Join Andrei and our guest on todayโ€™s episode, Mike Charalambous, as they will be discussing The Metaverse, NFTs, marketing in this upcoming realm, as well as opportunities for early adopter brands. Mike is the CEO of Threedium, one of London's leading 3D technology solutions for e-Comm, display and AR.ย 

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Episode transcript:ย 

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Andrei Tiuย ย 

Hi, there! This is Andrei, and you're on The Marketing Innovation Podcast Show. Our special guest today is Mike Charalambous, who is an old friend of mine, a serial entrepreneur and founder of Threedium, one of London's leading 3D technology solutions for e-Comm, display and AR. And today we'll discuss the metaverse, NFTs, marketing in this upcoming realm, as well as opportunities for early adopter brands. Mike, really nice catching up! It's been a while. How are you?

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Mikeย ย 

It's a pleasure, man. It's a pleasure. I think last time we were organising to catch up over beers in a physical bar, next time is going to be in a digital bar, in the metaverse. So times are changing fast.

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Andrei Tiuย ย 

Yeah. See you at the central end? Actually, it's been a couple of years, maybe at least two since we last spoke. So that is sinking up, well not nice. But you thinking up with the start of the pandemic, and everything that came with that. And you have developed some really cool things meanwhile. I was following you mostly on LinkedIn and looking into what you guys were doing with Threedium. And I think this is going to be a really fun episode because it aligns very much with the specific of our episodes here on the podcast, which is getting our listeners closer to the innovation that is happening within the tech space and marketing specifically. And I think it's gonna be a lot of insight and learnings to take away for you guys out there that are looking to see any opportunities or are maybe interested in this web 3.0, the metaverse, NFTs and how the brands that you are marketing or your own companies can leverage the changing customer behaviour or, you know, this space in general. So, Mike, let's talk a bit about you. Let's introduce you to the audience. What's your story was story behind Threedium?

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Mikeย ย 

We started 3d zoom over beers and nachos in a nice diner in London. But rewinding back, I was very much involved in the consumer electronics, and agency world back in the day. So I used to work with Nokia, on the tech scout team, finding different software and hardware,ย  solutions that could work for the Lumia phones. Then I changed shapes, I joined Wonder Man in WPP, we were still working with Nokia and some other consumer electronic companies, trying to support them on the brand strategy side about rolling different consumer products across different markets. And that's where we started seeing that e-Commerce, and in general, digital engagement was becoming very critical, very important for the brands. As a side hassle, we were meeting with a few friends, all of them were, experienced in different fields in their own ways. And we were thinking about ways to how we can further elevate the digital experience as to how brands can engage with users from a product display perspective, but also from creating commerce experiences that can elevate the purchase intention and trust for users to put their credit cards and buy products. So this is how Threedium was formed. With our mission to make 3D and AR solutions very much accessible to everybody to all sorts of different brands agencies, small to medium companies, to be able to to use them and elevate their, their commerce channels. Whether that is in e-Commerce or physical or omnichannel. Very recently, we also allow them to utilise them and distribute them within the metaverse. Threedium is a team of five founders. I'm one of the co-founders and the CEO of the company. Ever since the launch of the company in late 2017, we grew from a team of five to a team of 50 people. We are headquartered in London, but we also have offices in Serbia, Germany, and most recently in the US.

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Andrei Tiuย ย 

Nice, that's a very nice growth there! What fueled it? Was it tapping into the sort of metaversy spectre? Or was it the adoption that fueled your fast growth?

