Step into the future and listen to newly appointed CMO, Michael Toner, for 3D/AR startup, Threedium share his marketing insights about taking over as CMO. We also dive into how the Threedium brand is creating a three dimensional virtual world for marketing and design embracing 3D and AR technology.
Michael Toner is the CMO of Threedium, a London based 3D/AR company that is building a SaaS platform that allows anyone to build 3D and AR experiences in a low code, no-code environment. He brings extensive experience from both the B2B & B2C marketing world having helped to build brands and leading innovative digital marketing programs over the last decade.
0:53 Megan Ingram (MI): I'm really excited to introduce this week's guest Michael Toner, who is the COO of 3D. A London based 3D AR company that is building a SaaS platform that allows anyone to build 3D and AR experiences in a low-code no-code event. He has extensive experience in both the B2B and B2C marketing worlds. Having helped to build brands and lead innovative digital marketing programs over the last decade. Most recently, he held the role of VP of Digital Strategy for Berkshire Hathaway's Businesswire where he guided the company's strategic marketing agenda globally. So glad to have you on the podcast, Mike, how's it going?
1:28 MT: It's going very, very well. Thank you so much for having me. Excited to be here.
1:31 MI: Yeah, I'm really excited to dive into all things, 3D AR. So, you know, before we get into some of the marketing big ideas in the world of 3D AR, I'd love for the audience to hear about your story as now a new CMO of Threedium, and a little about Threedium who's on the cutting edge of some really cool technology.
1:52 MT: Yeah, thanks. I'll try to give you my quick journey of how I've arrived here. I am about three months into my tenure as chief marketing officer. As you said, I spent the last 10 years of my career between Businesswire, Navy Federal, and Computer Science Corporation. I was in sales roles, web content management roles. When I left Navy Federal, I was running their entire digital marketing team. So web marketing, email marketing, paid social advertising. And I guess it was back in November of 2020. I was introduced to the founders of this company based in London. They were coming out of an incubator, with pre-series A funding and looking to expand their presence here in the United States. So I am officially, I believe employee number 28. I have taken the full dive into the startup world. It has been amazing. I'm loving the pace. And yeah, we are on the cutting edge of some really exciting technology and 3D publishing, the democratization of that technology and what that means for our users and augmented reality of how I can take those models and put them into AR experiences.
3:14 MI: Yeah, that's so awesome. And it is really cool when you get to dive into the startup world, it's a totally different environment from the, so to speak, bigger brands and even coming from the environment that you came from, I'm sure it's been fun at the same time.
3:29: MT: Absolutely.
3:31 MI: What have you done to get started and organized as the CMO of Threedium as you're diving into everything now?
3:39 MT: It's a great question because the team. They were really innovative and just getting started and getting their web presence stood up and getting these social channels and creating content. So for me, starting to evaluate those channels. I definitely started with the website and looking into Google analytics, what does the traffic look like? Where are folks coming from? What is tagged, what isn't tagged, are we using a tag manager and then expanding from there into the channels? So namely the big social channels for us, predominantly going to be LinkedIn, Instagram, with some lesser degree Facebook, and starting to figure out again, what does the community look like? What are people reacting to? What are they liking, sharing, commenting, and digging into those kinds of things? And then trying to synthesize it all into, is the messaging working? Do we have a message that resonates that lands and what needs to be tweaked? What needs to be optimized? That's one of the beautiful things I think of entering into an early stage company like this. We have an opportunity to shape the messaging and get really clear about it as we go. So that's been a lot of fun, but yeah, definitely start with the website analytics, deep dive into the social channels to try to figure out what's working.
5:10 MI: Talking a little bit about building a marketing team coming in as a new CMO. What is the ideal first hire as you think about building out your marketing team?
