Web3 CMO Stories

Understanding the Metaverse: Michael Solomon on Avatars, Brand Engagement, and Consumer Behavior | S3 E09

August 04, 2023 Joeri Billast & Michael Solomon Season 3
Web3 CMO Stories
Understanding the Metaverse: Michael Solomon on Avatars, Brand Engagement, and Consumer Behavior | S3 E09
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ready to delve into the riveting landscape of digital consumer behavior? Join me, Joeri Billast, as we navigate this complex sphere together with our distinguished guest, marketing guru Michael Solomon. Together, we're going to unpack the mystifying realm of avatars within the Metaverse and their implications on marketing. Based on Michael's groundbreaking research, we'll explore the symbolic meaning of products and why, particularly amongst teenagers, avatars have become a medium for identity exploration. By the conclusion of our conversation, you'll be fully equipped to leverage this digital revolution to its full potential in your marketing efforts.

Navigating the Metaverse can be challenging, but fear not! We're here to dissect the obstacles that marketers encounter when establishing a connection with consumers within this realm. We'll uncover why guided experiences, the power of gamification, and the allure of rewards are becoming the key influencers for new consumers in the Metaverse. Furthermore, we'll reflect on the intriguing roles of lurkers and delve into the journey a customer embarks on before engaging with a product fully. So, fasten your seatbelts as we catapult into the future of consumer behavior and brand engagement within the Metaverse. You won't want to miss Michael's invaluable insights that could revolutionize your understanding of the digital world.


Take advantage of Michael's course through this link and remember to use the discount code for $100 off:
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This episode was recorded through a StreamYard call on July 11, 2023. Read the blog article here:  https://webdrie.net/understanding-the-metaverse-michael-solomon-on-avatars-brand-engagement-and-consumer-behavior/

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Michael:

My background is as a psychologist, and so I study consumer psychology the science behind what we buy, which is not as obvious as you might think sometimes and I've been a professor of marketing for about 40 years at different institutions both in the US and in Europe.

Joeri:

Hello everyone and welcome to the Web3 CMO Stories podcast, season 3, episode 9. My name is Joeri Billast and I'm your podcast host, and today I'm so excited to be joined by Michael Solomon. Hi, Michael, how are you?

Michael:

Hello Joeri. Thanks so much for having me on the show.

Joeri:

Yeah, I'm excited to hear everything that you will tell us about the research, that you're doing about your book, Michael, but first for people that don't know you. So, guys, Michael Solomon is a renowned marketing expert and author, best known for his book Consumer Behavior Buying, having and being. He's currently reshaping Nils's global brand health model and his work, featuring in notable publications and cited over 30,000 times already, focuses on understanding consumers beyond product functionality to what products symbolize. Additionally, Michael teaches marketing at St Joseph's University, provides industry consultation, and presents impactful keynote speeches translating academic theories into practical business strategies. So this has a nutshell to introduce you because your introduction could be way longer, but I try to make it a bit shorter, Michael. So tell us a bit first about your background, Michael, what you are doing, and just start where you want to start.

Michael:

Okay, sure, yes, well, it's dangerous to ask a college professor to tell you what he's doing because it will take many hours, but I'll keep it brief. My background is as a psychologist, and so I study consumer psychology the science behind what we buy, which is not as obvious as you might think sometimes and I've been a professor of marketing for about 40 years at different institutions both in the US and in Europe, and I specialize in trying to understand why people use brands, what we call the deep meanings of everyday brands, how they learn about these brands and how they use these brands to really decide who they are and how they react to other people. And, of course, we're going to be talking about some digital existence as well, and what's fascinating about this area is, of course, it's a brand new area. How do people respond as avatars in the metaverse? There are a lot of interesting things going on about that. So the field of consumer behavior has always been kind of complicated, but now, with this whole digital existence overlaid there, things are really, really interesting, which means they're kind of out of control, but we're trying to figure them out as we go.

Joeri:

For me, it's a really interesting subject because I have been organizing myself already. Events in the metaverse and a typical metaverse. People choose an avatar, that can look like themselves or can be someone totally different than they are in real life, and you also have these metaverses where people can use their real faces. So it's interesting to learn from you what did you find in your research about avatars and how people identify themselves as avatars?