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Mikeย ย 

I think ever since 2016 when e-commerce and mobile-commerce started to become important revenue and business drivers for the brands and retailers in general, we started seeing a much faster dependency on digital channels to be able to exist as brands and to increase market share. And this increased reliance on e-Commerce and mobile commerce allowed the brands to have much more available budgets to spend, invest and enhance their digital channels. But we are also seeing some tremendous talent being involved in this fault. So whole new eCommerce strategy. And we've seen some great teams being put in place from different brands, which helped to drive the adoption of new technologies, and more fascinating innovation in the space. So this is great foundation to see rapid evolution in eCommerce. And fast-forwarding from 2016 to 2020. We've been seeing brands slowly adopting 3D and immersive solutions to pilot a few of their product launches. But also the pandemic has massively, you know, escalated the need for digital transformation. So we've seen many, many brands putting digital transformation at the forefront of the strategy of their priorities. So eCommerce, mobile commerce, digital channels have been important elements that they had to further revolutionise in order to stay relevant in that ever-changing consumer, environment and ecosystem. We've seen massive adoption, acceleration of the need and use of immersive solutions, mainly 3D, because 3D is becoming an important component for creating digital assets, utilising in so many different ways for replacing physical products and the need to use physical products to create content, to sell products and to engage with users. As one can say, we were probably at the right time, in the right space, to get enough attention for all these big brands that they were looking to embrace 3D and immersive commerce solutions. So we had a product that was already quite advanced for its time, and it was able to cater to all these advanced and massive and scalable requirements that the brands, enterprises and agencies wanted at the time. And this is how we started rapidly gaining traction and market share. So right now in 2022, we have more than 3000 individual users, using our platform to create immersive continent solutions to top load and push up to their eCommerce channels. But also to use their physical channels as QR codes. We also have more than 40 enterprises across different verticals. Using our technology at scale, to innovate with their eCommerce, omnichannel and metaverse channels. All these users and enterprises are using our technology to be able to create 3D and AR product explorers 3D and AR configurators, 3D and AR display ads. And very recently, they're also using our platform to optimise their existing 3d models to create 3D metaverse ready, if you like, wearables and products, which they can then sell in the metaverse worlds directly to avatars. And as we typically say to our brands and partners, you create 3D once you use Threedium to sell it thrice. So it's the multiple ways in which they can benefit and utilise their assets and started seeing a great ROI across different channels using our engine. Some of the brands we work with include Diageo, Farfetch, a lot of brands from the LVMH group, some brands from the Richmond group. We also work closely with a lot of creative agencies and media agencies such as McCann and Wavemaker. And we have very strong partnerships with all different metaverse worlds such as Decentraland, Sandbox, Digital Village, and OPR.

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Andrei Tiuย ย 

Very nice. To have like a smooth transition towards the metaverse because I really want us to get there. But just so we have a starting point, what's the most popular eCommerce solution that you or your clients use from what you guys offer?

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Mikeย ย 

Every six months the answer to this question changes. If you asked me that question a year ago, those would have probably been 3D configurators. A lot of the brands were looking to elevate their personalization experience on their eCommerce sites. So creating 3D configurators that will allow users to configure products in real-time, using 3D, using configuration techniques, really drove strong engagement and conversions for the brands. Then the more the brands kind of like mainstreamed the solution, they then started to see how they could elevate their product display pages, the so-called PDP pages. So they were using the platform to create different kinds of designs around 3D and AR viewers and explorers. So they were creating some interesting 3D viewers with different backgrounds and the ability to add hotspots around products so that they can create a more autonomous browsing experience for the users once they would land on the product page and explore the different products. And right now we're also seeing a lot of the brands coming to us asking they can use their 3D products to create 3D NFTs. But we're also seeing a massive request for brands to pilot their 3D products and sell them within the metaverse. It just changes every six months, depending on how much the brands are looking to innovate and push boundaries. We're seeing a huge uplift in the different solutions that one can use to generate from our engine.

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Andrei Tiuย ย 

Great. Okay, so just to start a discussion on the metaverse and focus on the solutions that you guys are working on with the brands there. And then let's been some ideas on trends and changing customer behaviour and what's out there for brands that want to tap into this territory in terms of opportunities. First things first, just to make sure that everybody listening to us understands the terminology and we are good on that front. So what is the metaverse?

