What the metaverse means for you and your customers

Aarron Spinley delivers an innovative take on the impact of the metaverse on companies and their customers in both the B2C and B2B worlds.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

Once again, Aarron Spinley SVP of the newly acquired Thunderhead (by Medallia), provides the kind of thought leadership that has some real meaning. He's a paradigm for executives on how to be an internal thought leader who has an external impact. This piece is particularly germane since we are all at the stage of deciding whether the metaverse is nothing more than a. Facebook trying to save its own butt or b. the latest fast riser in the hype cycle (Remember Clubhouse?) or c. has some real substance that has to be accounted for in corporate/business planning in multiple ways? Me? I'm sticking to the DC Comics Multiverse. There, all the alternate universes have been fully resolved into a single universe. There's something to be said for that. 

Take it away, Aarron.

Four Key Principles for Executives and Marketers 

A lot of people who are watching the arrival of new terms like web3 and the metaverse have realised that this suggests yet another shift. Maybe even a big one. 

But like many things in life, it is not the thing itself, but the effects of the thing that we should focus on. That, and the repeatable, and sustainable, management of the thing. Once we understand that, anxiety fades.

So, it is useful to understand that the metaverse is a bit like the second coming of technological capabilities that we have long recognised. In essence, it is the convergence of things like artificial reality and virtual reality to, perhaps finally, realise the intersection of the physical and digital realms that "Industry 4.0" inherently promised.

Why is the metaverse only just now emerging? Because other enabling technologies -- better cloud computing, broadband access, virtual currencies, collaboration tools et al -- weren't ready when metaverse-related tech first arrived. 

In short, the Metaverse represents the start of the shift from a 2D internet world, to a 3D one. Or so the marketing slogan goes.

But while it is something old, it is also something new. Underestimate it at your peril. Most are expecting it to spawn whole new industries, to revolutionise commerce, the "creator economy" and, of course, the very nature of communication and collaboration both personally, and professionally.

Ergo: Marketers and other customer professionals will have an opportunity to think differently — at least in execution — about how to interact with customers in completely new ways. Although, thinking differently, has often proved a stretch too far in an industry that chows down on buzzwords and loves to follow the pack.

Here's an example. Instead of calling a contact centre for a phone conversation, you or your avatar for that matter might be sitting in a booth with the avatar of the service agent talking through your problem. 

What are the ripple effects of that type of interaction? How would we consume that, relate to it, process it emotionally, or react to different stimuli within that context?

There are a million use cases and ideas, but the really big question is this:

How do we establish principles that allow us to harness the opportunities repeatably, and how do we do that safely?

Hopefully, this helps.

The Metaverse is a Service Layer Issue

In my estimation, and depending on the category, the service layer accounts for over 90–98% of the interactions that any brand has with its customers. From the car park to the website, to the contact centre to the mobile app, and into a store experience (if you have one), these are all "services."    

That means if we know what we are doing, our goal for all of them is to be as low-friction as possible, and utterly unmemorable.

Yes, I know. Our industry is infatuated with the word, "experience." But most of the time, those using the term are referring to service interactions because, in truth, much of the industry has no clue what the difference is, and has co-opted the word 'experience' to mean, well, everything. So be it. 

If you're not clear on the demarcation between services and experiences, read this

But to understand where the metaverse will really move the needle for brands, and how to think about it, the distinction is important.


  Aarron Spinley's" Engagement Stack"

Now, there is a multitude of exotic ideas for brand activations and the like using the metaverse. These are clearly experiences. Equally, we should expect that some services when delivered through the metaverse will, for a short time, be also very experiential (memorable) in nature due to the novelty factor. But as the metaverse normalises this won't sustain.

So most opportunities for your company, simply because of the way an engagement stack works (see above) will present themselves in the service layer. And that means that you have to get your head around 2 key things:

Journeys, and Choice.

Dictation is Dead

The mistake so many companies make is to apply old ideas to new surroundings. Case in point, many make the critical error of using the populist but dated idea of journey mapping in today's world. They may not know it, because "engagement-literacy" is so low, but it fails abysmally. And it will be a royal cluster you-know-what in the metaverse.

As a technique, and even as an evolving toolkit, this was an important approach to better understand customers for a fair while. Although the more accurate summation of the practice, its real intention if you like, was always to dictate their resulting buying journey — not to understand their journey in of itself.

In the main, this worked, until somewhere around 2010–2014, depending on your view. 

You see, when journey mapping was popularised, it was off the back of work by Colin Shaw in 2002, who had originally coined it "moment mapping." But in 2002 — a full twenty years ago as I write this — most brands were managing an average of just two or three channels. 