Michael:

Well, you know, it's a fascinating playground for a researcher because, again, you have, for the first time probably in history, you have the ability to literally take on a new identity and, as you say, it could look like yourself, it could look like Brad Pitt, could look like a dragon from Game of Thrones. You know, you can be virtually anything, and so the question is, what do people choose to be and why? And you know, as you, when you get into this, I mean and, by the way, you know the metaverse this is nothing new. This is, I hate to say, all respect to Mark Zuckerberg, but this is not a new concept. You know, people have been talking about this for the last 15 to 20 years, but we didn't really have the technological level to make it. You know, work smoothly the way we do now. I did some of the research in the early days back at. Some of your audience may remember Second Life. You're probably too young to remember it.

Joeri:

You look young, I'm older than you think.

Michael:

That's where I started to do a lot of research when Second Life was big, and so you know that's 10 or 15 years ago as well, but in a sense, nothing has changed. It's only that the companies have gotten better at enabling us to take on these identities, and you know there are so many fascinating applications of this that I think people haven't really thought about yet. You know, frankly, most marketers don't seem to care what form of avatar people take on, yet what they're doing is saying this is the type of person that I want to be. This is in my fantasy, or how I view myself, and the products that I consume, whether in the metaverse or in the real world, need to be mindful of that. You know the brands need to be mindful. It's actually an incredibly powerful and inexpensive form of marketing research that most companies have not even started to do, and that is, you know what is the significance of the avatars that are populating your virtual store, and you know there are many. For example, we know that a lot of teenagers. You know who you know. That's a tough period. We all remember it. You know you have a lot of questions about your identity and your gender identity, and so on, and so some researchers have found, for example, that it's common for teenagers to take on an avatar of the opposite sex when they go into the metaverse, because it's a risk-free way for them to explore what it means to be, you know, the opposite gender or different gender, and there are many examples of that. You know studies that have looked at how people interact while they're in the metaverse and then looking to see if that influences what we do when we leave the metaverse, and the short answer is yes, it does impact us. So when we're in the metaverse and increasingly many of us will be spending many, many hours a day in these environments we really need to ask ourselves, from a marketing perspective, what does that mean? To have customers who are looking at our merchandise, but they're looking at it in digital form, and that form may be an identity that is not their everyday identity. So there's a lot of intriguing questions and, frankly, I think most companies are just scrambling to try to get a you know, a presence in the metaverse, or to think about what they're going to do and check that box. They haven't really gotten into the weeds about what it means. You know, for example, if I'm a big advertiser and I want to hire a celebrity endorser, you know, in the real world, to do a TV campaign or something. I'm going to probably invest a lot of money in buying data that evaluates the attractiveness of different spokespeople. There's lots of data about that, you know. Is it worth the money to money to pay Brad Pitt or Tiger Woods to endorse your product? So there's a lot of thought that goes into it. However, when we now, when we jump into the digital domain, these companies aren't thinking about it at all. You know there are many of them who are just putting up an avatar, like maybe, maybe it's a help kind of function in chat, but it takes the form of an avatar, but they seem to be doing it randomly, frankly, you know, should it be male or female, should it be young or old, etc. Should it speak English, or should it speak another language? Should it speak with an accent? Many, many Seemingly small decisions that we're not worrying about in the metaverse are things that that marketers in the real world obsess about all the time, but we're just going ahead and taking our chances in this digital world. So I think there's still we're in the very, very early days of understanding how our existence changes when we become an avatar and we interact with other avatars. And this is the brave new world that I think nobody really has an answer to this, but we better get one soon, because when we look at the average amount of time that people especially young people, but all of us really are spending a day looking at a screen, you know that number has risen from maybe 10 years ago it was about 8 hours a day and everybody thought that was awful. Do you know how could people be spending 8 hours a day looking at a screen? Today, the number is almost 12 hours a day, you know, and so it continues to climb every year until we reach the point where we're going to have to be spending more of our existence in a digital environment than we are in a physical environment.

Joeri:

Right.