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Mikeย ย 

Well, I mean, that's a great question. With a not so straightforward answer. First and foremost, the metaverse can be anything for anyone, right? The Metaverse could be the moment that you go on to your mobile device and you immerse yourself in your screen and all of a sudden you forget everything around you and you're just scrolling and reading the news in your device. That's where you immerse yourself in a different kind of universe other than the one that you present right now. However, how we like to simplify the definition of the metaverse as to how it's shaping up right now through all these different news and publications people are reading. The Metaverse is basically the era where consumers and users and individuals like you and me are ready to spend $1, $100, $1,000 to purchase and own a digital asset, the same way that they would spend those kinds of money to acquire a physical product. This kind of need and demand for people to use real money in purchasing digital assets allows the creation of a fuel economy. So all of a sudden, a brand namely Nike could be selling directly to Mike, us a physical consumer, the Air Jordan sneakers, but at the same time, they can go and attract Mike's digital identity avatar and sell to him digital Nikes for his digital lifestyle. And that's what we typically tend to mean by Metaverse when we talk from a commerce perspective. And then why Mike's digital identity would be keen to purchase the Nike digital version is because he's building a lifestyle and identity of his own. In the metaverse, they want to be whoever they cannot be in real life, they want to create an Alter Ego. They want to go and have a much more gamified life experience that they don't let you have in real life. So it's a nice escape from them. And if you think about it, we are also kind of programmed already to be able to live in this kind of Alter Ego digital identities either through the existing so-called Social Media identities that we have, or either because we have grown up playing games, and we've always been kind of acquainted, and we always had that secret passion of us wanting to leave in the game. And right now, technology and browsers and internet connectivity kind of allows crazy people like us, and like, game developers, and Metaverse developers to be able to build this kind of worlds that allow the users and people to go and start building a second life, if you like in those spaces, and embracing all the different attributes that can come with that.

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Andrei Tiuย ย 

And on that note, mostly noting gaming. We are kind of there or have been for a little bit like people have already started to spend money to buy certain items in games, even if there's not a 3D experience in the way that you'd put an Oculus on. And then you are in the new Univers altogether, not seeing anything around you. But the immersiveness is there. So you are fully focused in there and you spend money on a game even if the infrastructure is not necessarily yet or has not yet been because, in recent times, we are getting close to that. How do you see the evolution of Metaverse or the metaverses depending on who looks at them or who defines them? This year over the next two years.

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Mikeย ย 

Yeah, so basically, the metaverse is one holistic thing. And what we tend to refer to us to the different entities in the metaverse such as sandbox, Decentraland and what have you, those are just different members worlds within this universe. Right. So who's gonna prevail, eventually, whether it's going to be Meta's Facebook metaverse worlds, or sandbox or decentraland? We still don't know. But what is certain and the kind of, you know, notion that we're starting to see is that people and users entering into the metaverse, into these new internets, or the so-called Web 3 internet is that they're coming in with an appetite of decentralisation. And we are seeing a massive transition wave from the centralised web to the Internet as we know it, which belongs to like four companies. And a lot of users, feel that they have a first-class opportunity to be able to reduce the monopoly power that these companies had in the previous internet, owning and controlling so much personalised data. So we are seeing companies that are more decentralised, more prone to giving unlimited to the users to build and grow and flourish in this new internet to have more, you know, more demand, more welcoming kind of vibes from users. And this is why we've seen rapidly the likes of decentraland and sandbox growing in popularity, and people don't really care whether Facebook or Microsoft or Google are going to be present in this new internet because they don't really meet them. They're actually trying to build a much freer and a much more, you know, less scary if you like kind of internet. In terms of why this is going to continue growing, this is because we're seeing some obvious metrics are rising, especially from the younger generations. Last year alone, for the first time ever, we've noticed that children between the age of 10 to 12, asked for Santa's to offer them in-game purchases, and bolt-ons versus real-life gadgets. So we're seeing these new generations of future consumers who have the purchasing power already growing up with this consciousness that for them, digital ownership is powerful, even they understand it, and they want it. So for them, it's not going to be anything different. We're also starting to see with the use of blockchain, that the ability to own digital assets actually has proof to track back to the real owner, and therefore you can show off that you own that asset, and it's certified and it's authenticated. So it already fulfils all the needs that you won't have as a user, that that product, whether it's physical or digital, belongs to you. This is just the beginning. We're definitely seeing massive adoption of users going into the space and, and looking to spend money and wanting to fulfil that need and void if you like to own digital assets and see how they're going to be using them across the real lives and their digital lives.

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Andrei Tiuย ย 

You pointed out something really nice there. And I think it'd be worth us spending another five minutes discussing and developing the idea because I think it's very valuable to clarify this. So it and that is the difference between web 2.0, which is our web that we grew up with, and web 3.0, which is the web that these guys, 10 years olds that are asking for digital assets on their birthdays and Christmas are going to be growing with. And here well we talk about metaverse. One clarification or idea that I like us to discuss that I think is going to be very interesting is that when we talk about Metaverse is not only us going into some game-like universe that say a Counter-Strike map or something like that, and then just leaving, they're having these brands there and whatever, by using some glasses, some AR glasses, VR glasses, but also it comes with the component of decentralisation and with everything that like all the values that can be attached to something like Metaverse world which will be you know, Power to the people and digital transactions, non-monetary, like non-fiat currency and all these things. So, what's your view on this?

