Web3 buzzwords like “metaverse” are gradually being replaced by others like “artificial intelligence” as big tech organizations like Meta and Alphabet scale back on their metaverse-focused projects and shift their priorities.
But this doesn’t mean that development of the virtual realm has stopped. Businesses still need to be prepared as transitions happen over the next decade. In April 2022, Citibank estimated that the metaverse is on its way to becoming a $13 trillion market by 2030, making it clear that this isn’t a sector to ignore.
China will play a colossal part in the evolution of the digital space.
Unlike many countries in the West, China has clear government-directed policies and goals for the metaverse set out in its most recent five-year plan, with many predicting that it will have the first interconnected, functional national metaverse as a result.
It also has a government-supported national digital asset exchange to allow the purchase of digital collectibles (the term NFT is still avoided due to strict policies on the trading of online assets) without the use of banned cryptocurrency.
The mainland’s public are also positive about the prospect of a virtual landscape. A 2022 survey by Ipsos asked how people in various countries feel about the possibility of engaging with extended reality (XR) in their daily life; 78 percent of respondents from China were somewhat or very positive. This was higher than in any other country — for example, the rate in the United States was 42 percent.
How are brands mastering this arena? Here are some examples:
KFC’s gamified metaverse space
In October 2022, fast food chain KFC created its own dedicated metaverse space using an interdimensional restaurant concept. The group invited customers to join its virtual community and play mini games that involved various activities, such as making food. The project resonated so well with its audience that it only took 10 days for total impressions and interactions to surpass 2.9 billion.
Ping An Bank’s virtual influencers and educational livestreams
In January 2023, Ping An Bank hosted a livestream to share financial knowledge with its customers. The livestream was conducted by Teacher Hua, a senior investment consultant and the Executive Deputy General Manager at Ping An Bank’s head office, along with Ping An Xiao Cai Niang, an anime-style virtual character that represents the bank. The latter interacted with her fellow presenters during the livestream, which was watched by more than 210,000 people.
Aeon Mall’s AI-powered assistants
Aeon Mall in Xintang, Guangzhou and AI software provider SenseTime teamed up to create XiaoTang, a realistic AI-powered avatar that appears on screens throughout the mall to help people with directions and answer questions. XiaoTang’s precise, accurate recommendations have improved the mall’s customer experience and enhanced engagement.
Mentholatum’s digital collectibles drop
Given the ongoing ban on cryptocurrencies and stringent restriction on digital asset trading in China, companies are introducing their own take on “digital collectibles” to skirt round the regulations.
In June 2022, healthcare brand Mentholatum launched a digital collectible series featuring the nurse from the brand’s logo as a virtual ambassador. Each asset was bundled with some of the brand’s star products — capturing the attention of Gen Z. The initiative helped the brand stand out in China’s competitive market and solidified its image as a trendsetter sought after by young people despite being a 133-year-old brand.
Though not an exhaustive list, the aforementioned examples demonstrate how technologies like VR, AR, digital collectibles, virtual influencers, and the metaverse are being embraced across China like never before.
How your brand can harness the ‘Chinaverse’
For Western brands looking to crack the mainland’s metaverse market, there are multiple factors to consider.
First off, the metaverse’s offerings aren’t exclusive to entertainment and video games. The digital-scape boasts vast possibilities in sectors such as healthcare, engineering, education, sales, customer service, and more.
But before tapping these sectors, it’s important to explore what works best for your audience. For example, digital collectibles have become trendy among China’s young demographic and are a relatively affordable asset to create. Using them strategically as tickets, proof of purchase or as collectibles sold with products is a way to get your brand noticed with great payoffs.
Using AR, VR or virtual influencers can be a draw that elevates marketing engagement. As the virtual landscape matures, Chinese consumers are looking for strategies that merge virtual elements to create captivating and unique experiences.
This could involve deploying virtual influencers to take part in brand livestreams, in which they can interact with real people, or creating 3D-generated product displays. Mastering an unconventional and creative presentation style will help viewers connect with your brand, increase viewership and create greater interest.
To conquer the Chinese market, it’s about letting your imagination fly. Besides livestreams, virtual influencers and mascots can be used to launch products, appear in digital fashion shows, guest star in campaign films, or even be featured in conventional advertising methods such as billboards and posters.
At the same time, companies can consider creating their own branded virtual space, in which customers can test out potential products or personalize existing items, like Taobao has done. These immersive environments also offer brands an opportunity to generate revenue by selling limited edition virtual items.
China’s digital landscape is growing at an unprecedented speed, and competition is rising with it. For brands wanting to stand out in this burgeoning industry, the time is now to make a move.
Ashley Galina Dudarenok is a Chinese serial entrepreneur, award-winning digital marketing professional and three-time bestselling author. She is the founder of China-focused digital marketing agency Alarice and digital consultancy ChoZan 超赞.