5:21 MT: I've just heard the conversations in the marketplace, the wider marketplace. This is like, what is that first marketing hire? Because effectively I'm a team of one and a half, right. I have maybe half a person's attention right now. So yeah, it's great to be the CMO, but part of my charter over the next 12-18 months is to start building out the team. So yes. Thinking about who that first person is, 12 months ago, I probably would have told you it's a designer hands down. It's a graphic design. Somebody who can crank out designs and, and get it out to market. I think that is not the right answer. My answer right now and what I'm really trying to evaluate is a true product marketer. Even in that, I am looking for someone who can study our users, study our existing users. Learn the product inside and out, be a power user, but also studying the wider market because this industry, maybe this is just specific to Threedium, where we're playing on this cutting edge of 3D and AR, but because the industry is still not as mature, perhaps as some other industries you could think of, somebody who is really keen to study the users. Brands are hiring for designers, digital artists, developers, people who can help them with their e-commerce catalogs. What problems are they hiring those people to solve? Because we have a solution that fits right into that, but trying to plug that into the wider market. And people talk about product market fit, but having somebody, a dedicated person as a product marketer who is skilled at studying our existing users, studying the market and synthesizing it all together into messaging for the product to that audience.
7:30 MI: Yeah. I love that answer because it is about the users. I always talk about social listening, right? It's about listening and getting a beat for what people are saying, what their need is and then responding to it.
7:43 MT: Yeah. I think the company has had a lot of traction, so Threedium’s got a lot of traction over the last two years, and we're at this point in our growth trajectory where we have traction and users who we can really start to tap into. Where are their friction points? Where are they getting stuck? What other problems do they want to solve? And through that traction, we've got now brands who have executed campaigns. Again, we can go back to those companies and start getting their feedback. What worked for you? What didn't, what can we do better and build it right back into the product to keep scaling and to keep growing.
8:29 MI (voiceover): Channel prioritization for small businesses and startups is one of my favorite topics. Too often, when you're working for one of these types of brands, you get caught up in this; we got to be everywhere. We've got to be on Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter, and Pinterest, and Tik Tok. And you run yourself rampant, trying to be everywhere and never really get good or build a community on any one of these channels. Figure out, where is my community? Do audience research, look at who the people are that I'm trying to connect with and where are they? That's where you should start as a small business and startup. And then you can build out into all these different channels, but it starts with picking one channel and your website, and really locking in on those things. And then you can grow from there.
9:17 MI: So taking that a little step further, I love hearing about the latest and greatest trends. Are there any trends that are speaking to you right now in the marketing technology space?
9:30 MT: Yeah. I'll take this one maybe at two levels. So trends in the marketing space because I'm a technology guy. I had AOL dial-up growing up. I started building websites probably when I was 12, 13, 14, somewhere around there. I read TechCrunch every morning. That gives you some indication I study and keep track of what's going on in the marketing trends landscape. So I'll take it there and then I'll go to the 3D trend and what's really applicable for Threedium. One big one is the highly specialized tools set that's emerging in the marketing space. So tools like Gong that do a very specific thing. Tools like User Leap, doing micro surveys. So one question at a time based on a user's activity, tools that are about getting actionable analytics so Areebee is another one, and I'm just seeing this trend of highly specialized marketing tools designed to drive actionable outcomes, that's a big trend. And so highly specialized tools is one. Another one is the collision of sales and marketing tools. None better than HubSpot to demonstrate marketing automation platforms. Hubspot is known. They cornered the market on marketing automation, but they're slowly demonstrating and flexing their muscle in the ability to just be a pure sales CRM, to have that central record of a customer to put it back on the users. And so that's another big trend. It's always been there, but the collision or more integration of the sales and marketing tools.
11:34 MI (voiceover): The alignment of sales and marketing is so critical when you're talking about any type of conversion or lead generation focus campaign. Marketing and sales don't operate in silos. Those two teams have to constantly be working together. And too often we see marketing over here, sales over here, not working together, not collaborating, not thinking about those things as one cohesive marketing program. If you want to do marketing right or sales right, you want to create actionable outcomes. Those two teams have to be working in unison. They have to be talking to each other. They have to be thinking about those things in alignment. Otherwise your sales will suffer.
12:21 MT: It's almost, it's almost how those tools are being marketed. That's a meta level of they're being sold to both the sales and marketing teams.
12:32 MI: And I cannot go out there because we do a lot of paid social execution and there's an increased focus on bringing that world into what happens in the sales world, and how you integrate those teams and how you can be better communicated and how all the things that you do, even from an engagement standpoint on social can translate into ROI and sales and all these great things.