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Mikeย ย 

I think it's bound to happen that eventually tokenomics, tokenisation is going to be a core component of the web 3. We are already seeing some interest in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Etherium, Polygon, even currencies from sandbox and decentraland, already starting to be used for people to transact. And we've seen a lot of people also storing these currencies in their wallets. And sometimes they tend to prefer to transact with them, rather than, you know, the fiat currencies, such as dollars and euros. And there are strong indications in the market that in the next couple of years, you know, there's not going to be much difference between which currencies users are going to prefer to transact with. As an additional ad on basically a benefit for the cryptocurrencies is that the tokenomics we're talking about is that we're going to start seeing fewer price deviations within jurisdictions. So let's say a can of Coca Cola, that it's worth 0.01. If in, in Germany, it will still be worth 0.01. If in Ghana, let's say. So, you're not going to be able to see too many price discrepancies in price wars between products and there's going to be much more realistic pricing basically, if you like, in the markets. On top of that, many many brands will now have the ability to create their own currencies, which in turn will allow them to reward their own users. If this engaging with the different brands with the different ecosystems, and this is also a huge component of the web 3, which is all about rewarding your users, either financially, or with different other rewards that can cement and show the respect that brands want to show to their loyal customers, to the loyal fans. So it's going to be an interesting way in how we see that shift of loyalty mechanics that we were acquainted with in web 2, and how we're going to be acquainted with them in web 3. So yeah, all of these things are just an interesting theory for the time being. But we were started saying that users are becoming more and more in demand of this kind of transactional and rewarding behaviours and experience.

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Andrei Tiuย ย 

Also, in terms of the attention and where people are focusing, I mean, basically marketing, we as marketers, try to get the brand in front of people where they pay attention to. So considering the specific of the environments, like when you are in the metaverse because you can do a lot of things in the metaverse such as you know, meetings, but enhanced from what we are doing. For example, even right now, when we are recording this podcast, we could be at a table in a Metaverse scenario, sort of like one avatar next to each other and talking as if we were in the same city, for example. So from that perspective, we can almost for sure that the people that are already looking to be present, there are going to spend a lot of time there. And this obviously takes away from the attention capital that a brand could have from its audience in traditional channels from today, and get it to those channels. And this, of course, drives the need for brands to want to be present or to communicate on those channels, or in this environment where people do spend a lot of time in or a proportion of the time depending on their demographic or their other criteria. But certainly, if you know your customer avatar and persona, well, you'd probably know whether they are more prone to spend time in something like the metaverse versus on a bus going to meet their friends for a bind to down the pub. So like for example on a Friday, rather than doing the same thing at their laptop from home, you know, setting that they choose in, I don't know, let's say the decentraland. So given this change of focus that comes with the adoption of the platforms, we believe and here I would like to hear your thoughts as well, that the traditional marketing channels or the ways that we communicate as marketers or brands with customers are going to be diversified or adapted as well. So some marketing infrastructure should come to the table or should be developed so that we can leverage this space using Blockchain probably because everything is happening on the blockchain rather than in a centralised way, as we do now for Facebook. I mean, probably excluding Facebook, and the other guys that are developing, centralised Metaverse is here you can contradict me if you have other data or you know, insights. But just to sum up and to have a discussion here, we believe that there will be some channels that will be available to brands so that we can use all the data that is going to be gathered by analysing the people that are going to spend a lot of time there and then deliver ads better or in a manner that also rewards the people that are viewing them or engaging with them, and then creating another level of brand engagement and relationship in the end with the brands that are going to be there and that can find their customers there. What's your view on this?

