Skip to main content
real conversations

'Top metaverse executive' spills the beans

Real Conversations podcast | S4 E6 | June, 23 2022




Emma Chiu is global director of Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, the agency’s in-house futures and innovation think-tank. Recent research has looked “Into the Metaverse and Beyond”. While she has been named one of 24 top agency metaverse executives by Insider.

Research from Wunderman Thompson Intelligence shows what the metaverse means today. And it isn’t what you expect. Emma Chiu, global director at the agency – and recently included in Insider’s top metaverse executive list – explains all.

Below is a transcript of this podcast. Some parts have been edited for clarity. 

Michael Hainsworth: The Metaverse isn’t a place. It’s a concept. The bringing together of XR technologies like Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality with edge cloud and 5G to bring people together in a new way. Emma Chiu is the global director of Wunderman Thompson and recently named one of Insider’s Top 24 advertising executives. Her research has uncovered several emerging trends, including for business. Her studies show 3 out of 4 people believe the Metaverse is the future — and most of them believe it will be life changing. But how so? We began our conversation by defining the term Metaverse.

Emma Chiu: There are multiple interpretations of the metaverse and I think whoever you speak to, they are going to have their own version of it. And that's largely because the metaverse right now is in its infancy. However, as part of our research, we spoke to a number of different experts in this field. And our understanding of the metaverse, at its very core, the metaverse is an extension of our lives that's enhanced by technology. So, when we think about where it is now, there will be different iterations of the metaverse. Right now, it currently exists as a series of reactive, persistent, social virtual worlds. So, there's a reason why we are hearing a lot about Fortnite, Roblox, Decentraland, Sandbox. They are already offering these types of virtual spaces. The next iteration we'll see these virtual spaces and virtual worlds be interconnected, so we can have one version of ourselves or one avatar that goes between these virtual worlds. But ultimately where the metaverse is heading is that it will merge with our physical worlds. So, our physical and digital worlds and lives will be interconnected.

MH: So, I suppose it's very much like our smartphones today. The metaverse is the smartphone. There's a whole bunch of different apps on our phone and we'll use them as we need them, as opposed to the metaverse is a place where you go.

EC: Precisely. So, at the moment, a lot of people are thinking about the metaverse as a place. It isn't a place. It's something that is part of a wider connection when it comes to our digital being, our digital lives. And this is why I think it's important to think about the long-term effects of the metaverse. If it's going to be merging with our physical worlds, what does that mean when it comes to types of interactions, types of campaigns, types of brands that we want to be?

MH: Your data shows that three out of four people who know what the metaverse is, believe it's the future. And two out of three of those people believe it's going to be life changing. How is it going to be life changing?

EC: Quite often when I talk about the metaverse, before jumping into the metaverse, I like to take people back in time and talk about the internet. So, there's a great headline from The Daily Mail back in December 2000. So not that long ago, where it says, the “Internet May be Just a Passing Fad as Millions Give Up on it.”

MH: There's a reason they call it The Daily Fail.

EC: (laughs) And that headline, I often start with that in all presentations, before leaping in and talking about the internet. So, I compare the metaverse as one part of the internet. The internet has really changed our lives, the way we socialize, the way we work, the way we connect and communicate, it's even changed the game when it comes to dating. So, I think really how the internet is changing behaviors, culture, that type of huge shift we've all adapted to. And it's almost impossible to imagine a time without being able to call a taxi that arrives right in front of you.

MH: Right.

EC: And now when it comes to the metaverse, it's really enhancing all of these digital interactions. So, I really think of the metaverse as a way to create better digital experiences. And also, the metaverse will be something that can evolve the digital frontier. So, it'd be very exciting when it comes to new types of businesses that can happen or the way existing businesses can adapt and change and actually perhaps even create better businesses.

MH: So, if we use the adoption of the web, which had that evolution into mobile, and then the development of the technologies that took advantage of the web and the web being mobile, what can we predict about the development of the metaverse over time?