12:55 MT: I think what you're picking up on there too, is the vendors, the service providers, the software, all these tools that I'm talking about. They're realizing that inside of all those companies, there's this big initiative about the alignment of sales and marketing about how leads flow through a pipeline. So all of a sudden the vendors on the other side of that equation have to now line up to that from a lead gen perspective. It is about the marketing side and getting that brand attention, recognition, bringing people into your world, moving them through a sales cycle, engaging with them, building the relationship. And so the vendors now have to do that for the companies in partnership with them as well. That's another big trend that the third one I'll take at a really high level is just marketing trends around creating experiences. So even B2B companies that are sort of pretending to be masquerading as consumer brands, Gong - really good example, love UDI. I love what they're doing over there. There are no buts. It's there. They're sharing fun stuff on social. They're very much a consumer brand as a B2B company. And part of that is the experience that they're creating. That is a massive macro trend of brands, really conscious of whether you're B2B or B2C. It doesn't really matter. At the end of the day. What experiences are you creating for your users at all times?
14:30 MI: And I think that one gets interesting, as you get generational too, look at the gen Z's and the millennials and how they want, crave, and need different experiences and are looking for that side of experiential marketing.
14:45 MT: I listened to the interview that you did with Alicen Lewis or Samantha Arbenathey on gaming and marketing and some of those executions there on Twitch. At the early stage, I think the story was most brands would just run to get an influencer to play the game, but the really smart brands thought through the strategy of how to involve everyone watching, not moving beyond that, to creating an end game experience for everybody. That's where I can start to pull this into. Those are my big marketing trends, then in my world now here at Threedium. We're helping brands to use 3D and augmented reality to create those immersive product experiences.
15:38 MI (voiceover): Can't talk about creating immersive experiences without talking about generational insights. This is one where it gets so interesting when you start breaking it down and looking at gen Z, millennial, gen X, and how each of these different age groups looks at experiences differently. One of the things that we undoubtedly know is that millennials prefer experiences over owning things and it's become a cliche. Everyone knows it. Gen Z generally prefers things over experiences except when they happen to be exclusive and immersive experiences. As we're thinking about what is the role that marketing technology is going to play in the future, you need to look at who your audience is, what age group do you define them? Because when you start looking and breaking it down by those different age groups, gen X, gen Z, millennial, how they view experiences is very different and how you're going to have to market to them is very different.
16:46 MT: If customers can't be in stores and haven't been in stores over the last year, if you can't touch the physical product, if you can't go in the store and try it on, what's the next best thing, and that leads you to AR. So you can see it in your space, so you can take that watch or that handbag or that backpack and put it on your table or set it on your bed and see what it looks like. I do a pair of shoes or see what it looks like sitting on your shelf from the AR side. And that creates this really powerful connection between the buyers and the brands. They feel like they've experienced the product and now they want to buy it. That and virtual try-on, was the other piece I was going to go to with creating experiences. So if you can't be in the store, AR is one way to do it. Another way is VTO, right? Like trying on shoes from the comfort of your home. And that's really where Threedium has just gotten an exciting trajectory of our ability to help brands create those type of immersive product experiences, put it on their e-commerce shop, put it in their social channels and use it across there, even in store activations where you can unlock an AR experience. It's really cool stuff.
18:15 MI: Awesome. I definitely want to segue now into the world of 3D and AR, you touched on a little bit of it there. What does it feel like to see a campaign come alive with 3D configurations?
