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Experiences in the Metaverse: “We Believe In First-Mover Advantage”


Kerstin Twachtmann, strategy director at George P. Johnson, on why we need to stay curious and give ourselves permission to be beginners in the metaverse

Experiences in the Metaverse: “We Believe In First-Mover Advantage”
George P. Johnson UK’s strategy director, Kerstin Twachtmann, explores the excitement and backlash against the metaverse, building a completely borderless venue, and how she’s helping shape metaverse experiences of the future.

LBB> The topic of the metaverse was huge in the first half of last year and then seemed to quiet down, until now. Have you experienced the same?

Kerstin> It's been really interesting. I went away on maternity leave in 2021 after a year of disruption to live events. During the pandemic, we saw a lot of these 3D rendered digital platforms being pitched to our clients as alternatives to video conferencing calls essentially. Most of them were really clunky experiences and I wouldn’t have recommended them. When I came back, suddenly those same platforms were called metaverse experiences and were considered the bleeding edge of experience. It took me a while to get my head around.

I think what’s important to have in mind is that a conversation about the metaverse is largely a conversation about the future; once all this new technology reaches a point of convergence and once these various channels mature, these platforms could suddenly look really exciting. What changed in that year was that suddenly there was an exciting vision for where the technology could go. The problem with the conversation that was being had about the metaverse was that it focused on the ability to run around 3D rendered worlds and talk to other players, which is something that has existed in games for decades. The things that are new - like decentralisation or digital economies - there are actually a much smaller group of people who are getting excited about them. So people who wanted to debunk the metaverse hype had some valid points, and I think that’s where the conversation has stalled. Maybe the term has even been poisoned a little. But whatever we call it, the space remains really interesting, and the ways that brands and artists are showing up on these platforms is exciting. 

I wonder if one of the reasons that the metaverse interfaces were such a focus, is because non gamers perhaps hadn’t realised just how good those kinds of experiences have gotten. There is a huge group of people who haven’t been exposed to how sophisticated 3D rendered environments are now, how great narrative storytelling is on a games channel, and how nuanced the interactions are. A lot of games require such a huge time investment, and the majority of us - myself included - sort of dip into these things. But I never actually complete them. One of the things that got me interested in the metaverse was that it potentially makes this technology something which isn’t just for gamers. You can go onto these platforms and you can have a 10 minute interaction or explore a world, or do something relaxing without the huge time investment. So I wonder if some of the potential for the platform is in the fact that it's going to facilitate play and not just gaming.

LBB> You mentioned that with new tech, people feel the need to either be evangelists or naysayers.

Kerstin> There was a big spike of excitement around the metaverse when it first came into play, and then equally, this backlash against it. People couldn’t even agree what our definition of it is. But when it comes to new technology, I don’t think it's necessary to take such a polarised view. These things take time to develop and what's important as a brand and as marketers is just to be interested and to be curious. 

There's a section of people who feel they should know all about it, who feel it's part of their professional remit for example, and immediately they feel bad that they don't know everything. My view is, no one should feel bad that they don't know about something that barely exists yet. We have to give ourselves permission to be beginners when it comes to things that are new. And for that not to be an exposing thing or a professional risk to take. We have to create safe spaces for organisations, staff and clients to do that. We have a technology lab at GPJ where people can come in and play with new tech to help demystify the whole thing a little bit.

People love it. We've got everything in there from voice controlled speakers to gaming laptops, to headsets, to IoT gadgets and drones. And the idea is that staff and clients can just come in and try this stuff out for themselves. It's like anything right? If you want to do something new or are interested in breaking the mould, then you need to have enough in the locker, you need to have enough new ideas to reference when you're looking at a problem or when you're looking at a brief. And unless you have an environment that can show you what's out there, how are you ever going to have that provocation? So it's a really useful space and testing ground. 

LBB> You’ve been part of shaping GPJ’s strategy around this, what are the important focus points for you and why?

Kerstin> We're very focused on metaverse for events and we believe in a first-mover advantage. If you are trying these things out now, you're going to create a gap with your competitors that will be impossible for them to close later. And you can see that with the manipulation of any interesting technology over the years. Those who were first were the ones that were unstoppable. 

We're in the baby steps of hosting live events in the metaverse at the moment. We saw that a lot of people had views, but we didn’t see many people who were talking about it in practical terms, looking at what is possible and who it might appeal to, so we wanted to offer that more grounded perspective. We've been running these workshops with clients where they come in and experience all the environments for themselves and learn about it hands-on, and then we brainstorm applications. So we're having a lot of conversations with our main tech clients about what that might look like and what the opportunities are. We've built a work room in Spatial that they can visit afterwards and continue the brainstorming in the metaverse, which has been quite fun. 

It’s important to say that we're not salespeople for the metaverse, we're not here to tell you that you should absolutely do events in it - it has to solve a client's needs. It has to be relevant to the brief and has to be relevant to the audience. It's still emerging, it's still not going to be relevant for everybody, but it’s a lot of fun exploring the potential.

LBB> You say that the opportunities in the metaverse are more varied than the brand / consumer ones we hear about most often. What are some of the capabilities you are most excited about when it comes to experiences?

Kerstin> The thing that I'm most interested in from an experiential context is access. At the moment, you are limited by geography. You are limited by accessibility. You are limited by language - by all sorts of things that potentially a metaverse environment is going to be able to solve. I think it's a really exciting idea that you have a forum where you could bring in leading experts from anywhere in the world, that you can bring in people who might have physical limitations or other limitations to attending a live event, that you can design for any kind of accessibility. You could design for neuro-divergence, you could design for language, there's really the opportunity for it to be a completely borderless venue. We've never seen that before. 

I don't think anyone would call a Zoom call the peak of remote events. We can improve on it. So I would say from a live experience point of view, I think that's going to be really really interesting to see because we're potentially going to be able to communicate much more broadly and reach much more people than we've been able to previously. 

Speaking outside of experiential marketing, there’s some amazing applications being developed. There’s a healthcare company in the States that's building a metaverse hospital and they believe that just using the camera on people's personal devices that they're going to be able to diagnose and treat physiotherapy conditions to an insane degree of accuracy. And they think they're going to be able to treat millions of patients a day. That's game changing. 

LBB> What advice do you have for brands as next steps to take?

Kerstin>  I think, as I was saying before, just stay curious and stay interested. It's okay to have questions at this point. You don't have to be an expert. There are experts out there. There are people like the team at GPJ who can guide people through relevant applications of new technology, so speak to people like us. But unless you're interested and unless you're bold enough to give it a try, you're never going to have the opportunity to do anything.

I do believe in a first mover advantage. There are a lot of interesting reports post-pandemic about people who invested more heavily in digital transformation, and that's paid off immediately. So I think the evidence backs up the idea that investing in your digital capabilities or digital skills is never a bad  investment. Even if you aren't bought into the metaverse as a concept, even if you don't understand the difference between this and Second Life and you don't know why you should spend any time there, invest in getting familiar with the tools. See it as a way to keep current, and see it as an investment in your company’s culture. There’s no downside to fostering curiosity, it's one of the main conditions needed for innovation to happen. 

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George P. Johnson, Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:30:05 GMT