Lindsay Brown: The Metaverse, Cryptocurrency and NFTs are Headed Our Way

Lately, the metaverse, crypocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have become more common to hear about and have brought back an excitement I haven’t felt since I was 13 and first logged on to the internet (does anyone else remember the 15 hours free with an AOL CD?). While all three are still in their infancy and may drastically change with new technology and regulations, it’s hard not to sit and wonder about how they can be applied to our industry and which could be the next big thing.

Just to preface: I am by no means an expert on these three topics; I’m just someone with a curiosity about future technology and a love and passion for all things student housing giving you a glimpse into what’s been on my mind. I hope you enjoy the visit.

Let’s start with the metaverse. The metaverse, in simplest terms, is a virtual world or virtual extension of the physical world. This concept itself is not really anything new. We’ve been giving partially to fully immersive virtual tours for a while now and have adapted to a highly digital sales process since COVID began. The new and exciting part for me is the technology that is being developed within this field. Products that will seamlessly integrate real and virtual life into a mixed reality will become the new norm faster than we know it. Ads, music, and even your visual surroundings will be customized specifically to you, blurring the line between what is real and what is virtual.

Let your mind wander for a minute and just imagine the possibilities. All white apartment interiors where the resident picks a virtual interior package. The colors and finishes are personalized to their liking and experienced visually without ever having to alter the unit. Want orange walls with blue appliances? You got it! Custom pattern wallpaper that you drew yourself on the back wall? No problem! Wall décor and textiles, available for purchase during the tour, will be calculated by an algorithm to match the style of the prospect and simulated throughout to make the model feel like home. Meetings, whether with residents, vendor partners, or company calls, will happen in a virtual office with avatars taking the place of our physical form, proudly wearing virtual company swag. Resident events will take place at hip locations in metaverse neighborhoods where they can mingle with celebrities. (Random thought: remember when we used to pay MTV reality stars to come to pool parties?). There are so many cool and exciting things within the metaverse to still be discovered. It’s hard to even imagine what our new normal will look like 10 years from now.

Next up is cryptocurrency. Whether you love it, hate it or have no clue what it is, you can’t deny it’s a huge topic dominating the news and social feeds lately. Cryptocurrency, or crypto, is any form of currency that exists digitally or virtually and uses cryptography to secure transactions. It does not rely on banks to verify these transactions and has no central issuing or regulating authority. Instead, it uses a decentralized system to record the transactions on a public ledger called a blockchain. Simple enough, right?

With crypto’s volatility and constant changes in the value of coins, I’m not quite sure how or if this one will eventually be integrated into payments for rent, so I really don’t want to touch that topic. But, I do know a good marketing opportunity when I see one! In the fall, Campus Advantage and our partner marketing firm, Catalyst, decided to test the waters with an integrated campaign that focused on a $2,000 crypto prize giveaway concluding on Cyber Monday. One randomly drawn raffle entrant won $1,000 in crypto and $1,000 in crypto was donated to the winner’s preferred charitable organization. I didn’t even know charities accepted crypto as a donation, but they sure do.

The interest, interactions, and impressions garnered during this specific campaign were nearly double what we would typically see. Residents were asking if we were going to accept Dogecoin for rent. People were tagging their friends and posting “to the moon” memes. It sparked conversations between residents about social and environmental responsibility and the energy used to mine coins. People posted articles about clean energy possibilities for crypto and talked about upcoming government regulations. It was truly amazing to see that a four-day cyber weekend campaign got people thinking, talking, and being excited about something new. Not to mention it was one of our biggest leasing weeks this season.

Lastly, this brings us to NFTs. An NFT, which stands for non-fungible token, is a unit of data stored on a digital ledger, just like cryptocurrency, which can be sold and traded virtually. This process ensures the authentication of each digital file by providing a digital signature that is used to track ownership. The most common examples of NFTs right now are digital art files created and sold in limited quantities just like a tangible art piece would be sold once created. Physical art usually comes with some type of proof of sale or certificate of authentication to prove it’s not a fake. NFTs make an artist’s original digital creation traceable throughout its entire life. Once you purchase it, there is a digital record that you own it or have sold it.

Admittedly, NFTs are newer to me, and I don’t fully understand all the different scenarios they could apply to just yet. One thing that comes to mind for its possible use in our industry would be for resident perks. NFT designs could be sent to residents or discovered within the model to unlock special discounts. They could also be given out at resident events as commemorative tokens that can be collected in your virtual wallet. A digital resident passport of sorts. 

It’s exciting and scary to think about how all this new technology will impact us as an industry, or even just as human beings, but I truly look forward to watching it all unfold. For now, I’m just having fun letting my imagination go wild with all the possibilities that may lie ahead and waiting on the next big thing to hurry up and get here.

Now, back to leasing! 

— Lindsay Brown is senior vice president of leasing and marketing at Campus Advantage.  

This article was originally published in the January/February 2022 issue of Student Housing Business magazine. To subscribe, please click here