re in the space they’re seeing; artificial intelligence (AI), which takes information already available online to tailor messages and experiences to a particular user, and blockchain and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which facilitate e-commerce in the metaverse. It’s less important to know or understand the ‘technicalese’ than it is to appreciate the potential for your business and where in the metaverse it makes sense for it to be – not unlike prioritizing Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, etc.
“We believe the metaverse has tremendous potential to reach new and younger buyers and get them excited about homebuilding in the real world,” Desai declares. KB Home chose its metaverse platform strategically, explaining it this way: “Decentraland is the right fit because it is free to access from any computer and you don’t need headgear or a digital wallet to tour our community.” The builder launched there in January and is still processing results. “We expect the visitor data will skew toward Millennials and Gen Z, given the audience profile of the metaverse and Decentraland specifically.”
Carothers wants you to know that there is not just one metaverse. “There are many and they are all trying to attract user bases.” Popular spaces, she reports, are The Sandbox, Roblox, Minecraft, Decentraland, Mona and Spatial. What does this mean for our industry?
“If any stakeholder in the kitchen and bath industry has either digital or physical products for sale on their website, a metaverse activation can generate additional income,” Carothers points out. “It’s possible to design an activation showcasing and educating – via virtual signage and product modeling – how a room in a home can go from ‘perfect for the young homeowner’ to ‘perfect for aging in place.’ In each space within a particular room, there can be a link out for further information,” she explains. That can be a link to a rep’s contact information or a download.
Carothers sees the metaverse working for marketing, operations and customer service, too, she says. “Metaverse activations give you reams of data whereby stakeholders can make smarter financial allocation decisions based on what links people are clicking on.” It can also provide a 24/7 chat bot for answering questions within the activation. LG, Home Depot, West Elm, Samsung and other major brands are testing its potential for their businesses. So are tech-savvy professionals.
“Virtual showrooms have great potential,” Waterman asserts. “With no real limit to size, vendors can showcase all of their products, rather than just a portion. All pieces can be set to function as augmented reality as well, so buyers can view the items in their space.”
Lane sees also numerous opportunities for industry players to benefit from a metaverse presence beyond just design, he says. These include gaining new clients and data, extending real-world projects into digital opportunities (think selling virtual products and spaces, as well as real-world versions), licensing, new trade show possibilities, mapping construction sites to find defects early and site walkthroughs.
“I love the idea of designing for the virtual world, whether it’s a replica of a real world place, or a creation out of imagination,” exclaims Waterman. It has become part of her daily reality, she says, both in uploading projects for clients to tour virtually and to hold design meetings in them. Imagine the power and potential of these virtual site meetings to communicate more about a proposed space than any plan, rendering, model or even a bare bones construction site can! “The metaverse offers designers a way to collaborate with their clients in a totally new and immersive way,” Waterman adds.
She expands this possibility to other stakeholders: “Digital Twin metaverse spaces are accessible for anyone, from anywhere in the world, allowing designers, architects and manufacturers to work remotely without physical or geographical constraints.” The concept makes it easier to get feedback and share ideas, she offers.
“These kinds of custom builds and platforms are looking to directly solve industry pain points,” comments Lane. “They’re enabling firms to reimagine design consultations and evolving the process through which sales teams work with specifiers. The collaboration that a 3D platform enables can streamline emails, reimagine the dynamics of sales meetings and think differently about how they extend their showroom spaces through virtual real estate.”
“There’s plenty of research available with a range of predictions about metaverse adoption and we anticipate even in the next three to five years we’ll see big leaps in accessibility and users,” notes Desai. “In the not-so-distant future, we believe experiencing the metaverse on a mobile device will be as rich as it is on a computer.” It’s not there yet, he notes, at least on Decentraland, but adds, “as we’ve all seen, every year the processing power of our phones gets quicker and better, so it’s only a matter of time.”
Lane predicts, “The future of the metaverse will be an even more seamlessly integrated experience with our physical world. Just like the internet, it will soon be available to us everywhere, at the touch of a button or a prompt from your voice.”
“The biggest barrier to adoption is really having a use-case that compels you to explore the technology, which might be only as far away as your next kitchen renovation,” observes Lane. If the technology is also easy and enjoyable to use, and enhances exploration of what’s possible for home ownership, that’s a huge plus, too!
Carothers sees this as a distinct possibility: “Metaverse activations are fun experiences and allow users to ask questions, interact with each other and learn, all in an environment where there is no judgment since they are interacting anonymously as their avatars!” Not your clients or vendors, to be sure, but the many design enthusiasts who can become clients for entirely new profit centers. ▪
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is an award-winning author, wellness design consultant and industry speaker. You can learn more about her design industry presentations, books, Clubhouse events and consulting services at jamiegold.net.