Is the metaverse just the next “next big thing?” Or is it a totally new way of looking at interactivity and engagement? What does B2B metaverse marketing look like — and what can marketers be doing now to make sure they aren’t left behind? Listen in for insights from Yashar Behzadi, CEO and founder of Synthesis AI.
Episode transcript (edited for clarity)
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: The metaverse is, we hear, the next frontier for creators online audiences and brands. But with nearly 200 companies involved in building or maintaining the metaverses that currently exist or are under construction exactly what that will look like is still unclear. Is the metaverse just another way to monetize eyeballs in a market that’s always looking for the next big thing or is it a totally new way of looking at interactivity and engagement? And what can marketers be doing now to make sure they aren’t left behind? To find out we’re talking with Yashar Behzadi, CEO of synthetic data technology developer Synthesis AI.Yashar, thanks for joining us.
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: Thanks for having me, Peter. Wonderful to be here.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: Yashar, there’s just so much talk about the metaverse and what it means to brands. In your view, where’s it headed?
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: Well, first of all, maybe it’d be helpful to define the metaverse, I think, because I think people have different definitions and you know, it’s kind of this nebulous term that gets tossed around. And I think that one of the kind of frameworks I like for the metaverse that is becoming more popular, and a number of other folks is kind of spoken with this kind of framework as well, it’s not really a place but it’s really a time right and if you think about how our lives have kind of moved from the real to the digital it’s been a continuum ever since televisions were first introduced right and then and then computers and then mobile phones and then social media and web too so we’re slowly spending more and more time in this online space.
“I think when the crossover event happens is really when we start spending more time in the digital realm than we do in the real world. And then when we do that, then we start valuing things in the digital realm perhaps more than we do in the real world, right? So then you’re going to see a really strong drive and a kind of change in the value of these digital goods and these digital worlds for how they interact with our lives.”
So I think I really like that definition because it makes it less of a… “this new thing” that’s popped up and we’re all making this changeover to this thing that’s been happening to us over generations. And it’s kind of a natural consequence of our increasing engagement into the digital world.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: So you’re seeing it more as evolutionary than revolutionary?
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: Absolutely, absolutely and then, in addition to that, I think there are obviously a number of technologies that under, you know, underpin the metaverse. We kind of, I think most people probably think of it as AR, VR and we’re gonna put headsets on and run around. But I think it’s broader than that. I think it is more about the kind of immersive experiences that can exist in different platforms right? And these immersive experiences are gonna be powered by all types of interesting technology that we can talk about and kind of what that means and kind of what synthetic data kind of fits, fits into that. But maybe I’ll pause there, and then if we want we can dive into some of these core underlying technologies as well.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: Well that is something that I would like to talk about, because if you want to reach specific audiences there’s kind of a chicken and egg thing where you’ve got the need for technology to make the metaverse work. But you also need a reason for people to want to use those technologies and actually participate.
So where do you start and what do marketers need to be thinking about how they promote what’s going on. Do they say, “Hey you should buy these VR goggles and then you’ll be in the metaverse” or is it more here’s the thing you can do, but in order to do that there needs to be the underlying platform and the tools?
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: It’s a great question. I think maybe the way to think about it is first kind of imagining what kind of applications are emerging right and kind of working backwards from that and saying, okay, how do you then intersect it today to make sure you’re in a good position in the future? So I think it’s probably useful to kind of break it down in terms of different categories, right? I think there are some interesting productivity things that are going to be coming, you know, with metaverse-type applications now.
If you imagine, and this is going to be a little bit of an imagination exercise because I think that’s useful to provide guidance, but one of the things a lot of people are trying to work on is, you know what happens when you have a virtual workspace, right? So you can put a set of goggles on and all of a sudden you don’t need a monitor. You can put a monitor, any size monitor in front of you that you want, any ideal workstation that you want, any combination of applications that just exist around you in a more immersive way, right? So I think that’s going to change what productivity looks like. How do programmers program and content providers put out great content, when you can be mobile and in anywhere and have any ideal setup available to you, right? So that’s one way of thinking about productivity.
Obviously the interaction model, you know, Zoom will be different when things are much more natural in interaction and spatial and kind of immersive on the productivity side. I think obviously the exciting area is entertainment and media because there’s going to be a number of really interesting types of things that are going to be possible with these new emerging technologies. I mean, I’ve heard a couple, and a lot of these come through us as people are trying to build these systems.
