Which exec role should guide the path to the metaverse?

Photo: Getty Images/jacoblund
May 17, 2022

Crate & Barrel Holdings last week revealed that Sebastian Brauer, who oversees product design, development and visual merchandising for the home goods chain, will take on additional responsibility for the company’s strategic vision of the future metaverse and Web3.

His new title is SVP for product design, development and metaverse.

“I am honored to take on this new, innovative role,” said Mr. Brauer, in a press release. “My passion leading teams to enable transformation — especially by bridging the physical and digital worlds through design thinking, collaboration and creativity — will allow us to explore new mediums, dimensions and technology to effectively introduce CBH to a new, modern and experiential marketplace.”

The appointment comes as companies of all stripes are realigning roles to approach the emerging metaverse opportunity.

In February, Disney promoted Mike White, formerly SVP of consumer experiences and platforms, to SVP, next generation storytelling & consumer experiences to lead its metaverse push. In announcing his appointment, CEO Bob Chapek described the metaverse as “next great storytelling frontier and the perfect place to pursue our strategic pillars of Storytelling Excellence, Innovation, and Audience Focus.”

Recent research from Forrester finds 76 percent of U.S. B2C marketing executives plan to invest in metaverse-related activities in 2022, despite only 34 percent of U.S. online adults being excited for what the metaverse will offer.

Forrester’s report offers considerations for relevant c-suite leaders when evaluating their investments in the metaverse:

  • CMOs should explore how their consumers want to engage with extended reality while keeping metaverse investments modest. Forrester wrote, “Brands must create a compelling value exchange with consumers or else face disinterest.”
  • CIOs and CTOs will need to plot hardware, software and other technology requirements to support future metaverse-style experiences. Forrester’s survey found “anywhere work” will be a priority within virtual-world solutions. 
  • Customer experience and design leaders should explore the metaverse’s potential for a new generation of customer experiences, such as “highly personalized and purpose-built” shopping experiences.
  • Digital business leaders should focus on core digital experiences that align with their consumers’ “access, comfort and preferences.” They should also examine how comfortable consumers are with extended reality.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Which c-suite function should guide metaverse strategy for retailers? What advice would you have about prioritizing c-suite responsibilities for and investments in the metaverse?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I truly believe that marketing-minded talent will see the true potential of the space beyond product."
"I think it should fall under a chief digital officer. While I don’t like the siloed nature of this role, this person would be more holistic in their view..."
"CXO if a brand has one is the logical place to start. I think it’s more about finding the right person vs. the right title to take it on."

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "Which exec role should guide the path to the metaverse?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dave Bruno

Crate & Barrel’s decision to appoint Mr. Brauer, head of product design and visual merchandising, to lead up metaverse strategy is an interesting choice. When I saw Tom’s headline for this discussion, my immediate reaction was that marketing or customer experience execs should lead metaverse investments. But perhaps Crate & Barrel is on to something, as I suspect how products come to life visually in the metaverse will play a significant role in determining retailing success there. I will be very interested to see how Crate & Barrel proceeds given this unique approach to leadership.

Neil Saunders

I think the metaverse is now being hyped to the point of silliness. All the more so because, in essence, the metaverse itself is just an extension and evolution of online – so it should be linked to that strategy rather than being a completely separate area of development for retailers.

Companies are right to be alert to it and to think about it, but I don’t think they need to rush headlong into it. This is especially true for Crate & Barrel whose brilliance lies in the physical realm with great products and great stores that stimulate all of the senses!

Bob Amster

The chief marketing officer should oversee the activities of retailers in the metaverse. The metaverse is enabled by technology but the technology is not the end objective. The objective is to first promote the retailer and its brand to the younger generations. If there is enough interest in the non-retail aspects of a retailer’s presence in the metaverse, then the next step is to leverage the brand recognition into generating real sales, of real products that can be picked-up in store or delivered, using a real currency. There is a great exposure to a retailer/brand in the metaverse and the reputation of the brand is also the responsibility of the chief marketer. CTOs and CIOs will be partners but not the end-users.

Brian Delp
6 months 22 days ago

It likely depends on the retailer format and goals. PacSun for example appears to be using the metaverse for branding efforts, whereas McDonald’s has filed patents for methods of real-world ordering delivery device. In PacSun’s positioning a CMO role makes more sense, but for McDonald’s perhaps a COO would, as logistics and supply chain are involved. Regardless of the goal, the senior tech team would also need to be involved. This new frontier hasn’t been mapped yet, so it will be interesting to see how it develops and the wide range of uses.