18:30 MT: Great question. This is all new to me. Hopefully you can hear the excitement in my voice. When I started talking about this stuff, it's pretty new to me. I've never designed a video game. I've never created a 3D model. What I did try was Oculus. I think it was about four years ago. They did a Facebook pop-up right up inside of a union market in Washington, DC. They had this little pop-up where you could step into this box. They had dropped a shipping container. I don't know if you saw this and you could put an Oculus and I was inside a basketball game. So I literally put on this headset, I stepped into this trailer looking thing, this Facebook branded little pop up, and I'm standing in front of LeBron James. And you can look up and you see him and then you look down the court and you immediately feel like you're on the basketball court about to go one-on-one with LeBron. And I think I can now point to that moment as a pretty pivotal moment for me, somebody who grew up on the internet, somebody who's seen web 1.0, web 2.0, and then to feel like I was inside of this environment. I think Oculus has a long way to go. Brands are still trying to figure it out, but to see a 3D and AR campaign come to life when our customers see their watch or their shoes or their bag. And I go to those items because that's what a lot of brands have started with. Apparel-type products that they're already selling on e-commerce shops. And when we show it to them in 3D and you can swirl around it, that behavior on a phone is very natural for people. People are almost there I mean, you could probably think back, you've probably touched, had a picture on your phone just to see the product, to see are there other images on something you're about to buy on Amazon or whatever cart you're using at the time, but the moment somebody does that and all of a sudden they can zoom in on the item and they can see the textures and see the colors, or even configure the colors. That's where some of this 3D stuff gets really cool. And the ability to change immediately. Oh, I want to see the blue one. I want to see the green one and have the product render exactly that option right there on the screen. It is really cool to see that come to life, to see - I'm geeking out. But one of the things that makes what we're doing so special is our ability to retain the fidelity of the product itself. So using a combination of photogrammetry, actually measuring the distance between the camera and the object to then create a 3D model and then taking the actual picture, the image and layering it back onto the model. That means that the asset is lossless. If it's a shoe and it's a leather shoe and there's texture in the leather, as long as that texture is captured in the image, it's going to appear in a one-to-one match with its virtual twin, which I could go down a whole nother rabbit hole and start talking about digital twins and what that looks like in the metaverse. But yeah, back to your original question it's magical to see these three 3D AR campaigns come to life. And I think our clients are seeing that from their customers as well.
22:22 MI (voiceover): I don't want to geek out too much here because the topic of 3D, AR, AI is really interesting to me. And we're talking about some really cool stuff here. But I think that it's really interesting how different brands, especially when you look at industries like the sports industry and the fashion industry have used this type of technology to create customizable and immersive experiences with their customers. I'm one that is constantly out there surprised and awed. Looking at the new ways that brands are thinking about using this. I think, more than anything else, I would encourage you to pay attention to this stuff, because it's really interesting. It is going to have an impact on our industry, and I'm just incredibly excited to see where it goes.
23:25 MI: Have you ever doubted the impact that 3D and AR would have on marketing design?
23:28: MT: No, I think the pandemic has absolutely expedited the need, the brand need for these kinds of solutions. The challenge right now is. How do you quickly create one-to-one with reality? If I need anything. I'm looking around on my desk. I've got a remote, I've got a desk stand holding up folders. I have a notebook. I have a mouse, all these physical things. If all of a sudden I need to recreate them as a digital asset, as a 3D object. How fast can brands do that? How quickly can they create those? And that's where we are really trying to, as I started out, striving, trying to democratize that ability to create those 3D models at scale. Whereas in the past that has been an unachievable state. It was cost prohibitive. You needed a thousand cameras in a specialized studio and you don't need that anymore. So, bringing to market at ease, that's the challenge, but doubting its impact, no.
24:41 MI: Do you find that when people come to you, they have questions or they're typically like there's certain parts of it that maybe they're more doubting or more unsure of than another?
25:02 MT: It's a great question. I came in three months ago thinking and even as an outsider, observing the market, that there was a certain level of market maturity that brands knew or had the imagery required or the models to render these kinds of experiences. And what I've learned is that it just runs the spectrum. You've got some brands that have taken a digital-first approach to how they create their products. This goes to a whole, another cool place around sustainability and brands that have taken this digital first design approach before manufacturing. And then all of a sudden they've got everything they need. Versus other brands who have not taken that approach, that are relying on 2D imagery for their e-commerce or just haven't stepped into this 3D and AR world yet. And we're coaching them through that where we're partnering with them to really help push the whole industry forward. But yeah, it just runs the spectrum of market maturity. I think that's a fair answer.
26:15 MI: Okay. Taking that a step further. How do people react when they realize their project can be turned into this really cool three-dimensional world before they even make a decision?