Michael:

Yes, absolutely, and you know we've seen this for years actually in the world of video games. You know, if you think about it, an immersive video game. Now, if you're wearing a VR helmet I'm sure that game would be much more immersive. But when you think about what the video game industry has been doing for years in terms of I'm talking product placement in their games, you know actual advertisements Say, you're doing an auto race and you know as the cars go around the track, you just like in the real world, companies are buying billboards in that virtual space. So that's been going on for a number of years. That industry has really grown kind of quiet, you know, but it's grown quite a bit, the industry of placing real advertising in video games. And so we can expect that as this virtual reality technology begins to take off and I suspect it'll be a few more years coming we will start to see that these immersive environments are the next frontier for advertisers.

Joeri:

Yeah, but still it will. Advertising. Yes, it's a good place to be there because more and more people will be in the Metaverse. But to really understand your audience, if they are there but you don't really know how they want to be represented in the metaverse, but you don't really know, as you said, who they are. So that's actually it's interesting because you see what they maybe dream of being, but not who they really are.

Michael:

So that's an interesting Challenge, I think it is a challenge, you know, and it is, I agree with you it's dangerous to take behavior that you observe in the metaverse and assume that people will behave the same way in the real world. But you know, again, as a form of marketing research, to underspeak, because most especially, B to C products are Aspirational. Right, they're all about not who you want to be today, but who you want to be down the road. You know, if you look. Obviously, beauty advertising, for example, is usually Aspirational. You know the the media present images of beautiful homes and beautiful people and beautiful vacations, and that's why we have social media FOMO and so on, because most of these images are not real in the sense that they've been doctored Somehow, and yet the danger is that other people take them as real and they say, well, my life is doesn't compare to that. I'm really depressed now you know, which is one of the really negative aspects of social media, by the way, I think, especially for younger people, but you know them. It is, if nothing else, a great way to interact in a very expensive way inexpensive way, by the way to interact with Customers in an environment where they're feeling very free and they're they're interested in talking to others and so on. So in some ways, it's really a very fertile ground for marketers to get in there and Maybe take on the form of another avatar, walk around, talk to their customers and, you know, get some insights about why they're there and who they want to be and, most importantly, how your product can help them to get there right.

Joeri:

Yeah, they are fewer boundaries, say in the metaverse, like I'm been organizing those events with people from around the world and you, you feel like you are together in the room, but of course, you don't see any emotions on the other people faces as you see. You know we are now recording this, this podcast recording on the video call, so we see each other. So that's different. As you have now Microsoft match the solution that they will have that you can use an avatar To do be in a meeting with someone else instead of your own face. So this also will it gives for some people. It will give relief because they can show up always like the avatar that they want to, but you cannot see any. You know facial expressions, do you see? Also, challenge there.

Michael:

Well, I think you're right. For some people, it is a relief. You know, it makes me think about it. You know, I've been teaching college students for many years and sometimes you have students who are not very aggressive or very vocal in the classroom and you think, well, they don't know anything. But then when you do, maybe an online assignment, suddenly they're the best student in the class, and so there definitely are people who are reluctant to speak up, you know, in public settings, but hiding behind the comfort of an avatar, maybe they're, they're going to be encouraged to contribute more. I also think that you know the technology is going to continue to evolve and you know I've already there already are signs of technologies that allow you to program emotions into avatars that can correspond to your own emotions, and I think that's going to get much more seamless over the next five years or so. And so you know this issue that, as you point out, it's a very big issue. Right now, you know, I don't want to have to hit a button that says I'm smiling in the meeting or something, but down the road, I think we're going to see very, very emotive, expressive avatars and, furthermore, I think we're going to see a lot of the social media platforms merge into this metaverse. I mean Facebook most particularly, because they understand, you know Facebook understands when, when they bought the Oculus Technology some time ago, you could clearly see where they're going down the road, where they see this metaverse evolving so that probably all of our social media spaces will no longer be two-dimensional, they will be three-dimensional, and then we're going to get into the era of holograms, right, and that's where it really gets fun.

Joeri:

Yeah, and then if you combine that Michael with AI, then it will be more interesting.

Michael:

And we will have no place. We won't need to do anything. They'll be telling us what to do.

