We’ve all heard the phrase “perception is reality.” Each of us as consumers perceives our world differently. The individual reality we each see is just that—individual—and it changes from one person to the next.
Just what are perceptions, and why does it matter that they differ from person to person? To understand this, we should first discuss the basics of perception:
• Perception is the way consumers select, organize and interpret the world around them. It affects how we see and what we feel about our surroundings—including the companies and brands we purchase from. As marketers, we make an active effort to cultivate that perception. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts did this by using scent machines to periodically infuse buses with the fresh aroma of coffee when the brand’s jingle played on the radio.
• Perceptions are affected by stimuli, which are essentially any unit of input into our senses. Sensory receptors (eyes, ears, tongue, nose and skin) connect with sensory stimuli (sights, sounds, tastes, smells and textures) around us. We evaluate and interpret these perceptions, and we either store or forget them.
• I’ve found that consumers act on and react to the basis of the perceptions they evaluate and interpret—not objective reality—which makes the process described above incredibly important. Prior to Covid-19, marketing had evolved to include multisensory, in-real-life experiences. In my opinion, that’s because these experiences that appeal to more senses tend to be more effectively perceived and recalled. As the pandemic becomes endemic, we’re starting to see multisensory experiences on the rise. For example, the Dior Garden pop-up celebrating the new Miss Dior was a five-day experience offering cafes and an immersive flower installation. It was certainly an experience for all five senses.
Until now, we’ve been shaping perceptions both online and offline through digital Web 2.0 experiences as well as in-person activations. But, with Facebook’s October 2021 announcement that it would rebrand to Meta, the metaverse burst onto the scene and could provide marketers with a whole other universe in which to create multisensory experiences, shape perceptions, and drive recognition, recall and ultimately purchases.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than with luxury fashion. For example, digital-first luxury sneaker brand Cult & Rain held its first presale in February and built hype through NFTs. To build hype, the “Genesis Drop,” as it was called, was made of a limited number of NFTs that could be purchased and then redeemed for an identical pair of high-end sneakers. The company would then make the shoes in its Italian factory, a process which could take 16 weeks. With Gucci Vault, a self-proclaimed “constantly evolving emporium of wonders,” Gucci partnered with 10KTF, a digital accessories shop co-founded by Mike Winkelmann, aka “Beeple,” who sold “Everydays: the First 5000 Days” for $69.3 million. It is one of the most expensive NFTs sold. Together, they customized 11 NFTs inspired by Gucci collections. These digital outfits essentially dress selected NFT collections, including Bored Ape and World of Women. Balenciaga partnered with Fortnite to enable players to purchase digital outfits similar to real-life Balenciaga fashion from a virtual boutique. People could collect the brand’s Triple S Sneakers by playing the game, and players could even take advantage of virtual changing booths to try on Balenciaga clothing.
What do all of these examples of shaping perceptions in the metaverse, the potential next frontier for brands, have in common? They primarily appeal to two senses: sight and sound. I’ve found that it’s easier to perceive and recall experiences that include more than just sight and sound. But how do brands tickle more of our senses in the metaverse? Here are three examples of how technology could effectively shape perception in the metaverse by appealing to more than simply sight and sound:
• Haptic gloves will bring touch. They’ll do so by pushing against your skin each time you touch a virtual object in the metaverse. While there are a number of companies working on this technology, one of the most notable is Meta, which showcased its technology in November 2021. The gloves simulate touch through actuators which are, put simply, pads that create pressure on your hand. The project has been in the works for more than seven years.
• OVR Technology will bring scent, which its website says “makes virtual experiences more engaging, more immersive, more emotional, and more effective.” It will do so through a small device that can be attached to VR headsets.
• Taste is not far behind. With Taste the TV, a lickable TV screen that can imitate food flavors, consumers may be able to lick a hygienic film over the TV screen to simulate tastes. It works by using 10 flavor canisters that spray various combinations on the surface to simulate various foods.
Are technologies like these ready for brands to leverage to deepen perception-building efforts in the metaverse tomorrow? In my opinion, no: But, given the prevalence of the metaverse, the focus on accelerating technologies like these will be very likely to rise. One thing is for sure: Gone are the days of companies talking at consumers. Whether they’re interacting in the physical world, online or in the metaverse, consumers seem to be demanding a dialogue. I think the most successful dialogues will be multisensory experiences that are designed to holistically appeal to our sense of sight, taste, touch, smell and sound so that brands can improve their chances of building and shaping positive perceptions.