This year’s WebXR Brand Summit took place last Thursday, September 15, preceded by a more open-format Town Hall event the week before. Hosted by the same organization that puts on the Polys Awards, the event included roundtables and use cases for how brands are exploring WebXR to increase exposure and services on a more spatial and connected internet.
Not Just for Brands
Not for the faint of heart, the full live-streaming remote event ran nine consecutive hours. Hosted by the tireless Sophia Moshasha and Julie Smithson with tech support from Ben Irwin, the event included 20 speakers in 11 sessions. If you think that that means it was just people selling sneakers all day, you miss the importance of brands in immersive spaces.
“This is where we believe it starts. Brands have made initial investments in this space from the early days. … We owe them a lot of credit for starting to experiment,” Moshasha said in a welcome address with Smithson. “Discussing brands’ history in immersive tech is valuable for everyone.”
A Fireside Chat With Amy Peck
“Immersive spaces” and “immersive tech” are important terms because, according to the WebXR Brand Summit’s first speaker, we aren’t at “metaverse” yet. That means that, while we should be reflecting on the history of brands, this is also a term for brands to self-reflect and then move forward.
“This is a moment for brands to ask what is their DNA and extrapolate their DNA into the future,” EndeavorXR founder and CEO, Amy Peck, said in a fireside chat with Moshasha.
As we can expect these days, a number of the talks also touched on cryptocurrency and blockchain assets, as well as data security in a more connected web. Peck said that this more connected future is an opportunity for brands to build rather than lose trust.
“When you start to look at a transparent model and giving some of the power to consumers, you’re humanizing that relationship,” said Peck. “The focus should not be tech or Web3 or metaverse, it should be about the human experience. … We can do anything in these virtual worlds, so let’s not do everything that we’re doing in the real world.”
Monetization, Product Placement, and Native Advertising
The problem with the metaverse isn’t just that it’s a potential red herring. It can also put brands in a position where they have to bet on the platforms and companies that they think are most likely to be a part of a future metaverse. Though, this can be avoided by betting on WebXR instead.
“When people talk about metaverses, it’s very difficult to predict which are going to win,” said Zesty co-founder Elijah Tai. Zesty creates posters that can appear as organic ads in immersive experiences but also work as portals to other experiences. “We developed this sort of interoperable framework.”
Following Tai’s talk was a panel discussion on product placement and native advertising in the metaverse, bringing together VNTANA CEO and co-founder Ashley Crowder, and Evan Gappelberg of Nextech AR, moderated by Andy Fidel. The talk focused on 3D assets as the limiting factor in the immersive world reaction.
“Scale is what needs to happen for brands to invest and really get value,” said Crowder. “3D content creation has really been a barrier to adoption.”
Between a recent uptick in interest in immersive experiences and an explosion in tools for fast and affordable 3D content creation, this barrier is down. “The floodgates are open,” according to Gappelberg.
“The technology is going to change but for us, the foundation is 3D models,” said Gappelberg. “From there it’s about what you can do with the 3D model.”
Capturing the Spatial Imagination
What brands do with their 3D models was a theme picked up in the panel discussion “Capturing the Spatial Imagination” with Virtual Reality Marketing CEO and co-founder Terry Proto, PitchFWD founder Samantha Wolfe, Double Eye Studios’ XR director and producer Kiira Benzing, and Immersive Wire editor Tom Ffiske.
A theme of the conversation was that a lot of companies overestimate the amount of money – and maybe even the amount of work – needed to make immersive experiences because they needlessly want to compete with over-the-top activations by big-name brands.
“The best experiences I’ve seen are the smaller ones where you just dip in and it runs smoothly,” said Ffiske.
Another benefit of smaller and simpler activations, at least at first, is that it allows brands to experiment with the space and find their own voices.
“It’s new technology, new environments. There are going to be failures. Not everything is going to work,” said Proto.
Wolfe further commented that people value innovation. Everyone doing the same thing at the same time isn’t innovation.
“If you’re doing it because your competitors did it, that’s not innovation,” said Wolfe. “Innovation is looking at what they did and then looking at the landscape and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.”
For reducing cost and for speeding up innovation, Benzing once again emphasizes the value of re-presenting 3D assets for consumer-facing activations that might already exist from internal design and use.
“If they create a 3D model for something, that model has so much life beyond just the initial activation,” said Benzing.
The Future of Virtual Commerce
Getting into Web3 and the metaverse for a non-tech company was a major theme of a panel discussion on “the future of virtual commerce” with LAMINA1 Chief Strategy Officer Tony Parisi, Spatial Head of Community Jake Steinerman, and Wendell August Forge Chief Strategy Officer Will Knecht. Knecht has been leading his 100-year-old gift company into the NFT space.
“While the people here are doing this kind of thing every day, 99 percent of the world is not,” said Knecht. “Education has been a significant part of our process.”
Steinerman commented that some people are intimidated to learn about or invest in any one aspect of emerging technology because convergence of these technologies suggests that they have to go together all the time.
“There’s this misconception that NFTs and the metaverse are inherently linked – that you have to have a MetaMask wallet and know what NFTs are to even get involved in immersive experiences,” said Steinerman. “There’s also this idea that to have these experiences it has to be in a headset.”
Even Parisi commented on the ability of organizations to enter emerging tech with high value and engagement with surprisingly low price points.
“This doesn’t have to be on a game development budget. There are some simple and affordable tools already out there,” said Parisi. “There are a lot of places out there shaping the value proposition and it doesn’t have to be a super expensive process.”
So Much More at WebXR Brand Summit
Nine out of 10 times, event coverage can’t catch every session and this was definitely one of those times. There was a demo of Head Office Space, an advance look at TheMall, and a lot of great talks that just couldn’t be fit in.
The 2022 WebXR Brand Summit will be available to rewatch on YouTube but as of this writing, the video is not yet live. To wet your whistle in the meantime, the Town Hall event that took place in preparation for the full WebXR Brand Summit is posted already.
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