EC: The metaverse will merge with our physical worlds. So, seeing the virtual and physical worlds be interconnected. It will change our understanding of reality. So, this is something that's quite out there when you think about it as a concept, but it's really not a concept. People's realities are changing because of technology. And if you think about the younger generation born into the digital era. For them, this is going to be a norm. They're going to grow up expecting to have digital overlays within the physical worlds. They're going to grow up expecting seamless technology interactions. Waiting for something to load or something to work. They just don't have the patience or time for it. They'd rather have a sort of lower quality grade, but for it to still be operating and working. 

MH: It almost sounds like what you're telling me that AR headsets are going to be the next generation's smartphone.

EC: So certain technologies such as augmented reality, mixed reality, I think will be at the forefront of the future of the metaverse. I agree.

MH: And so, it creates these new realities, which also creates new habits.

EC: Indeed. I think new habits that we're already seeing with the younger generation is, you know, I have a seven-year-old niece and whenever she sees a screen, she expects to swipe it. She expects it to be a digital screen that you can interact with. And imagine doing that, but in air, in the space, in surfaces that's just around you. This is where I think the future of the metaverse will be heading.

MH: The video game industry is one of those major industries that tends to act as a leader in tech adoption. You know, once you get the kids onboard, that's when mom and dad follow. And I see from your report, 90% of entertainment companies expect to be disrupted by the metaverse. So, can we sort of take a look at what the video game industry does to the evolution of attack and apply that to the metaverse?

EC: So, I think we need to assess entertainment. Entertainment is how we want to be spending our time and feel like we're engaging with something and feel entertained. A lot of people are shifting from something that's passive. Are you watching something and not have this sense of interactivity, to something that is reactive to what you are doing? And I think in this instance, video games offer that. So, video games are allowing people to have that sense of interactivity. They're offering a different type of engagement and experience. And not only that, increasingly they're becoming more social, they're becoming persistent, they're becoming reactive. And these are types of entertainments that people are shifting to. And interestingly enough, a lot of traditional entertainment media are starting to explore ways to make their content more interactive. So again, it'll be interesting to see how this will shift on a larger scale. But we are moving from a generation where we were passively consuming information and things to a generation of creators.

MH: Yeah. I can imagine the folks behind Minecraft are kicking themselves much like the way the folks behind Skype are kicking themselves about Zoom. Roblox just ate their lunch, doing essentially the same thing, but adding a social component to it. And that's why we call that a metaverse.

EC: This really goes to show the power of community, and this will be a crucial element to creating the metaverse. After all, the metaverse will not exist if people aren't using it. And not only that, if people will want to go be part of the metaverse and part of metaverse interactions, because others are there as well.

MH: How will we know then when the metaverse has matured? I remember back to the early days of the internet, of the web, the one that was supposed to be a fad. The financial services sector was really reluctant to get on board. They'd dipped their toe in the water for a bit, but eventually they all had apps just like everybody else. Is there one particular sort of tipping point that tells us the technology is matured?

EC: So, when it comes to understanding where the metaverse is at in its early stages, and that's largely to do with the infrastructure and technology not being quite there yet. However, the pandemic has helped fuel a lot of support and investment in these areas. And that's why we're talking about the metaverse now versus five years’ time, because there's been a huge acceleration in technology. And in addition to that, from a lot of the research that we are looking at, people's appetite for the metaverse is already here. So, they are ready to start participating in not only virtual worlds, but they’re also starting to be open to purchasing digital assets, digital goods, looking at new forms of ownership. They're also open to different types of trade, so using cryptocurrency. And these elements are all elements that make up one part of the metaverse and people are ready for that. However, we are still waiting for certain things to catch up, to make it more accessible, affordable, and therefore allowing the masses to have a seamless and positive experience when it comes to any metaverse engagements.

MH: I love your Wunderman Thompson Intelligent report titled, New Realities: Into the Metaverse and Beyond. It points out that it can be hard to parse what is a flash in the pan of a passing fad to what has meaningful staying power? First of all, I love that in the boiler plate bio that you've got in this report, you've got an avatar for a photo. Brilliant.

