Makers of The Metaverse: Dan Wallace-Brewster Of Scalefast On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Be everywhere your customer is. This includes social media, in-person, virtual goods, and more. Be educated with advancements in technology but be sure to not act too quickly. These changes should be thoroughly thought through and implemented with the utmost of quality in order to protect the consumer experience and overall brand.
The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Wallace-Brewster.
Dan Wallace-Brewster is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Scalefast, the leader in end-to-end digital commerce solutions. Dan leads the public relations, creative, content and lead generation engines for the company as it accelerates an already-exponential growth curve. In his role as SVP, he deployed a new marketing and technology stack to ensure multi-touch attribution and increased funnel velocity and accountability for maximum ROI.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
Sure. I joined Scalefast in 2020 after serving as the SVP of Marketing and Digital Commerce at Planet Blue, a shopping destination for boho styles in the aughts. I led the integration of digital into the brand’s cross-channel sales and marketing operations. Before joining Planet Blue, I was the principal of Marketing Endeavors Consulting, bringing close to three decades of integrated marketing experience to a portfolio of CPG, retail and technology clients. My background includes sports and event marketing for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the University of Southern California, B2B lead generation, corporate communications and leading B2C digital marketing strategies.
I earned my MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship as well as a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations from the University of Southern California and currently live in Redondo Beach, CA with my wife and two kids.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I’m enjoying the Pivot podcast by Scott Galloway and Kara Swisher. They bring a healthy skepticism to tech and its role in the economy and society.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
My account team and I went to visit a client in the Bay Area, a daytrip from our Los Angeles office. The client happened to sell adult toys. When you work in eCommerce, similar principles apply to all businesses, but this client had unique challenges navigating ad restrictions, retargeting, and other privacy issues you would expect for any adult products. They were appreciative of our work and gave us each “goodie” bags to take home. Since we didn’t check luggage, the chuckle that the TSA x-ray operator had over three consecutive passengers was priceless.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I had two former bosses who helped me immensely early in my career. Gerry McGoldrick hired me in my first formal eCommerce role. When I look back, I knew so little about the industry, and it took a lot of faith that I would pick it up quickly. The other mentor would be Michael Wang, my former CEO who after I got a little high and mighty, knocked me down a few pegs while still giving me a chance to redeem myself in the company. Outside of having children, there has never been an experience that went further toward making me a better leader.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?
First and foremost, we’ve reached a tipping point for user adoption of these technologies. Broadband and phone advancements have brought VR, AR and MR end points to people’s pockets. That has generated the critical mass needed for the market to develop hardware and software that continues to push innovation forward.
Second, and most relevant to me, is that innovation is leaking from gaming and entertainment into more routine use cases, like shopping. Only a few years ago, most stores’ sales were limited to the foot traffic that could physically walk through their doors. Even with the expansion of eCommerce, there was a significant gap between what shoppers could experience and learn about a product online vs. in a store. AR and MR are closing that gap and, in some ways, enhancing the overall shopping experience online and offline. Further, VR is establishing an entirely new channel for shopping that will not only expand the experience but expand product catalogs beyond what we have ever even conceived.
The third thing I’m excited about is the potential for product personalization. Traditional manufacturing makes unique or limited designs extremely expensive. As more of our experience takes place in an augmented or virtual reality, DIY digital enhancements to every day products put more creative power than ever in the hands of customers.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the VR, AR and MR industries? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
An important consideration when it comes to these technologies is the abundance of personal information that brands have a responsibility to protect. For example, when a customer utilizes virtual try-on through their virtual assistant or even facial recognition to unlock their phone, details about their body, face, eye movements, and speech are observed — elements of biometric data which uniquely identifies a person. Companies may use that data for a variety of purposes such as retrieving insights into customer’s interests and preferences, raising concerns over how these companies are storing data and whether such data could be compromised or sold. Brands like Sephora and Louis Vuitton have already been caught in legal battles over data privacy laws for their virtual try-on features, so brands should be aware of the local and national laws before implementing any biometric data capturing technology. Also, any privacy policies should be reviewed for inclusion of biometric data.
The next thing I would caution against is distracting or disrupting core business objectives for the sake of ancillary technology. Any innovation should be used to augment a brand’s value proposition, not replace it. Test small and learn. Prices will drop while technology and user adoption improves.
I think the entertainment aspects of VR, AR and MR are apparent. Can you share with our readers how these industries can help us at work?
Work-from-home has had a halo effect of globalizing teams. Augmented and virtual reality are key players in opening the restrictive nature of remote communication and collaboration in the workplace. AR, VR, and MR have the power to create highly immersive communication experiences between employers, employees, and clients, and in many industries this level of communication is imperative to uphold the highest quality of work and relationships between peers. For example, a virtual watercooler could be where employees from all around the world chat about the latest episode of “The Bachelor.” Communication between team members that was once taking place in the real world and has since migrated to Slack and could be enhanced by Avatars or even holograms in the near future. It seems trivial, but simulated human interaction is better than none at all.
