Las Vegas—The metaverse is arguably the retail buzzword of the year.
JCK’s keynote Friday morning, titled “Web3 is Coming—Navigating the Past, Present, and Future of Retail,” was led by speaker Swan Sit.
Sit is the former global head of digital marketing at Nike, Estée Lauder, and Revlon.
She took a deep dive into hot topics like Web3, blockchain, and NFTs, but centered the conversation around using these tools to build a community and creating brand loyalty.
“Web1 was ‘go look at the dot-com site.’ Web2 was social, where you can look and comment back. But Web3 is a collaborative conversation we’re moving into,” she said.
Looking to explain a complex topic in a more accessible way, Sit shared several anecdotes throughout this session, but one about her work with beauty brand Elizabeth Arden was a standout.
Unlike on-trend beauty brands—think Glossier and Charlotte Tilbury—Elizabeth Arden was a brand one could find on their grandmother’s vanity.
Turning it cool and Insta-worthy was a tall order and Sit said she put her career on the line by taking some risks to make the brand more relevant.
As it turns out, Elizabeth Arden’s founder and namesake was ahead of her time in some respects. She was a women’s right activist and marched with the suffragettes. She created a “Victory Red” lipstick in the 1940s for women in the military. She was also the first woman to be featured on the cover of Time magazine.
Arden died in 1966 but Sit brought her back to life in a digital form, revamping the brand’s Instagram to show posts from Arden’s first-person perspective, as if she were alive today.
She recruited “friends” for Elizabeth Arden, like comedian Chelsea Handler and fashion icon Iris Apfel.
Sit’s risk paid off, with Elizabeth Arden posting growth for ten consecutive quarters following the campaign. The brand was later bought by Revlon.
Elizabeth Arden’s products were always present in the campaign’s photos and videos, but they were secondary to the conversations between “Liz” and her friends.
“If we’re lucky enough to build a community that grows, treating them like a community and not followers is a really massive difference,” said Sit. “It’s becoming a two-way street.”
The point of the campaign wasn’t to push product, but to connect to the audience using a digital medium. The opportunities to do that will likely only increase as metaverse technology continues to flourish.
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Sit reminded the audience that while the term “metaverse” is new, the idea of a digital world a user can walk around in is as old as video games.
She recalled explaining the metaverse and what an avatar is to an older man at a social event. The conversation ended in embarrassment when he cut her off to say he knew exactly what an avatar was, because he was the creator of the popular game “Second Life,” which uses avatars to take players through a digital world.
Tech terms can throw non-tech-savvy people for a loop, however.
While the jewelry world may have a knack for marketing, said Sit, the tech industry isn’t as good at coming up with catchy terms to describe concepts like non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
She explained NFTs as “a unique record on blockchain.”
Even those who understand what an NFT is can have trouble wrapping their heads around the value prospect, though. An example is the Bored Ape Yacht Club, an NFT collection built on the Ethereum blockchain. It features pictures of cartoon apes, and they sell for millions of dollars.
“How could a jpeg be worth millions of dollars?” she posed to the audience.
Then she asked those in attendance to open the camera roll on their phones and hold up a favorite photo.
Now, she said, imagine all of those photos, images of friends, family, pets, vacations, etc., just disappeared, and how upsetting that would be.
Non-tangible, digital-only images can hold enormous value, she concluded.
Sit also discussed the opportunities available to the jewelry industry through these tech innovations, especially blockchain.
Authenticating luxury goods and following antique and estate jewelry from owner to owner were two interesting possibilities mentioned.
JCK offered another metaverse-focused session later that afternoon.
Oliver Maroney, general manager of Web3 and NFTs at Cameo, led a session titled “Relevance—NFTs & Web3.”