Joeri:

Yeah, and then people will wonder if it's real or not. Like when you have this, you talked about the class and then people are there in the Zoom meeting, and not everyone wants to raise their hand. If you have avatars, of course, that's. You see, I think, for people doing, for instance, a webinar on Zoom, most people just turn off their camera when they're watching something and then you feel like talking to no one because you don't know if are they there or not. With avatars, maybe they are not there, but you feel like you have an audience and if you can add some emotions to that, that would even work better. Do you see, with everything that it's moving now, with all? Because there is no single Metaverse either. There are different metaverses. If you show up in one metaverse with an avatar, you are looking different in another metaverse. That's also a challenge for brands, I see. Do you see emerging that, those avatars as a single avatar?

Michael:

Yeah, I mean, I know that, you know, I know that people have been working on this kind of a common technology for a long time and you know having a common platform, you know it's a lot like electric cars today. You know the Tesla connection versus another connection. You know, I think maybe I'm being optimistic, but I think that that's a temporary bump in the road. I think there will be a common standard, or maybe a few common standards, and in the same way that today we make a choice are we going to be part of the Apple ecosystem or the Microsoft ecosystem or something else? Each of those is self-contained but pretty significant. So we may not have a worldwide metaverse anytime soon, especially with some of the political obstacles to that. But probably within markets, I think its companies are going to see the value of contributing to a common sort of standard there because that's going to help everyone. I think you're right. Consumers are not going to stand for it. You know consumers tend to be quite lazy. You know, unless there's something they really, really want, they're going to look for the easy way out and having to make these kinds of conversions. You know that's something for the frontier days. We don't do that in modern times. We want a seamless connection, but it will get here, I'm sure.

Joeri:

Right, as you just said, in the beginning, it's really early for people to even think about avatars and brands. How to look at that, to do something with that? Do you have any advice for brands that are now, you know, in the metaverse and they have, like these, good consumers that are entering but they are not doing anything? Is there a first step that they could do to start, you know, using this information?

Michael:

Yeah Well, you know this has been the problem even in the early days, in second life and so on. You would create these worlds and then there would just be empty, you know. So you can get people to a place, but getting them to do what you want there is a different story. So I think that probably the experiences, especially for consumers who are new to this, and that is the large majority of the population I think probably some guided experiences make more sense, where you, so to speak, take the person by the hand and show them, maybe give them a tour of some of the things that can happen or that they can do in this environment, and perhaps, you know, combine another big marketing trend gamification reward people, you know, give them rewards for finding these different places. I worked on some applications like that, say, you know, onboarding in a company where you have to learn a lot of things, but people like to learn when they get rewarded and when it's fun, and so the metaverse is just really gamification on steroids, I think because you can turn the games into something really, really cool if you work at it.

Joeri:

Actually, I was at the boss room during the Metaverse fashion week and they had like these costumes that were there and you could walk around. But you could also, like as a game, find different. I think it was like balls or something collecting something and then, once you had everything from the collected items that you needed to collect, then you could get a virtual costume. And this was. I think it's useful for both. Also to see the data what are people you know looking at? What are they doing? What are they are? Are they interacting with it?

Michael:

so that's, for me, was a great example, yeah but I, you know, I also think it's not realistic to assume that most of your consumers are going to be active in these spaces. I mean, if you look at social media, something like 90% of social media users are what we call lurkers. In other words, they tune in but they don't contribute. They're on the periphery, and it's only that 5 to 10% and you I'm sure you know that very well are really driving it. Why would we expect it to be any different in this digital environment? So, yeah, I guess part of my point is that it's not necessarily a failure if you get customers, and consumers into your space and they don't do too much there. At least you're getting them there and you're building awareness. You know from lots of years of offline, you know virtual, real- world research that customers go through a series of steps before they become really engaged with a product. I've created an entire course online course around this. It starts with awareness and goes to interest, then desire, then action. The AIDA model of advertising has been with us for probably 40 or 50 years. It's definitely applicable in a virtual environment because you're not. It's not realistic to think that someone's going to enter your brand space as an avatar and 30 minutes later they're going to be the queen of the space. You know they're right. There's a learning period. There's a. It's a very strange experience to walk around in an avatar form. Back in the early days, it was even worse, you know, it was very clumsy to get somebody to walk or something was a big operation. So today it's relatively easier, but it's not like you can just walk into that and suddenly, you know, go to a virtual fashion show and think that there's no difference between that and going to the Paris runway.