What followed was the explosion of the Internet, mobile, cloud, social media, and device proliferation, such that by the close of 2019, we found ourselves dealing with up to 100 channels and consumers who had become so hyper-connected that behavioural linearity in brand interactions was a distant memory. 

So journey mapping has been obsolete for a decade or so. Too many channels and incongruent behaviour killed it. And don't let a consultant or a martech vendor try to convince you otherwise, reliant as they are upon it, to sell you more of their whatever.

I should add, that the pending arrival of Web3, controversially perhaps and in whatever form that eventually takes, and that of the metaverse, means that the proliferation of channels is a long, long way from done. 

So, dictation is already a failed model, and the metaverse will usher in even more journey complexity than there is today. That's the first problem. Now let's talk about the next one.

The Choice Paradox

If you are aware of this principle, you may well be familiar with one of the defining works on the subject by psychologist Barry Schwartz.

In his book, The Paradox of Choice — Why More Is Less, Schwartz analysed the behaviour of different types of people (in particular, maximisers and satisficers), and argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for customers. In CX and product design terms, you could think about this in terms of cognitive load.

In short, too much choice can create paralysis and abandonment. 

Schwartz references a study published in 2000 by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, where shoppers at a food market were displayed 24 varieties of gourmet jam at a pop-up stand. Those who sampled them received a voucher for $1 off any jam of their choosing. On another day though, shoppers at the same store were presented with a similar table, but with only six varieties on display. 

The large display attracted more interest than the small one. 

Now, this is where so many marketers are seduced in their pursuit of frequency and reach, impressions, or as many erroneously call it, "engagement." Just think of the mentality that tolerates, and rationalises, systemic fraud within programmatic advertising… same same.

But whilst more people stopped and looked at the big display, they were only 10% as likely to buy as people who saw the small display. 

Ten percent.

You see, when we overtly maximise choice, we risk minimising actual engagement via heightened cognitive load (eg, we make it too hard), and thus we reduce their motivation. Thunderhead's Engagement 3.0 model explains:

Engagement reflects a psychological and motivational state on the part of the customer.

Kill the motivation. Kill the engagement.

So then, what's going to happen to a brand when, through sheer enthusiasm, they offer an increasing number of channels via the metaverse? Especially given the fetal position most companies are in over the idea of orchestrating their existing channels.

Well, you might be surprised to hear this, given what you've just read, but I say there is no reason not to do so. Though there is a catch.

The thing is, it's not about the number of your channels in totality, but about how only the relevant channels — those picked by the customer (not the company) at the time of their choosing (not the company) — are truly optimised such that the company is coherent across any such combination in order to hold the conversation that the customer wants to have (again, not the company). Your mission is to serve them to get done what they want to get done quickly, however, wherever, and whenever they choose.

Remember what I said above? The metaverse will most often be part of the service layer, and the core attribute of services is that they must be frictionless.I recommend writing these two principles down: 

Dictation < Orchestration

Choice Paralysis < Frictionless Interaction

The Ethical Opportunity

There is a reason that Facebook renamed itself Meta. 

They know that this phenomenon is coming, and it will be material to our everyday lives, our professional lives, and to the intersection of brands and customers.

But please God, can we not surrender the next paradigm to a company that has wrought all kinds of harm on the current one? The evidence of Facebook's immoral human abuses to its epic fraud and illegal market behaviour is in mountainous supply.

Of course, with new ad revenue and more types of personal data on offer, they are doing their level best to erect a new veneer and are hoping that we don't remember who they really are. 

In a recent "interview" with their ad-industry puppet, the IAB, Facebook VP Nada Stirratt claimed with a straight face — which is prize-worthy in itself — that at Meta:

… privacy standards, control, and transparency are mission-critical — mission-critical from day 1! — so, so much our investments are about making sure that things are being built responsibly… (and that)… we'll collaborate with… the industry… just to make sure that we get this right.

The IAB's interviewer beamed down the camera. "That's wonderful to hear," she gushed. And the angels sang.

But just a week later, the story broke that a massive antitrust complaint alleges, "Facebook and Google conspired to lower monies paid to publishers, hurt and excluded rival ad networks, and manipulated prices." That's the same industry they're collaborating with, right?

The outrage at IAB headquarters was thermonuclear! Just kidding. 

Meanwhile, the claimant states that the deal "was personally overseen by Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg (the respective CEOs of Google and Meta) and signed on behalf of Meta by COO Sheryl Sandberg."