Evan Snively

CXO if a brand has one is the logical place to start. I think it’s more about finding the right person vs. the right title to take it on. Someone who is inspiring, curious, and willing to push a vision without a treasure trove of data to fall back on.

Lucille DeHart

As a marketing professional, I would selfishly vote on the CMO or CBO to lead this initiative. For some reason organizations relegate marketing to being more sales support than consumer and marketplace leadership. Marketing is really the driver of challenging the company and aligning with the consumer either through instinct or insights. Unlike the merchant approach, marketers are customer-centric first, not product first. They anticipate needs and are often ahead of actual reality. Think Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and even Elon Musk. By no means am I suggesting that other C-suite leadership is not focused on the consumer, but I truly believe that marketing-minded talent will see the true potential of the space beyond product. The metaverse will require a broad scope of knowledge across retail disciplines — how do you translate or create a new platform for engagement? Cross channel efforts will now embrace the 3-D environment and will require a seamless understanding of how the shopper experiences all aspects of the brand.

Liza Amlani

No matter what exec role guides the path to the metaverse, product should drive the customer experience no matter the channel. We should be moving away from siloed ways of thinking about channel and merchandising strategies. Customer experience should be embedded in product delight. The metaverse is just another channel in which to serve and engage with the customer which should be top of mind.

Chuck Ehredt

By default, I think the metaverse is just another channel – albeit potentially a huge one with decades of opportunity to influence company growth. However I think it is more important to put the right person in this role, rather than just allocate it to one departmental executive. In fact, I would go further to suggest that the CEO needs to have significant responsibility even if she/he lacks relevant experience for the simple reason that many departments in a company should be involved in defining, deploying, or operating in the metaverse. If one department has responsibility, the other departments may not be very supportive.

The metaverse is an area of investment that will require companies to be capital efficient over the long-term. Significant business beyond gaming is not going to materialize in the next year or two, but a company cannot wait to experiment. So they need to get started but burn a small enough amount of cash that risks are contained while ideas for possible expansion flourish.

Carol Spieckerman

Like most things in retail, it depends. For now, many retailers see the metaverse as a branding exercise, so tucking it under marketing makes sense. Crate & Barrel’s decision to add metaverse explorations to existing responsibilities demonstrates the cautious curiosity phase that many retailers are in now.

Raj B. Shroff

I think it should fall under a chief digital officer. While I don’t like the siloed nature of this role, this person would be more holistic in their view while understanding “digital” and “tech,” likely better than the CMO/COO roles.

Perhaps the CMO/COO would have people on their teams as part of a metaverse task force, creating provocations across the total value chain.

As for prioritization, I think you have to take the metaverse topic seriously, make sure key stakeholders are educated and understand the implications. Build relationships in the space, meet with key leaders in the industry MSFT, FB, NVDA, etc. Have executives experience anything and everything that’s happening. Bring aboard some junior stakeholders and give them access to senior leadership for “reverse” mentoring. Then do some small pilots, experiment, maybe those small pilots can be infused into existing parts of the business.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

It’s a hybrid role for sure, made up of an innovative and diverse team led by an individual with customer, product, merchandising and execution expertise, which has a seat at the C-Suite table.

Brad Halverson

It looks like the metaverse future for retail companies will be a mixed bag of branding, customer loyalty, merchandising, product and experiences. Yes, it’s yet another marketing channel. Beyond all that, it’s essentially about story telling, building and being creative with others.

A head of customer experience or a CMO with a multi-tool background in product, operations, digital or sales is the likely winner. To get it right, collaboration across multiple departments, a dose of enthusiasm and a willingness to share the wheel with others is ultimately a great path forward.

Anil Patel

Customer experience and design leaders can gauge their customers’ readiness for new digital technologies. Customers’ readiness is one of the most critical aspects of a new product launch because even the best technologies will fail if customers are unable to engage with them. Moreover, brands should begin incorporating metaverse in minor ways to familiarise customers with this new notion. These new introductions must add value to the customers’ lives or they will eventually phase out.

"I truly believe that marketing-minded talent will see the true potential of the space beyond product."
"I think it should fall under a chief digital officer. While I don’t like the siloed nature of this role, this person would be more holistic in their view..."
"CXO if a brand has one is the logical place to start. I think it’s more about finding the right person vs. the right title to take it on."

Take Our Instant Poll

Which of the following do you think would be best suited to take the lead in guiding metaverse strategies for retailers?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...