An Emerging Avatar Theories Marketing on Metaverse

The debut of Samsung's Star Labs' digital avatars at CES 2020 demonstrated the nascent state of avatar-based marketing. While the avatars appeared realistic and could answer some questions, they required heavy control, leading to a disappointing promotion. Marketers require guidance in designing effective strategies to achieve successful avatar marketing applications. A recent study published in the Journal of Marketing addresses this need by delving into avatar theories and exploring how marketers can leverage them to achieve their goals.

In this blog post, Metastack will explore the emerging theory of avatar marketing.

How to Design Effective Avatars?

The ambiguity surrounding the definition of avatars has spurred the development of various avatar theories. Furthermore, these theories attempt to identify and evaluate the key conceptual elements of the term avatar. 

After critically evaluating these elements, we propose a definition of avatars as digital entities with anthropomorphic appearances that a human or software can control and can interact with their environment.

An Emerging Theory of Avatar Marketing

Drawing on avatar theories, we present a typology of avatar design to identify the key elements managers and academics can use to optimize avatars' effectiveness in achieving specific goals. 

Avatars' visual appearances and behaviors during human interactions vary depending on different design elements, including spatial dimension (2D/3D), movement (static vs. dynamic), and human characteristics (e.g., name, gender), all of which impact the avatar's form of realism. 

Additionally, avatars' behavioral realism, which captures the extent to which they behave as humans would in the physical world, is influenced by design elements such as communication modality. For example, verbal, response type (scripted vs. natural response), social content, and controlling entity. 

Furthermore, academics and managers can effectively leverage avatars by understanding how these design elements interact. It allows for achieving their desired outcomes through standardized or personalized solutions.

Four Categories Identifies New Avatar Taxonomy Based on Form and Behavioral Realism

Avatar theories still need to adequately consider the importance of aligning form and behavioral realism levels in avatars. A mismatch in this alignment can significantly impact an avatar's effectiveness and may explain inconsistent performance. To address this limitation, they've developed a 2x2 avatar classification that ranks avatars based on levels of morphology and behavioral realism:

  • Simplistic avatars: These avatars have an unrealistic human appearance, such as a 2D cartoonish image, and low intelligence behaviors, such as scripted communication.
  • Superficial avatars: These avatars have a realistic anthropomorphic appearance, such as a 3D photorealistic image, but exhibit low behavioral realism, as they can only offer preprogrammed answers to specific questions.
  • Intelligent unrealistic avatars: These avatars possess humanlike cognitive and emotional intelligence but have an unrealistic human image, such as a cartoonish appearance. They can handle complex real-time transactions without being mistaken for human agents.
  • Digital human avatars: are the most advanced category, featuring a highly realistic anthropomorphic appearance and humanlike cognitive and emotional intelligence. They are designed to provide the highest degree of realism during interactions with human users.

It is essential to consider this avatar taxonomy when designing and implementing avatars in business settings. By aligning form and behavioral realism, businesses can ensure that their avatars effectively engage with customers and provide high-quality service.

Avatar Theories: Key Factors Affecting the Effectiveness of Avatar Marketing

Theoretical propositions derived from avatar theories suggest that the effectiveness of avatar marketing is contingent on various factors:

  • Avatar form realism: As the form realism of an avatar increases, customers' expectations for its behavioral realism also increase.
  • Form-behavioral realism alignment: Differences between an avatar's form and behavioral realism have asymmetric effects, resulting in positive or negative disconfirmation.
  • Perceived uncertainty: Avatars' effectiveness may be highly contingent on the perceived uncertainty users experience during their interactions with avatars.
  • Choice of media channel: The effectiveness of avatars may also depend on the media channel used, such as smartphones versus desktops.
  • Customer relationship phase: The relative effects of customers' cognitive, affective, and social responses differ across relationship stages.

Best Practices for Deploying Avatar-Based Marketing: Key Considerations for Success

Based on these propositions, firms should consider the following areas when deploying avatar-based marketing:

  • When to deploy avatars: Firms should consider the context in which avatars are most effective and appropriate, such as in situations where customers are likely to experience uncertainty or when there is a need for personalized interaction.
  • Avatar form realism: Firms should carefully consider the level of form realism needed to meet customers' expectations for behavioral realism.
  • Avatar behavioral realism: Firms should also focus on developing avatars with high behavioral realism to ensure that customers' expectations are met.
  • Form-behavioral realism alignment: Firms should aim for alignment between an avatar's form and behavioral realism to minimize the potential for negative disconfirmation.
  • Avatar contingency effects: Firms should consider the contingency effects of avatars, such as the media channel used and the customer relationship phase, to optimize their effectiveness.

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