Is pharma ready for the metaverse?

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Is pharma ready for the metaverse?

By Delphine Dubois and David Ferguson

Once upon a time, medical communications depended on printed materials and face-to-face communications – words and pictures on a page, or live meetings. Life was simple. But then, something called the internet interrupted this joyful prehistoric reverie. Slowly at first, then more rapidly, online platforms captured the attention of our audiences. And so, we were forced to navigate the unfamiliar territory of blogs, banner ads, web portals, and HTML. The brands and agencies that harnessed the internet as a critical inflection point survived. Those that didn’t, well, didn’t. 

Another inflection point may nearly be upon us. You may have heard of it? It’s called the metaverse. 

What is a metaverse?

A metaverse is a shared, multidimensional virtual environment that allows users to interact with it and each other – it’s the internet, in 3D. A metaverse can be navigated much as the “real world” is navigated. Users communicate and collaborate with each other much as they would in person, exploring content in a more natural way than we are used to via our current computers, browsers and smartphones. As a virtual space, the rules of the real world don’t necessarily apply. Users could wander from a traditional conference room to the inside of a working human heart, or workshop ideas surrounded by interactive assets. At the same time, real-world rules can apply. Users in one private space might (or might not) be able to communicate with users in a neighboring space, depending on the nature of the virtual “walls” between them. 

There are two key differences between the virtual reality simulations many of us have experienced and a metaverse. First, a metaverse can be an entire world where users travel from one virtual location to another. Second, it allows participants to continually interact with each other, like in those advanced multiplayer video games that you or your kids might already be playing.

The metaverse represents a substantive shift in the way humans and HCPs will interact with each other. Anyone who’s been to a medical congress lately already knows that virtual reality simulations and smart 3D digital content are widely used and accepted. Given the rate at which the underlying technology is advancing, it’s likely that metaverse experiences will become a commonplace part of the HCP world in three to five years’ time, if it even takes that long.

This means all of us best be thinking about the implications of the metaverse for HCP communications. 

The evolution of storytelling

The first step in that direction is understanding that the metaverse is not just another new technology. Forget about the tech. The metaverse is the next stage in the evolution of storytelling. 

With a smartphone in every pocket, we’ve now grown accustomed to location-based digital experiences. The customer journey has evolved with our devices, and digital storytelling is now part of our lives wherever we go. Consider the opportunities to make metaverse stories impactful in this new era. Group events, shared experiences in real time, will allow audiences to uncover unique content as they travel together through virtual spaces. Complex spatial narratives will captivate, educate, and even surprise HCPs as they explore. The days of paper handouts at a medical congress will seem long ago when you can instead take a group journey through a truly immersive 3D scientific experience on a cellular level.

The metaverse of tomorrow

Of course, the metaverse is far from realized yet. But both the technology and the skills of those using it are advancing exponentially, which is clear based on the explosion of metaverse platforms launching these days. 

Emerging technologies always create challenges for marketers – remember those first popup ads on the internet? HCP communities in the metaverse will face challenges in their infancy, but in time could evolve into easily accessible digital ecosystems. Interoperability and forms of digital currency may provide new ways for users to bridge platform divides. 

Building on our own successes delivering VR and immersive learning, we at HCG are establishing our metaverse strategies for the pharma space. We’re exploring and building as we go, and using a variety of metaverse platforms internally to learn and share ideas. For clients interested in getting started, an intranet metaverse presence for internal communications is a great way to familiarize teams with the evolving technology and innovation mindset. 

The metaverse will transform learning and healthcare communications. Adopting it as a space for opportunity will expand the boundaries of HCP training beyond our “real world.” Given the extraordinary educational prospects waiting for us there, the only limit is our own imagination. 

The next media inflection point is upon us. Ready to harness it with us? Our metaverse experts would love to talk.

Delphine Dubois is chief innovation officer and David Ferguson is senior VP creative director, innovation catalyst, Healthcare Consultancy Group.