The Metaverse isn't an entirely new concept. In 1838, scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone outlined the concept of "binocular vision," which is combining two images — one for each eye — to make one 3D image. Fast forward 156 years, Neal Stephenson coined the term "metaverse" in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash. So, where is the Metaverse today, how far has it come, and what does the future look like?

ironSource sat down with Natrian Maxwell, GM of Emerging Channels at The Trade Desk, an omnichannel DSP. Read on to get answers to the questions above and learn tips for how to leverage the Metaverse for your brand.

Could you share some background on your role as GM of Emerging Channels? What are your day-to-day responsibilities? 

My primary responsibility is ensuring we focus our efforts on future growth engines for the company. As an omnichannel DSP, we try to balance our investment areas to fill the needs of our advertisers today as well as anticipate the needs of our advertisers in the future. That means incubating new channels, researching trends, looking around corners, and learning from the past to understand where the next wave of value will emerge. Once we have a thorough grasp on those areas, we nurture, grow, and develop those channels into mature offerings that help our advertisers drive value through our platform.  

Everybody’s talking about the Metaverse, but nobody seems to agree on what it is. What’s your take?

The Metaverse is still evolving and being defined, hence the confusion. My early definition of the Metaverse is that it’s a singular ecosystem that is collaborative, immersive, and decentralized. In addition to those characteristics, it also blends our digital and physical worlds, allowing our identities to move freely between our online persona and in-person persona.  

While some blockchain games and social media networks refer to themselves as “the Metaverse,” the various ecosystems - gaming, Web3, blockchain, crypto, etc. - are entry points and technical frameworks that power the larger Metaverse. The Metaverse doesn’t exist yet. Instead, we have a collection of decentralized applications that will be a part of the larger Metaverse economy when it does exist in its full form. I’m very excited to see how this new technology continues to evolve. 

How can brands begin to participate in the Metaverse? Is it possible to measure ROI from these strategies?

As the Metaverse matures, there will be many great opportunities for brands to experiment and engage with new users in the virtual economy. Right now, there are a few entry points that brands can start exploring. For example, you can build digital locations within gaming environments or create NFTs that represent your product offering (such as merchandise, skins etc.) Additionally, you can create NFTs with utility that give early access to sales at physical locations, unlock discount codes, or create memberships for special customer experiences. There are several exciting use cases for brands to get involved today. 

The first step for brands is researching the digital playspace they’re looking to enter. The next step is understanding the audience and points of value in the economy. Only then, should brands create valuable assets, such as NFTs, skins, or some branded collectible for users to engage with. Brands should measure the short and long term impact of those assets and capture key learnings. The goal is to create experiences that connect users’ digital and physical worlds.

Measuring ROI is always possible if you clearly define your goals. However, given the current state of the Metaverse, I would suggest brands focus on learning as much as possible about the space first, especially if they’re entering it for the first time. 

How do you envision the future of the NFT market? What opportunities exist for retailers and marketers?

NFTs or Non Fungible Tokens have been a major commercial force in today’s Metaverse economy. Over the past couple of years, NFTs have been focused on various types of collectibles such as the famous Cryptopunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club. As we move into the future of the NFT market, I suspect that their primary use case will be utility based, meaning the NFT will be the key to deeper consumer relationships or experiences. 

Brands can get creative in terms of how they would like to (i) create a bridge between the digital and physical space through NFTs; (ii) get playful and engage with new users through NFTs; (iii) create immersive experiences where users can engage with NFTs; (iv) collaborate and create new products with consumers through NFTs; (v) develop a new model of ownership between the brand and consumer via NFTs. The possibilities are endless, but all roads lead to a more personalized joint marketplace where the consumer is the core focus of innovation and collaboration.  

Big games industry players like Minecraft have recently made statements against NFTs. What’s your take on how blockchain-based goods might affect community-based play?

Large game studios are often lumped into the Metaverse category, but don’t want to be labeled as “Metaverse applications.” Games like Roblox and Minecraft have done a phenomenal job of proving that there is a strong market for open, expansive gaming environments that support online communities and virtual economies, but they’re still centralized virtual worlds — really just online gaming platforms. 

Centralized virtual worlds are driven by different values and focus areas compared to decentralized blockchain based apps. One key area of difference is governance. Most decentralized apps (dApps) are based on user governance, while large centralized games are governed by the game’s publisher or development studio. 

As the blockchain gaming user base increases, there are a few key areas that will affect community based play - economy management, policy control, asset ownership, and interoperability.

Interoperability is a major hurdle for the industry. One example of this is the growing adoption of Metaverse-like experiences from companies that operate more on a centralized model than decentralized model. Realistically, as audiences start to gain traction in the decentralized ecosystems, we should start to see more examples of collaboration between developers. This is an early sign of interoperability. As collaboration continues to grow, the concept of interoperability will also continue to grow. Providing a timeline of true interoperability is tough given the current maturity of the Metaverse industry. 

As the Metaverse evolves, what new consumer products and goods will emerge to integrate real-life and virtual experiences?

The Metaverse will eventually become a discovery hub for users looking to find new products and brands, and companies will create digital assets to meet those needs. The open question is this: How will brands extend digital goods into physical goods? For example, if I purchase a limited edition sneaker in the Metaverse, can I then receive a physical good to use in my daily life? If I purchase a physical pair of sneakers in my normal life, can I then receive the digital version for my avatar in the Metaverse? I would like to think that products will be sold with both digital and physical versions as the Metaverse develops. 

Fill in the blank. “When it comes to mobile marketing, bet on  ________.”

An evolution of measurement. It’s no secret that mobile marketing has been experiencing headwinds. Mobile has been forced to develop new ways to reach users and measure performance to drive value. While some may see new privacy laws as having a negative impact on mobile marketing, these changes will actually bring life back to mobile marketing by opening the door for brand advertisers who may not need to pay $100 to reach an end consumer. Historically, performance-driven campaigns that are focused on direct response messaging have dominated mobile marketing, essentially locking out brand marketers focused on delayed response marketing. With the current state of the space, we have seen a more balanced representation between brands and performance-driven campaigns. As the brand footprint continues to grow, I expect the needs of brand marketers to find their way onto product development life cycles which will help propel an evolution of measurement across the space. 

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