Better Partners

So as the world starts to explore the undeniable and often quite exciting opportunities of the metaverse, I reckon that this is an opportunity to make things safer. Rather than entrusting Mark and Sherryl again, there are over 160 more worthy companies already operating across what Jon Radoff, author of Building the Metaverse blog, calls the seven distinct layers of the metaverse:

  1. Infrastructure — Connectivity technologies like 5G, Wi-Fi, cloud, and hi-tech materials like GPUs.
  2. Human interface — VR headsets, AR glasses, haptics, and other technologies users will leverage to join the metaverse.
  3. Decentralisation — Blockchain, artificial intelligence, edge computing, and other tools of democratisation.
  4. Spatial computing — 3D visualisation and modelling frameworks
  5. Creator economy — An assortment of design tools, digital assets, and e-commerce establishments
  6. Discovery — The content engine driving engagement, including ads, social media, ratings, reviews, etc.
  7. Experiences — VR equivalents of digital apps for gaming, events, work, shopping, etc.

Here are just few companies to consider (compiled and written by Anwesha Roy, Product Content Specialist and co-founder of The Comet.)


Epic Games: The company behind the popular game Fortnite was always perfectly poised to build the metaverse. It has formalised those intentions announcing a $1B funding round to fuel opportunities for the metaverse.

Niantic: Niantic's Pokémon Go was among the first immersive experiences to blur the lines between real and virtual. Now, the company has raised $300 million to build its own metaverse, one that will be an alternative to the original notion of the metaverse as a "dystopian nightmare."

Nvidia: While Nvidia isn't directly building a metaverse of its own, it will be a key enabler. In 2021, it announced Omniverse Enterprise where creators can collaborate on 3D modeling, design, and simulation. Omniverse combines 3D graphics with AI and supercomputing, laying the foundations of the metaverse.

Microsoft: Microsoft, meanwhile, is looking to build a work-focused metaverse that connects its hugely popular offerings in a digital environment called Mesh. Inside Mesh, you'd be able to use Microsoft Teams, Windows, and other services in VR.

Decentraland: Decentraland was among the early movers who explicitly mentioned the metaverse as their core product. Since its inception in 2017, Decentraland has steadily gained momentum — a piece of real estate inside its VR world recently sold for a record $2.4 million.

Apple: Apple could be a surprising dark horse in the race towards the metaverse. It is currently working on advanced VR gear that could revolutionise the metaverse experience. Morgan Stanley went as far as to say that mass-market adoption of the metaverse hinges on Apple, much like smartphone and tablet markets before it.

Thanks Anwesha, awesome job.

The Four Takeaways

I love takeaways. It means I don't have to cook. And my family doesn't have to grimace on the inside and smile on the outside, as my latest creation sears itself into their memories for all the wrong reasons. That should have been a service by the way, but sadly for them, it became an experience. See the difference?

And so in takeaway form, my proposition is best summed as follows:

  • The Metaverse is primarily a service layer opportunity, and when it is, look to eradicate every piece of friction that you can from your customer's interactions with you. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
  • Understand that you are increasing choice, at the very least in terms of channels, and quite probably in other ways, which creates customer anxiety — and abandonment — if you don't eradicate journey complexity.
  • If you are still holding on to the idea that you can map, ala dictate, customer journeys, fire your consultant. You're at least a whole decade too late for that bus. The metaverse will eat you up and spit you out.
  • Make conscious choices about what companies you support. Let's see if we can make the metaverse safer and more responsible than the 2D Internet, and an ethical place for brands, publishers, and people alike. Leave the morally challenged geeks out of it.

As I commented at the very start, it's often not the thing we have to worry about, but the effects of that thing. And in that regard, the metaverse is a lot like COVID. Where the pandemic has accelerated digital adoption, the metaverse will accelerate the impacts of your engagement model. Rapid growth is a real possibility. So too is rapid decline. Which one is entirely up to you(r customer). 

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

BIG NOTE: The CRM Watchlist 2022 winners will be announced on February 24, 2022, at 2pm Eastern Time on a special episode of CRM Playaz. This year, the penultimate year of the Watchlist, I made it nearly impossible to win. As a result, not only will we be revealing the winners at whatever level they won, but we are considering announcing those that would have won under the old system (though that is still TBD). Though they are not winners nor are they even honorable mention, it may be worth noting that if this was a pre-pandemic Watchlist they would have won but the pandemic changed the way that things are not just done but what is expected of a company in the pandemic and post-pandemic worlds. More details will come in a ZDNet post that not only has the winners but will explain the trends and the expectations. Stay tuned for show and post details. We are going big. The Penultimate Big Reveal.

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