So for instance I think you’re gonna see hyper specialized and hyper targeted advertising, so when you see an ad it’s going to be maybe you in the ad.
“Instead of some generic person driving the next Tesla, it’ll be you driving the Tesla, allowing you to step into that environment and engage. It’s going to be super-specialized for you. We’ve talked to a number of Hollywood studios and what they’re considering is, what happens if we can fully digitize parts of the movie and allow a user to step into that scene, freeze time, walk around, watch it from different viewpoints.”
You’re going to see different kinds of immersive sports applications. What happens when you can digitize a sports game in real time and as a user be able to step into any player’s eyes and see that, see the game from their perspective in real time right as these things come? And so I think you’re going to see really interesting kinds of immersive, deeply engaging kind of interactions in the entertainment space, of course, social and gaming.
I think that’s where I think people naturally go. You’re gonna be walking around as an avatar and talking to people doing some interesting things and then of course there’s like education and what’s gonna happen there as you build more of these engaging applications. So I think there’s gonna be those types of applications and they’re going to be driven by, obviously, advances in hardware, AR/VR kind of accessories, but then also core AI, right?
To be able to build these kinds of systems you need AI systems that can recreate the spatial environment with great detail. They can recreate the person in great detail, the nuances of their interactions, their emotions. And things like spatial audio and things like really detailed emotion kind of recognition are all going to be required to build this and that’s what we ultimately do. We provide the necessary data to help other companies build these fundamental kinds of AI elements to then power the applications.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: So thinking about what brands should be trying to do now, since this is the early days and it’s been described as the wild west out there where brands are rushing in and buying up digital real estate, are they getting ahead of where the market is? Or is the idea to try and lay a foundation for what might be coming?
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: Yeah I mean I think it’s wise to immerse themselves and kind of learn about this space right at a minimum. I think you’ll always see the kind of cycles; people will jump in. There’ll be certain applications that perhaps people predict will be the next big thing but it’s always something else that you haven’t quite predicted as people understand the medium and understand the use cases. But I think it’s wise for brands to engage and definitely be involved and understand both where the technology is potentially going and where kind of applications might emerge in that space but also understanding the users in this environment.
How do people interact? What do they want to see ? Do we users really want to see advertising everywhere surrounded by virtual billboards? Probably not on one side, on the other side they probably do want the ability to try products virtually or engage them in various kinds of interesting ways. So I think there’s just gonna be the spectrum of approaches to the metaverse and brands within the metaverse, and it’s going to take some experimentation I think for brands to really understand what’s going to resonate with their customers.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: Do you see opportunities for startups in this world or is it really the big players the tech giants and the brands with a lot of money?
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: : Oh no it’s definitely startups. I think that whenever you have an emerging technology, startups tend to be closer, they tend to be hyper focused. They can move a little bit quicker, be a little more agile, right? So I think you’re gonna see some of the emerging applications and use cases and kind of novel ways of engaging users coming from the startup community. Once that’s kind of proven then the larger brands obviously can step in and kind of supercharge that and grow it and I think we’ve seen that a bit right now.
I think probably one of the companies that’s out on the forefront here is Nike. They bought a startup recently that’s doing a lot of really interesting things in the space, right, the metaverse and it’s kind of Web3 but I think that’s the way you’re gonna see a lot of companies, especially bigger startups and more established brands really enter the space, by kind of either mimicking what’s working with a smaller stage of buying companies in the area or perhaps innovating themselves if they have those types of teams in-house to think through novel engagements.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: There’s so many different parts to creating a metaverse and there’s multiple metaverses, which is also part of the issue, that there’s probably going to be a lot of issues related to coordination between all of the technology providers and, of course, all of these metaverses. Are people going to need to have multiple interfaces or understand multiple ways of interacting in this metaverse versus that one? Isn’t that going to complicate things for brands that are trying to draw people in to participate in a consistent way?
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: Yeah, of course. It’s natural for companies building these big metaverses to close them at some level, to obviously monetize them best and obviously control the technology and experiences. But that’s not much different than I think, you know, the Facebooks of the world today and and they’re fairly closed ecosystems. Brands have to operate differently within each of these particular properties to kind of push forward their engagement. So whether you’re TikTok or Facebook or a Google AdWords or YouTube, you do have to hyper-specialize and kind of create different kinds of offerings within those platforms.
