Mike Ratcliffe: The Metaverse – a brave new world for the wine industry
By Mike Ratcliffe, 8 March 2022
We already live in a world that is a precursor to the metaverse. The metaverse describes an entirely new computing era. The metaverse describes the beginning of shift in behaviour. In the same way that the internet is not a single place, but a collection of websites, apps and services that work together, the metaverse describes a fast-evolving collection of interactions, technologies & business models that will look very different from today’s internet.
Our focus on the physical world has been declining for decades. Our kids have developed an innate level of comfort with existence in the virtual world. In the past few years we have comfortably moved from conference rooms to video calls. Friendships have increasingly formed online via dating sites and social media. Video games are replacing sports as the dominant activity of a new generation. Our identities are changing as we start to care deeply about our online personalities – just witness the explosion of Tiktok, Instagram and the selfie generation.
The metaverse will only truly arrive when the digital world becomes more meaningful to more people than the physical world. The physical world that used to be our only option. Smartphones now allow us to take our digital persona anywhere we go – 24/7. Participation in the metaverse remains a choice, however non-participation will increasingly become a significant disadvantage in business – and in life.
According to the New York Times, the term “metaverse” was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and further described by Ernest Cline in his novel Ready Player One, now a Spielberg movie you should really watch to experience a futuristic metaverse.
But what about wine?
The metaverse is like the internet – anything that you want it to be. A platform for creativity where our physical and digital lives will overlap and converge.
The metaverse is unlikely to digitise the art of winegrowing or winemaking. Wine marketers will see an immersive digital world which is increasingly fertile with opportunity. The onset of virtual wine tastings via Zoom have quickly come of age and become embedded as a norm – in a very short time. The next step will be much more interactive. Virtual reality and augmented reality will quickly immerse enthusiastic punters into a dramatically more realistic and interactive wine environment.
A few innovative wine companies have quickly grasped the early formative stages of the metaverse. Treasury Wine Estates pioneered the introduction of augmented reality in a masterful co-lab with Snoop Dogg. Hovering a smart-phone over the 19 Crimes wine bottles “living label” magically bringing the labels to life – a wine label actually “telling” a story. You will soon enter a virtual wine retailer in the metaverse and interact with the store avatar (digital persona). Each bottle will actually tell you about itself – before you make a physical decision.
Commerce will fuel the build-out of the wine metaverse. Wine marketers now comfortable with a DTC (direct-to-consumer) strategy will need to develop a DTA (direct-to-avatar) strategy. As our digital personas gain in confidence we will increasingly interact in the metaverse as we evolve from e-commerce to i-commerce (immersive commerce). The currency of the metaverse will evolve quickly to crypto, and the ownership of virtual wine assets, still in its infancy, will be conveyed by NFT’s (non-fungible tokens) and will be recorded on the blockchain.
The metaverse is an evolving 3-dimensional version of the 2-dimensional internet. An internet that you can enter, together with other people. A place where you can interact with wine lovers, a highly efficient environment for wine education, an increasingly familiar platform for wine sales and a place to make money – virtually.
What’s next? In much the same way that the arrival of the internet decades ago saw innovators build websites, platforms and businesses, the tantalizing prospect of the metaverse is already turning into a gold rush. The metaverse will need to find practical purpose and it will then be built for that purpose. It will need to be colonized, pecking orders will need to be established and new ways of doing business established. Huge ideas will fail, and nascent technologies will appear out of nowhere and flourish. Fortunes will be made.
The metaverse will not replace our humanity, our personalities, or our sense of community, but it will likely make our environment richer. It will be a catalyst for efficiency. It will change the way that business happens and money flows. It is not a substitute for the real world, but an alternative reality which we will choose to participate in.
The metaverse will be whatever we want it to be but will never be a substitute for a great bottle of wine with close friends.
- Mike Ratcliffe is founder and chairman of Wine Business Advisors, providing advice to maximise the profit of new or existing commercial activities in the wine industry. He is also owner of the Vilafonté wine brand.
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