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Mikeย ย 

So my view is that we wait too early to know how this space is going to evolve. But for sure if we see these as the new social media channels or the new social commerce channels, then definitely brands aren't going to take them very seriously and start embracing them. What we typically suggest to brands is that there is no longer a question of if they SHOULD GO into the metaverse, but HOW they should be going into this Metaverse stratosphere if you like. Basically, they should always go in and formulate a long term strategy, knowing what they will be doing once they go in. But in order to keep their feet in the water, we usually suggest they to have a short term strategy but with a long term game, a long term plan. So to first understand the ease, or how they could portray their brands and their products into the metaverse, we always ask them to do something small either to lease a pop-up store, or either try to launch like a wearable into the market or create a small discord group launch and NFT with some utility either in real life or in the metaverse to get people acquainted to understand that this brand is doing all the right steps to go in and starting to reward its customers and users in more web 3 kinds of manner versus the old or more, you know, traditional and conservative web 2 loyalty techniques. And then, once you start building a community, once you start building this kind of momentum, that they're now transitioning into this new era of socialising with their customers or building communities of becoming more Metaversy, that's where organically it's going to start growing for them. And they're gonna be able to make more, you know, mature decisions, more robust, more aggressive decisions as to how they're going to expand their strategy. And they're in their brand footprint into the, into the different members' roles. There are some quick growth hacks basically, that the brands can be looking, to achieve. So even though there are so many interesting metaphors, roles that they're about to go live, there are a few obvious ones that are easy for the brands to go in right now in which they have good accessibility like Roblox, which is more centralised. And it focuses more on children between the age of six age to the age of 1213, even, but it has 15 million users. And it's an interesting environment for the brands to go in. And also, we've got decentralised, which it's more decentralised. And it's fairly accessible from desktop soon from mobile apps as well. Anyone can go in with or without Metamask wallets. It's addressable to our younger audience between the age of 18 to the age of 35, maybe 40 Sometimes, and, and brands can go their lease part of a land or a shop, sell a few wearables, start building some sort of branding, and in interacting with the avatars to be able to synthesise their, their strategy and their aesthetics as to how they want to portray the brand in the metaverse. And then obviously each brand launching a small NFT, which will act as the legacy NFT as a provenance for the first unique set of consumers and users that are going to be owning that. That's also a great way to be able to start building a more long term and loyal community to get them on board on this journey so that they can voyage along with the brand as they're growing their experiences in the metaverse.

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Andrei Tiuย ย 

So what is something hot that you are working on right now that you think would be a good inspiration for people here that are maybe leading marketing departments and are looking at ways to be innovative or to reposition their brand and keep it fresh.

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Mikeย ย 

For us, there are two main elements that we're going to be focusing on our Metaverse strategy until the end of the year. First is that we have created this mini luxury more plazas in different metaverse worlds, that basically enables the brands to be able to lease part of those areas where they can go in reskin them and place some products inside effortlessly without having to worry too much about cryptos and whatever. So it's an easy transition for them to navigate from the traditional eCommerce experience to the meta commerce experience. All they need to do is just convert their 3D models and make Metaverse ready. And this will allow them to start announcing that they have a place in the metaverse and start building a nice marketing and PR campaign around them, but also start extracting some interesting User behaviours and data that will allow them to synthesise a much more holistic meta commerce strategy as they grow and become more mature in space. The second thing that we're testing a lot is, is basically avatar behaviour. So we are looking to play around a lot with different APIs that will allow the brands to be able to see how avatars that purchase their digital sneakers or digital foodies are actually utilising them in the different member roles. Are they wearing them for XYZ amount of days or hours? Do they spend more time doing specific activities with that, and this will then ultimately allow the brands to see how they could reward their users through these kinds of datasets that they're amassing. So we're playing around with different new metrics such as where, where to earn or sweat to earn. So the brands can actually find new kinds of ambassadors and influences in the members which they can be rewarding them with, you know, Ethereum for every, every kind of Avatar that crosses paths with them whilst they're wearing their hoodie. Or if they spend XYZ amount of time wearing that specifically, walking around the metaverse are jumping or engaging into different sorts of activities. Again, they can be unlocking more rewards from brands. So you know, these are all interesting metrics and innovation touchpoints that we're playing around to see how we can further introduce new engagement strategies between the brands and the avatars. And consequently, that consumers.

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Andrei Tiuย ย 

So in their directory, for example, for a brand, let's say, fashion brand, to go now into Metaverse, shopping mall, let's say in decentraland, and have a pop up store there or have to lease on a shop that is branded up like where's their brand halves? I don't know the 3D models have one of their collections in there and people in the metaverse can visit?