EC: (laughs)

MH: What emerging trends are we not talking about though, that we should be talking about?

EC: I think there's certain elements of how the metaverse can positively impact our lives. Perhaps we are not talking about that because we are so caught up in, how does the metaverse look? How should the experience be like? But actually, looking at how it can positively impact our lives, such as looking at the healthcare sector, such as looking at how we can think of mental wellbeing and connecting that with the metaverse. If this is a place where we are creating, perhaps a whole new type of... Let me think about how I want to phrase this. If the metaverse is going to be a whole new way of living and understanding reality, why not make this something that is positive, inclusive, accessible, healthy, secure, and safe. So these are elements that we are considering as we enter and start building the metaverse because it is still in its infancy. And there's a huge role to play when it comes to those who have power and influence. But again, another element of the metaverse that a lot of people are talking about, and it's one keyword, which is decentralized. So they want the metaverse to be a metaverse for all. That's not going to be owned by one company or few large companies. It's going to be something that users and people will be part of, and they will be the creators and owners of the metaverse.

MH: So, when you talk about health and wellbeing, are you saying that I'm going to be doing yoga in the metaverse?

EC: That could be an option. But also, one thing from our report that we learned is that people, 81% of people globally turn to technology in order to unwind, which I think is a really interesting consumer shift. If you think about it there was a time when people, in order to have a sense of mental wellness or bound to wellbeing or having a break, they would actually switch off from technology. So, we talked about digital detox. But now there's been a lot of innovation with how we can positively use technology for our health and wellbeing, and now people are turning to technology to unwind. So, I think this is a positive change that technology has helped. And therefore, let's think about how this positive momentum can continue with the metaverse.

MH: You define one area of your research as Meta Business. What does that mean?

EC: The metaverse is impacting all industries and businesses included. So, businesses from within is what we are thinking about when it comes to Meta Business. The way we work has really shifted since the pandemic, people were forced to really rely on technology and work from home or work from anywhere, and not rely on certain infrastructures that perhaps you could only have access to in the office. Now, with that type of work, one thing that was neglected is having this sense of social presence and being able to work together in a more fluid and natural way. And the metaverse is actually addressing that. So when you look at certain platforms, such as what Microsoft is doing, such as what Meta is doing, they are trying to create working environments that offer this social presence.

EC: So you can feel like you're in the same place at the same time with colleagues who are actually in different parts of the world. And this is something that's quite exciting with where businesses could be heading. So think about the types of businesses that you can be conducting within these metaverse virtual worlds. This could be one element that we will be exploring within the Meta Business area. And in addition to that, I think it's offering a different outlet for people to work in. That can offer a different way of socializing, but also can offer a different way of creation. So different creative outlet for people as well.

MH: Yeah. And that's largely why a lot of the hardware manufacturers in metaverse technologies, like virtual reality, are focused on being able to replicate your eye movement, your eyebrows, your smile, where your hands are. That body language that we're so accustomed to in the real world needs to be mimicked in the metaverse if we're going to use it as an effective means of socializing.

EC: Or perhaps not. I think the exciting part of what the metaverse can offer is this whole new channel of creativity. So why do we need to create a metaverse that is a digital twin of our real world? These are areas that is up for discussion. And companies are actually talking about maybe metaverse can be more mood based or based on different things, versus it being a digital twin of what exists already. And I do think the metaverse will fuel a whole new world of creativity. And therefore, this is why I think the metaverse will help shift a lot of applications from it being a tool that people are using to a tool that people are using to create. So, we will have a new generation of creators. And this is where ultimately companies need to start rethinking about how their businesses are and what they're offering for the metaverse generation.

MH: In the report that cites eight industries that the metaverse is restructuring, retail, finance, health and wellness, food and drink, work, entertainment and sport, fashion and beauty, and society and government. Entertainment is the one expected to be most likely impacted by the metaverse. But what will it take for the metaverse to become as ubiquitous as mobile internet is today?