Companies like ScopeAR are using this technology to show users how they can actively interact and collaborate with each other in real-time, particularly in the industrial and healthcare fields where assistance can be provided and displayed onto the users’ field of vision, using AR to overlay digital information on top of pictures.
The past two years have provided many challenges for the future of work but have also propelled it forward. Alternate realities can play a significant role in the way that we interact with colleagues and employees and these technologies are ever improving, bringing us closer to a seamless and well-connected work experience.
Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?
Our realities are increasingly becoming augmented, virtual, and mixed, creating an immersive and engaging world around us. It’s important for brands to be aware of the trends and developments that are specifically relevant to their business. We are on the verge of an entirely new form of blended reality which will radically change the way humans interact and transact.
These new technologies have the potential to shape how we imagine, design and create, not to mention experience, everything from shopping and gaming to attending and enjoying events, virtual trainings and learning experiences. Consequently, these everyday experiences backed by augmented and virtual reality technology will be more convenient and at our fingertips than ever before, and each will be laced with personalization and customization to the individual and their needs and preferences. Soon the days of window shopping and indecisiveness as consumers could be a distant memory, as brands and businesses will be able to serve us exactly what we want when we want it.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in the AR, VR, and MR industries? Can you explain what you mean?
I think there is has been a demonization of using customer data in retail — as if it’s being used for the nefarious purpose of selling people things they don’t want. That may be the case in rare instances, but most tracking of customer behavior is to help customers find what they want faster. If you could walk into a virtual store and know that it was custom designed and merchandised specifically for you, would you? Would you be willing to fill out a survey of your likes and preferences to enable that store’s design? I’m a marketing guy, but my sense is that most people below the age of 50 would say yes. These generations have grown up with the Internet and understand that it is a dynamic environment that can only evolve with input from its users, whether that be responses to a formal survey or responses to real-time behaviors like clicks or mouse-movements.
I think the next big myth is that Web3 and the metaverse began with Meta’s re-brand. Consumers have been interacting in virtual worlds for years through their gaming platforms. The only thing that’s new is a vision where virtual worlds are mainstream enhancements to everyday experiences outside of video games. The tipping point will be the cost of hardware coming down far enough for a more households to enjoy enhanced AR and VR experiences beyond what they can already do on their phone.
What are your “5 Things You Need to Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?”
- Be adaptable. Technology always changes so brands must adapt along with it. When the pandemic hit, brands turned online and those that could not make the switch were affected negatively. Now, in 2022, brick-and-mortar has seen a recent uptick, and more people are wanting an immersive, personalized experience with a heightened sense of sustainability. Brands must understand their unique customer needs alongside these changing technologies.
- Educate your customer on AR, VR, and MR. As relayed in the metaverse research by Scalefast, many folks are uneducated on the possibilities these technologies provide. Brands should find creative ways to dive into the conversation and show customers how participation can improve their experience and ultimately their lives. This education will create a foundational framework which brands can leverage for product offerings down the road.
- Understand your full customer journey from start to finish. Utilizing AR, VR, and MR to not only provide a seamless cross-channel experience, but to understand the type of purchaser your target is, how they are persuaded to visit and or purchase your store, what type of payment options they need, and more is essential for the success of any business, especially when it comes to retail. The value of using these technologies in exactly the way your customer needs allow brands and retailers to provide a smooth shopping experience no matter where someone is, physically and financially.
- The work begins in-house. While using this technology to increase sales and revenue by focusing on the consumer needs is great, there are so many opportunities to implement technologies that better the experience at work for employers and employees. The industries of travel, retail and education can all greatly benefit from the accuracy of informative 3D renderings and digital environments. The presence of AR, VR and MR here can allow employees to train and learn remotely, higher-ups to identify holes and missed opportunities between staff and consumer, and to see models of the products before they sell them all from the comfort of their own homes — thus allowing staff to stay safe indoors, know the consumer journey back and front, and decrease missed conversion opportunities.
- Be everywhere your customer is. This includes social media, in-person, virtual goods, and more. Be educated with advancements in technology but be sure to not act too quickly. These changes should be thoroughly thought through and implemented with the utmost of quality in order to protect the consumer experience and overall brand.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d love to start an “anti-perfectionist “movement. It’s more than being inclusive, a movement that’s well underway. It’s about not letting perfection get in the way of the good. With our society so polarized, people need to remind themselves that every journey begins with a single step and that success only comes after overcoming mistakes.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them!
As a storyteller, I have a lot of admiration for Jon Stewart. Not only did he help create a machine for talented comedians like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, John Oliver, Samantha Bea and Michael Che, but he and his writers had an innate ability to break down very complex topics into short, easy-to-digest segments that made the news entertaining and inspiring at the same time. His thought-provoking style is now being emulated across television and plays a significant role in inspiring actions and movements that define a generation.
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!