Publicis Groupe SA, one of the world's largest advertising companies, unveiled its newest executive at a technology conference in Paris this year. His name is Leon, and he is the company's first-ever chief metaverse officer.
Publicis is hoping that Leon will be able to help some of its major clients, like Walmart, UBS and Nestle, to understand the implications of blockchain technology, NFTs and a more immersive internet experience. If these technologies take off, the potential economic impact could be huge – some estimates suggest that global spending related to this virtual landscape could reach $5 trillion per year by 2030.
Leon is a digital avatar with a LinkedIn profile, an email address, and a French accent. However, he doesn't receive a paycheck because he is not a real person.
As the virtual world increasingly intersects with the real world, more and more companies are hiring "metaverse officers" to help them navigate this new landscape. These officers come from a variety of backgrounds and industries, including consumer products, talent management, telecommunications, luxury goods, and wedding registry retail.
Despite a recent downturn in the tech sector, companies are still investing heavily in the metaverse. Gartner Inc. analysts say that one in four people will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse within a few years. What we'll be doing there isn't clear, but some companies are hoping to use the metaverse for marketing and advertising purposes.
According to Hamza Khan, a partner at McKinsey who co-leads the firm's metaverse efforts, brands need to get closer to their customers in order to stay competitive. He notes that compared to the early days of e-commerce, brands are now much more active in the metaverse, which provides them with a unique opportunity to connect with consumers.
The pressure to keep up with tech trends has led to the emergence of new C-suite titles over the years. In the 1980s, the chief information officer became a popular role as businesses began to understand the importance of IT in relation to broader business strategy. Later, chief technology officers emerged as leaders who could evaluate developing technologies and how they might be used in the future. More recently, chief digital officers have sought to modernize outdated business practices so companies can compete with nimbler, more tech-savvy rivals.
Digital FOMO is a term that is becoming more and more popular as we move further into the digital age. Chief metaverse officers are people who are responsible for creating and maintaining digital universes, and they are popping up at more and more institutions as we move towards web3.
This year, P&G launched a digital platform called BeautySPHERE and reimagined a popular TV ad from the 1980s into a video game. Nike Inc. bought a virtual sneaker company and created a world modeled on its real-life headquarters. Starbucks Corp. is introducing coffee-themed NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, linked to its customer-loyalty program. Walmart might create its own cryptocurrency. Luxury brands like Gucci, Balenciaga and Dolce & Gabbana have brought their fashions to virtual domains in the hopes of converting extremely online youth into real-world buyers of pricey handbags, watches and jewelry.
Although few of these experiments have been profitable, that is not the most important thing right now. Many big companies have been slow to embrace new technology, and history shows that this is not a good strategy. For example, in the late 1990s, Walmart did not take e-commerce seriously. Its website was set up as a separate company, and store managers were reluctant to promote it. This gave Amazon an opportunity to become a major player in the industry.
Many executives are feeling pressure to have a presence in the metaverse, or virtual reality world. Janet Hayes, CEO of Crate & Barrel Holdings Inc., said it is essential for her company to have an impactful presence in the metaverse. Bob Chapek, CEO of Walt Disney Co., said the metaverse will create a new paradigm for how audiences experience and engage with stories. Jim Burtson, president of CAA, said the metaverse will influence shifts in content creation, distribution and community engagement that present significant opportunities for clients.
The metaverse is a virtual world that exists online, where users can interact with each other and create content. It's similar to the real world, but it's also a place where you can be whoever you want to be. The metaverse is important because it allows people to connect with each other in new and innovative ways.
The job of executives like P&G's Ioana Matei and LVMH's Nelly Mensah is to translate that talk into action. Disney's Mike White is in charge of next-generation storytelling and consumer experiences. At Publicis, Leon the avatar acts as an "ambassador and guide" in the metaverse.
Sebastian Brauer, who leads product design and development at Crate & Barrel, says he spends about 20% of his time on meta-duties like strategy, outreach, and finding ways to bridge physical and virtual domains. This is common for newly named metaverse mavens who are holding on to other responsibilities. Brauer, whose mother is an architect, said he got the metaverse gig after talking to Hayes, the CEO, about the success he had trading crypto and NFTs. Brauer, an Ecuador native, said his passion for technology was sparked by his first iPod. He said that she had the courage to say that they wanted to learn about this topic, and she appointed him as the leader.
Cathy Hackl, who helps companies set up their meta-business units, believes that the ideal metaverse chief should be able to speak fluently about both AR and VR. Hackl, who claims to be the world's first chief metaverse officer, believes that this fluency is essential in order to effectively market and sell in the metaverse.
There are people who are able to straddle both of these worlds, though they can be difficult to find. This is according to her statement.
Metaverse leaders need to build relationships with external partners and gain the trust of internal skeptics, says Wendy Doulton, managing partner at Katalyst Group, a consumer tech recruitment firm. Joanna Popper is one example: The newly appointed chief metaverse officer at Creative Artists Agency comes from HP Inc., where she ran its virtual-reality efforts, working with studios like Disney and Paramount. Prior to that, she held roles in marketing, consulting and investment banking. CAA, whose Hollywood clients include actors Tom Hanks and Reese Witherspoon, also represents NFT artists like Micah Johnson and, through a separate partnership, has invested in metaverse entities such as NFT marketplace OpenSea.
Popper said that her role is to help clients invest in, develop partnerships for, and create content for the metaverse. She added that it is crucial for the entire 3,200-person agency to understand the importance of the metaverse. Popper said that she was courted by companies in a variety of industries for chief metaverse officer roles before settling on CAA.
According to those with knowledge of their contracts, Popper's unique skill set is the reason why chief metaverse officers can attract compensation packages of up to $1.5 million.
Crate & Barrel took a different approach by tapping into someone internally who could give the organization credibility in the metaverse. Brauer recruited a small group of colleagues who shared his vision to strategize about web3 outside of their regular duties. "We're not rushing into it," he said. "We're privately held, so we have no pressure."
The recent decline in the tech sector could prompt the metaverse's biggest players to rethink their ambitions. Meta, the tech giant formerly known as Facebook, has slowed the pace of long-term investments after the company's first-ever quarterly revenue decline. A Meta spokesperson declined to comment on the topic of chief metaverse officers, but previously has said that the company is looking to fill various leadership roles in areas like AI, gameplay and machine learning.
Nvidia's stock has fallen by more than half this year as demand for PCs declines. The company's Omniverse platform is designed to power the metaverse, but Roblox's disappointing results suggest that demand for immersive experiences may not be as strong as Nvidia hopes.
As we head into a potential recession, companies need to focus on what will actually make them money. Brauer acknowledges this, saying that he doesn't want to consume company resources, but sees this as an investment to grow. He believes that the train is coming and that companies need to be prepared.
CAA's Popper said that the current economic downturn presents an opportunity to build for the future. "This is early innings in a long extra-inning game."
It's unclear whether the early evangelists will still be around in the later stages. Just because they got the role doesn't mean they're prepared to lead it for the next 5 to 10 years, said Nada Usina, an executive adviser and recruiter at Russell Reynolds Associates. When you start to scale up, you need a different leader. The metaverse will continue to evolve, so the notion of a chief metaverse officer is also fairly dynamic.
In other words, Leon needs to be careful online. There are a lot of dangers lurking on the internet.
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