EC: The metaverse and the internet, as we know it, is hindered by infrastructure. So people, if they are having a hard time logging on and having a seamless experience online, if they're having difficulty switching on video, because it just takes up too much bandwidth, people will give up and people will rather have a reduced experience that works versus a full experience that just takes a lot of time and is glitchy. So once infrastructure, once certain elements such as having 5G that's successful in pretty much everywhere. This is when we will see the full power and force of the metaverse and where a lot of creation can start actually taking place.

MH: Right. The idea that if you want to be out and about with your augmented reality glasses, helping you in way finding to recognizing a face of someone that you barely know, you're going to need to have that ultra-low latency, those reliable communications. And I guess if you're also talking about superimposing video over things, you're going to need that high speed as well. So this is key... The infrastructure is sort of the linchpin to the whole experience right now.

EC: That's right. If where the metaverse is heading is that it will offer digital overlay in our physical worlds. Then we will need accessibility to offer that digital overlay that's seamless. At the moment, there's a lot of mobile phones that include the augmented reality functionality. However, there are also companies that are looking into spectacles that offer that. But in the future, perhaps it's not exclusively dependent on the individual to have this type of technology. Perhaps these technologies can already exist in the real world, in the infrastructure. And it will be a button that you press, a surface that you gesture to, that then will offer this digital overlay. So in the future, the need for hardware and technology as individuals may not be so dependent.

MH: So, if JPMorgan believes the metaverse will be a $1 trillion a year market opportunity by 2027, what does the metaverse look like in five years?

EC: This really depends as mentioned on infrastructure and technology, where that's heading. It's really hard to predict technology in five to 10 years’ time. However, part of my job is really to look at people and people's behavior. And judging by people's behaviors, I can see that there is a lot of appetite for the metaverse, and that people want to see evolution and people want to see an evolution in technology. They want technology to have an enhanced experience for them. So, people are ready for the metaverse. However, we're still waiting for tech companies. Actually, that's not to say tech companies. People are ready for the metaverse, but we are still waiting for infrastructure and technology to catch up.

MH: What's the most unexpected mistake that business is making in the move to the metaverse?

EC: By thinking about metaverse as a very one-dimensional place that you go to. It's not. A virtual space is just one part of the metaverse. A lot of people are racing to create these virtual spaces and assuming they tick the box of a metaverse, but the metaverse is far more than that and is far more complicated than that as well. It is going to become... The metaverse will be something that people are using on a daily basis, that people will dip in and out of and bring up whenever they want to. And therefore, I think if you think about how the metaverse can influence people's lives in the long run from a daily basis level, that's when it'll be interesting for companies and brands to engage and think about the metaverse. But when they think about it as just a place that people go to, it will actually hinder the experience and actually perhaps be worrying for where the metaverse will head.

MH: It seems to me that the analogy to the smartphone works as well. It's something that we'll have in our pocket. We'll pull it out when we need it. It does a whole bunch of different things. And we'll put it back in our pocket when we don't need it. While we're waiting in line at the bank, we can... Oh, well, whether you'd have to do so virtually or not in the metaverse. You could be pulling out your phone and playing a mobile game but do that version of it in the metaverse. Much like we would do in an ATM lineup right now with our regular phones.

EC: That's right.  Where the metaverse is heading it's offering a digital overlay of our physical worlds. And it's a digital overlay that you can choose to bring up when you see fit. And this is something that will ultimately enhance your daily experience and small interactions. And whether it's something where you're communicating with someone, so for more of a social event. Whether it is offering more information about a product you're about to purchase. These are elements to enhance your general flow of your life. So, if you think about the metaverse in this sort of broad context and how technology can help enhance these daily habits and daily use, that is going to be very successful as a company to enter the metaverse. If you take the metaverse out of this conversation, what we are talking about is evolution of technology. A lot of people hear the word metaverse and they feel like it's connected to a fad. But if you take that one word out of this conversation, we are talking about the evolution of technology. We are talking about the next digital frontier. And it's really exciting. There's a lot that we can evolve and do in this space. It's going to be defined by people and communities. So I think don't be scared of the word metaverse is ultimately my big takeaway. And let's start building for the future.

<< Go to previous episode