Now the hope is, I think, in the future that you do get some interoperability across these platforms because I don’t think from a user perspective they want you to have one identity in one place and one avatar one place, one set of properties and digital goods in one area and then have to replicate that, right? So I think it’s going to be a little bit of a balance and kind of maybe a tug of war between folks who want to create the closed ecosystem so they can monetize it the best and users who want to live across the ecosystem. So we’ll see how that plays out. It’s not clear to me exactly which way that’s going to tip.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: For B2B users, the things I’ve heard most discussed are virtual conferences and events and the ability to deliver an immersive demo at a distance. I can picture the demo part, and I’d like to talk about that in a moment, but first let’s talk about the virtual get togethers. Will they provide the kind of connection that you get when you’re together in person ,a whole bunch of people in a room listening to a speaker, and then afterwards going to the reception and one-on-one talking with people?
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: Yeah I think we’ll get closer. It’s obviously very hard to to replicate direct social interaction and the nuances of facial expression and body posture and touch obviously and spatial audio. But I do see the technology getting to a point that it’s gonna feel a lot more immersive than a Zoom call. So I think the thing that’s gonna drive that is gonna be this ability to in a more nuanced way: capture facial features and hand gestures and body posture and create these avatars that feel more real. Spatial audio will be a key component of that. If you’re whispering to someone next to you versus you’re talking to a room or listening for someone in a room, there is an element here of space and environment. So I think that’s going to be very helpful, it’s going to bridge that gap.
“I don’t think you’ll ever replace human interaction and I think that’s a good thing, we shouldn’t.”
But I think you’re going to get some more immersive experiences that make these things more obviously efficient and more natural.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: What about the demo side of things? Is that something that you would consider a useful application of the metaverse?
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: Absolutely. If you think of it both from a B2B perspective but also consumer to product perspective. I’ll take the vehicle example, and being able to step into it, feel it, touch it, look around, have a really immersive kind of experience, that’s gonna help you really understand that product.
Right now from a B2B perspective, their different products are naturally gonna lend themselves well into this digital space. If it’s a digital product obviously it’s going to be much more much simpler to kind of demo and kind of engage. If it’s a physical product, perhaps perhaps we’ll get to a place that we have good haptic feedback and you can kind of demonstrate some of those elements but that’ll be interesting.
As I mentioned earlier, I think from a B2B work perspective, I think productivity is a big piece. Thinking about replacing the monitor with something more engaging from an area for which you can kind of work I think would be pretty interesting and compelling.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: I’m thinking about the world as it is now, where people are so remote and if you could actually replicate a collaborative environment in some way better than video chats or using instant messaging. But to give people the opportunity to kind of be in the same room virtually and brainstorm and bounce ideas off each other. You might be able to return to some of that capability that you had before.
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: Absolutely. I think once it feels more natural, that’s definitely going to drive the engagement and people’s willingness to do more in the digital space beyond Zoom, right? Obviously Zoom is very limited in its interaction model. The technology of course has to keep evolving very quickly in order to keep up with this. There’s a lot of demand for capability but there’s also the obsolescence of these tools, just like with computers. As soon as somebody releases the latest model or phones, they’re obsolete. So at what point do people jump in and at what point do marketers say, “Okay, we’ve got sufficient critical mass behind what’s going on here that it’s time to really start pushing.” At that point it’s obvious that it’s occurred.
I think the tricky thing for marketers and brands is, how do you know when to get in before that moment? It’s going to be a little bit nuanced with specific use cases, and obviously there are going to be things like gaming and social experiences that will probably lead to charge for driving particular consumers. I think productivity might lag as these tools require maybe a lot more depth, but
“Ultimately it’s going to come down to the experience and the value of these experiences. Once it feels more natural to have an interaction model in this new kind of domain, metaverse domain versus Zoom, there are very low switching costs.”
Instead of clicking on the Zoom link you click on the other link and you get more out of it. So i think you’re going to see kind of quick adoption with some of these things. Of course things that are hardware independent, if you don’t have to have a particular headset or a particular set of devices, obviously it’s gonna be easier gonna move people over faster. So i think you’re gonna see the switchover happen pretty quick once those applications emerge and the value is clear.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: You mentioned earlier about the specificity and the personalization of advertising and in fact being able to put people into the ads themselves. But how do you balance giving users what they need and want with providing the security and privacy that they need? Because that’s so important in the customer experience, not just to protect PII but because it is part of the experience and people will be thinking about it.