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Mikeย ย 

Yeah, so basically, this is actually what we tend to encourage the brands because first of all, we don't want them to spend too much money buying land and not even being sure if that matters, whether which they bought the land in is going to prevail, or it's going to die out. So in order for them to have less risk, but bigger exposure, we tend to be the ones taking the risk of like amassing the lands, and then giving the chance the brands just come in, start playing around the understanding of this is something that works for them or it doesn't work for them or what else they need to do to optimise their strategy without spending too much money without breaking the bank. And having a world-class opportunity to go in and just you know start interacting. So basically, I think that there is no right or wrong. But as I mentioned before, the easiest way for the traditional brands to be able to go into the matters without feeling too easy, too afraid, is to try and extract the elements that they are acquainted with in real life in the high street and just slowly use them using those elements and bring them into the members. So because you are acquainted with leasing premises because they are acquainted with visual merchandising, these are the key elements that we tried to extract from the High Street in real life, bring into the members with more Metaverse vibes, and with a different kind of engagement strategy for them to to be more appealing to the avatars and to the audience. That is right now spending time in the metaverse and we tried to smoothly bring the brands in without scaring them too much. And we got confusing them too much.

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Andrei Tiuย ย 

In terms of budgets, what would be a ballpark or an average, maybe the smallest budget that somebody should look at allocating for tests like this?

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Mikeย ย 

This is really a question that varies according to the size of each of the brands. I mean, we can say 100k and would mean nothing for brands like Louis Vuitton. We can say 5k and it would mean a lot for small to medium retailers in the high street right now. The good thing is that there's a budget that can be catered for any kind of appetite. So Even with as low as $300, one can have a wearable ready and submit that wearable in decentralised. And they can have that wearable ready to be sold to avatars, through the decentralised marketplace, and they can start promoting it both in real life and through their social channels. And they can start generating sales to avatars.

ย 

Andrei Tiuย ย 

Positioning themselves into, you know, that kind of brand that is there.

ย 

Mikeย ย 

Exactly, exactly right. Or they can spend $10,000 or $20,000, they can do a few pop up stores here and there, they can reskin them, they can put a few products as display, they can do in some, you know, events or webinars through those shops to get people in, they can launch some rewards. So, you know, it really, really varies, but a budget should never be an obstacle for them to go in. Because there's something that can be catered for any kind of budget sighs

ย 

Andrei Tiuย ย 

Nice. Man, this was such a nice discussion. And really insightful is the first time that we actually tapped into the subject on the podcast in so much depth. I mean, specifically Metaverse, we never really went into detail on it. So I'm really happy that we had the chance to do this with you. And also we had a chance to catch up a bit. Hopefully, we'll have the chance to you know, catch up off the podcast as well. Pretty soon, we should organise. But yeah, until next time, if there are people that want to get in touch with you and potentially explore directly these opportunities that we were discussing or they want to propose partnerships or anything to do with that, what's the best place that they can find your link up to you?

ย 

Mikeย ย 

Well, I would say LinkedIn is the obvious direct channel one can get in touch with. But then there's the CCO is be my email which they can get through you, I suppose. If they want to get in touch. And you know, somewhere here we will have the link to go to Threedium website so they can even reach out across and Contact Us.

ย 

Andrei Tiuย ย 

Perfect. Yeah. So, guys, you have already seen the description of the episode or Yeah, depending on where you are streaming or listening to it. But yeah. Also, my thinking is, Mike, as you will have it in the title. So his name is Charalambous. But you have the spelling there in the title of the episode as well.ย 

ย 

Mikeย ย 

My alias name is Mike Chara, so I don't need to pronounce the entire surname. It becomes for a lot of people.

ย 

Andrei Tiuย ย 

Awesome, cool, man. Thanks again for the time today. Really nice catching up. Looking forward to seeing you guys doing a lot of great stuff being us when you have cool projects, and maybe we bring them on the podcast as well and actually make case studies of them. And looking forward to having a beer also in the metaverse but also we realise that transition

ย 

Mikeย ย 

Wherever it's more suitable.ย 

ย 

Andrei Tiuย ย 

Thanks again, man! Rock it. Thank you guys for tuning in today and looking forward to catching up soon.

ย 

Mikeย ย 

It's been a pleasure guys and always remember to have fun!

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