Joeri:

It is it's like you know, I compared it sometimes with the website. So I have my own penthouse in the metaverse and I have things on the wall. People can watch movies, they can listen to my podcast, they can get information about the mastermind just by walking around in my metaverse penthouse, which is as easy as visiting a website if you want, if you have this avatar, so I compare it with a website and people just visit it. I'm just. I have my theory that people will spend more time in my penthouse than on my website. Maybe just that's something, if they just want, because they want to walk around and they are curious about this. On the website often people leave directly, but I think it's a bit the same. A lot of people will just enter to see what is this and they will leave without doing anything. The same as on your website. They will go there, but then you know you want them to come back, or give them a reason to come back or that's actually, like you say, the customer journey of marketing they need to know that you exist. Then you want them to engage with you and then, at a certain moment, you want them to raise their hand and that's, I think those I would say fundamental marketing principles will always be valid.

Michael:

Yeah, and I think any company looking to go into the metaverse should just learn some lessons from the internet. The internet was not always here, believe it or not. In the early days, if a company was brave enough to go into the digital world, what it meant was that they created a website, a static website, and they basically ticked that box and said, okay, we have our website, now let's go on and do something else. But, of course, why are people going to go to your website? Are people really motivated to learn about candy bars or something? You've got to give them a reason to go there, unless your objective is, frankly, just ticking the box and being able to say, yes, we have a presence in the metaverse. But again, it's a lot like the early days of Second Life, where you build these elaborate, beautiful shopping malls and apartment buildings and so on, but you can hear the crickets in the background because no one's there.

Joeri:

Yeah, it's the same as with social media. You can also have a profile on social media or a page, but if no one is there, you can say I want social media, but nothing happens. It's the same as with a website. Of course, it's not only just about having this, but everything around.

Michael:

You have to work at it. I say to my students are you on LinkedIn? They all say yes, I'm on LinkedIn, but what that means is they have a page with their name on it. That is not going to bring any traffic right? So all of these lessons that specialists, like you have accumulated over the years about how people react to technology, are very applicable to this next challenge. And the old saying if we don't learn from the lessons of history, we're doomed to repeat them, and we don't seem to learn each time. So the thing about technology is that technologists love it and they think that consumers will too. But consumers will love to say, oh, isn't that cool? But that doesn't mean they're going to use the technology.

Joeri:

Right. So, Michael, thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom. I guess people are listening to you, and I know you're a teacher and you teach, so you have a lot to tell If people want to learn more about you. I already mentioned your book in the beginning, but how can they connect with you or can they follow you?

Michael:

Sure, yeah. Well, they can follow me on LinkedIn or you can email me at michael michaelsolomon. com, and my website, michaelsolomon. com, has some free resources you can download about branding and so on if you're interested.

Joeri:

Okay, as always, there will be a blog article and show notes linked to this podcast episode. If you are listening right now, so you'll find all the links that Michael has mentioned over there, of course. So, michael, thanks again. It was really a pleasure to have you on the show.

Michael:

Thank you, it was my pleasure.

Joeri:

So, guys, if you are listening to this episode and you know all these stories about customer representation how people can use the metaverse or brands can use the metaverse customer behavior If you think this story is interesting for people around you, be sure to share this episode with them. If you are not yet following the podcast, I think this is a good moment to do that and, of course, I would like to see you back next time. Bye, web3 can take your miss to new heights and you're ready to harness its power, but feeling lost and overwhelmed. Therefore, join my W3X Web3 Mastermind. Send me a personal message for more info. You can find me everywhere on social media. There's only one person with my name, Joeri Billast. Talk soon.

Tell us about your background, Michael, and what you're currently doing. Start where you want.
What did you find in your research about avatars and how people identify themselves as avatars?
Did you conduct research on how VR headsets, like Apple's expensive headset, are changing people's experiences and consumer behavior in the Metaverse?
How do you see the use of avatars in video calls affecting how people express themselves and perceive others without facial expressions?
Do you see a challenge for brands as the concept of Metaverse evolves with different metaverses, each having its own avatars, and the need for a single consistent avatar across these platforms?
What advice would you give to brands that are entering the Metaverse and want to leverage avatars and consumer behavior? What's the first step they can take to start utilizing this information effectively?
How can people connect with you or follow you to learn more about you and your work, besides the book mentioned earlier?