When you have technology that can capture biometrics and location and demographics and behaviors, are we introducing way too much risk?
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: It’s a great question. I think with every new technology there’s always this trade-off of value versus privacy. I mean the same thing was said when social media and social networks first started: are people going to be willing to put their faces online and open up their lives to a broader audience?
I think once the value is there, people get more comfortable doing that. But as we build these type of metaverse applications, it’s the same ethical questions around what kind of protection should exist and what kind of explicit permissions and opt-ins need to be in place, what kind of oversight needs to be there to protect folks in this space.
But ultimately it’s going to be up to the user. The way to think about it is that companies should always kind of operate with privacy and security in mind and if the user decides then they want to open up and share some of these elements, then it should be explicit. Where you get into trouble is when users don’t know what kind of that information is used without their knowledge. But if they’re opting in and there’s value derived then that’s some contract essentially between the user and and the platforms that they’re willing to make.
But I think it needs to be explicit and companies need to proactively put in the protections for the consumer and it gives them the choice. It’s all part of that customer experience.
“Perhaps there needs to be a GDPR set of rules for the metaverse.”
It’s interesting because once you think of digital avatars, there’s kind of two camps. There’s the photorealistic avatar of me, which I think from a user’s perspective you want, so I have some certification that it is you. So being having that biometric authentication is helpful because now when you’re talking to me in my digital version, then you know it’s actually me, it’s not somebody spoofing me; there’s some protection there. Biometrics are very useful because it actually protects me.
And there are other places, in terms of other avatars, that you’re a cartoon, more cartoonish or expressive kind of avatar that you want to use in a game or some other kind of element, and perhaps don’t want to be recognized as you. So there you want your privacy, you have this alter ego, right? So again, it’s really around having the infrastructure in place to support these things and then maintaining privacy and security by giving the consumer the choice to leverage one or the other in a particular use case.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: You just made me think of a situation where that information allows for pervasive marketing, both inside the metaverse and outside. You click on something or you see something on your desktop or laptop or your phone and maybe you’re invited to, “hey check this out in our metaverse space.” Or you’re inside the metaverse, and when you come back out, there are ads for something related on your phone or your computer.
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: That’s par for the course today for these digital platforms, so that’s probably you know something that will definitely happen in this space as well. Again, I think it should be more user focused.
“Spamming people with ads left and right across all mediums is not necessarily the most useful way to kind of engage users and build a relationship with a user. But if you make it more immersive, you make it more interesting, and you’re starting to see this with some brands.”
I think leading the charge on digital properties and clothing and things that users want to engage with because they want to personalize their space or personalize their avatars or build a certain persona in this virtual world. so it’s mutually beneficial. The brands obviously get to sell in some elements, build their brand, expose it to others, and the community and the user is willing to engage because that’s something that they’re interested in building as a part of their persona.
So I think in that type of relationship, it’s very beneficial and mutual. If you have virtual billboards popping up everywhere and it’s you can’t look two seconds without seeing an ad, i think that’s probably a turn off for a lot of users. So not unlike the current situation, marketers need to pay attention to what the customer is actually interested in and feels comfortable with seeing.
“It’s just as easy to spam somebody virtually as it is anywhere else. If it’s contextual, if it’s targeted and hyper-personalized, then there’s a value to the user. So all those things that exist now and kind of drive engagement on the current platforms will be further amplified in the metaverse, but that’s the same trade-offs.”
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: Yashar, this has been fascinating. Do you have any last thoughts about what brands should be considering as we’re pushing towards the metaverse?
Yashar Behzadi, Synthesis AI: I think it’s a continuum and it’s going to be a transition as people really start understanding the utility of the metaverse and these experiences start formulating. I think for brands it’s really important to kind of understand it, think ahead a little bit where things are going to be in two to four years and how best to gain information experience now to help you form a viewpoint on how they want to engage consumers in this new medium. So I definitely encourage that.
And I’m excited because I think ultimately the foundational technology will open up a lot and these new applications will emerge and many of them, I’m pretty sure, we haven’t thought about, which is always the case. So excited about the future there.