Consumer tech commentator Robin Raskin took Summit attendees on a guided tour of the metaverse.
NEW YORK—Attendees of the final Vision Monday 2021 Summit got a glimpse of the metaverse and a quick tutorial about the intriguing possibilities this new digital world offers businesses, brands and healthcare. A previously obscure realm of cyberspace known mostly to video gamers, techno-nerds and digital content developers, the metaverse has been enjoying a breakout moment lately as high-profile entertainers, fashion and lifestyle brands and other early adopters have begun using it to engage consumers in imaginative new ways.
Consumer interest was amped up further last week when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that the ubiquitous social network is changing its name to Meta.

At a timely virtual Summit session last Wednesday called “Welcome to the Metaverse!” three top technology and media experts shared their insights about how the fast-developing metaverse might transform virtual and online interactions. Robin Raskin, founder of the Virtual Events Group and a leading observer of consumer tech trends, kicked off the session with a specially produced video that gave Summit attendees a whirlwind tour of the metaverse, including a brand experience, an event experience, a game experience for advertising and a fully immersive open-ended experience.

VM’s Andrew Karp (l), interviewed metaverse experts Cathy Hackl (c) and Chick Foxgrover.
Then Cathy Hackl, a globally recognized tech futurist who has been dubbed the Godmother of the Metaverse, and Chick Foxgrover, executive vice president, creative technology & innovation at the 4A's, spoke with VM’s lens and tech editor Andrew Karp about what’s fueling the recent surge in media coverage of the metaverse and how brands can leverage its unique attributes to reach customers.

Although Hackl said consumer awareness of the metaverse is building, she said it’s still in the early stages. She noted that the term has not yet appeared in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. “It’s been talked about in sci-fi for a long time,” she noted. “But this year, with Roblox (an online game platform and game creation system) going public, you start to see the word pop up on CNBC, for example. And you have Mark Zuckerberg saying that Facebook is becoming a metaverse company, and then Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella saying they’re looking at it for enterprise, it was obviously a big moment. People started asking 'What is this metaverse thing' and what does it really mean?”

Foxgrover pointed out that the audience of metaverse users is starting to expand beyond its initial base to include “stat oriented” users such as sports fans and investors. “They’ve become very excited about how NFTs (non-fungible tokens) have become this important facet of the metaverse,” he said.
“And creators and influencers are also extremely interested in all of this, because of the financial layer through NFTs and the fact that what we’re calling synthetic media, there is now the possibility of creating avatars of what is basically a creators’ or an influencers’ IP and even themselves, they are racing to understand this world and to make sure that they protect themselves in what will be the metaverse that’s coming.”

Explaining NFTs and their function, Hackl described them as “digital collectibles that exist in a digital space.” She said purchasing an NFT denotes ownership of a virtual item because it is recorded on the blockchain, thereby establishing its provenance.

Although both social media and the metaverse rely on the internet to connect users, Hackl said there are pronounced differences between them. “Normally with social media you’re putting content out there. But when you’re in these gaming platforms, these metaverses, you’re engaging in a different way. It’s about you showing up authentically and being a part of the community, and then through that, drive them to come to you. It’s a little bit of a different dynamic.”

Asked where healthcare fits into the metaverse, Foxgrover replied that the technology might serve as an educational platform that would replace detailing, which traditionally involves a salesperson from a healthcare company visit a practitioner in-person to demonstrate drugs, procedures and equipment. “This will move directly into the patient space for all kinds of applications,” said Foxgrover. “There will be the opportunity to really explore, through metaverse technology, the actions of drugs, the use of an instrument of some kind, and then linking up of healthcare data through your phone or your watch.”

Hackl thought that children might be more receptive to visiting a doctor if the doctor appeared as an avatar, or perhaps their favorite cartoon character, in a metaverse setting.

A glimpse of a Nike game on the metaverse platform Roblox.

Both Hackl and Foxgrover pointed out that a wide assortment of brands are starting to connect with customers in the metaverse, ranging from Gucci to Nike to Pringles and Burger King. “It’s very interesting to see brands of all kinds experiment with this,” remarked Foxgrover. “It’s another way in which the digital relationship is being extended through these virtual goods. So people are now doing so much more in e-commerce that the virtual goods extension is creating much more brand stickiness. It’s a really interesting phenomenon and experiment for brands.”

“Welcome to the Metaverse” is an element of the Oct. 27 "Retail & Healthcare: Upended!" which also included an exclusive presentation by retail strategist and experiential designer Melissa Gonzalez, founder of the Lion’esque Group and principal at MG2, and a discussion with leading optical retailers and ECPs on how to prioritize technology change. The virtual VM Leadership Summit and is now available on-demand for registered Summit attendees.

Also available on the exclusive VM Summit platform are many resources from featured VM Summit speakers and on-demand session segments from the prior three VM Leadership Summit sessions this year—June 23 VirtualEYES on telehealth, Aug 11 ALL CONSUMING on the new consumer and the Oct. 20 session on Rebuilding Trust and Remote Possibilities in remote care access.

The Platinum Sponsors of the 2021 VM Leadership Summit are EssilorLuxottica, Healthy Eyes Advantage-PECAA and VSP Global Premier Program. The Gold Sponsor is The Vision Council's Vision Health Alliance and the Silver Sponsors are Alcon and Ocuco.