26:26 MT: I'll go back to one of the interviews that you did and was talking about Twitch and the activations and companies having long-term strategies. That's where I think there are some brands that are just excited about, oh yeah, we want to put this in 3D, and we want to put it up on our e-commerce shop. Let's go. And we do that. And then there are other brands that are thinking strategically about how they step into this world and what its long-term impacts are going to be for their overall brand experience. This week, Gucci did its partnership with roadblocks to sell one of the first NFTs inside of a metaverse. Well, they have a long-term strategy. I can assure you that they're playing the long game here with what this new 3D AR virtual world metaverse is going to look like. We can go down the NFT rabbit hole if it makes sense of how brands are thinking about using that blockchain technology to put these assets on the blockchain and now use them in metaverses, but yeah, I guess. Helping brands come up with that strategy is something that agencies are going to be well-equipped to help because while we are really positioned to help create the assets, to render these 3D and AR models to publish them on their website, we're engine powering that. We're not at this point, helping brands put together the full campaign about how to go market it. You could put a QR code on an out-of-home advertisement and all of a sudden turn that board into an augmented reality experience. That'd be super cool. I think agencies are going to be the ones to really lead the long-term strategy of how this stuff gets used in the market.
28:38 MI: I'll say going back to some of my bigger agency experiences like five years ago, this was even like a big thing. You talked about your Oculus experience. They were bringing people even five years ago. Hey, look at this cool thing, what we're doing, like you're saying, agencies are very keen. It's something that they want to be ahead of, especially as you start looking to the future.
28:59 MI (voiceover): For those out there, that doubt. AR BR AI or maybe you are thinking, Hey, I'm not sure how this is applicable to me. I'll leave you with a few augmented reality stats. One, the AR market is projected to be worth over 8 billion in 2023 according to Statista. And by 2022, there should be around 3.5 billion AR users. This is an industry with an incredible amount of buzz around it right now. In my opinion, there is a lot of growth potential here. And I think as marketers, we should really be paying attention to the trends around this particular topic. As it relates to personalization, customization, and experiences, we've all seen this year, how important it is to be authentic, to be experiential, to listen to our customers. And I think what's going on in this space and the trends around here are just some incredibly cool and definitely noteworthy topics.
30:07 MT: Yeah. And I think that those announcements last week from Snapchat and even at the Google IO conference, they announced a lot of new developer kits and year by year. I mean VR is not new, it's been around, I think AR becoming more and more ubiquitous because now you can use it through the browser on your phone and then you couple that with the resurgence of the QR code during the pandemic, and all of a sudden these quick links can now render in the browser. And that's how you're seeing brands load these AR experiences. But the cost, again, I'll come back to that impediment in the past was the cost associated, the equipment required, the computing power wasn't there to render these kinds of experiences. Whereas now everyone's got a modern phone with a sophisticated browser and you start getting into the iPhone twelves that have LIDAR sensors on the back to really map the environment. The technology again I'm geeking out a little bit, but the Apple Air Tag announcements from a couple of weeks ago that has big implications for retailers and physical spaces, to be able to map the surroundings, to understand what's in the space. This is a computer, is this a shelf, is this a book. They're called air tags. If you put them on your devices, don't lose them. That's one function, but it's only one function because they have this ultra wide band sensor in them. So they're essential little beacons that are going to be out there in the world, mapping their surroundings, then layer on the AR piece. The vision of I'm standing outside the pizza shop and I get a text message with a coupon. People used to talk about, you're walking down the mall and it would send you a quick, Hey, pop into this store. Those were always the things you saw. Well, so much more is possible, to know where somebody is, to use that location-based information to then create an augmented experience wherever they are. Like that's really heavy stuff, but that's why agencies are so keen to stay on top of this. Once that is out in the wild, you can do anything. You can create any environment you want at any time in any location.
32:42 MI: Yeah, Well said, and I agree with you. Five years ago it felt like how do you bring this into like an activation? How do you get, how do you actually work with it in a real marketing situation? But I feel like we're getting closer and closer and closer to that point where you can see how in applications, not just the sports world or wherever but in B2C that it can extend to some of these really cool use cases.
33:09 MT: Yeah, and use cases that I can't even go down this rabbit hole. Trying to think about all these use cases and there's just going to be some that I haven't even gotten to yet. The other announcement, I know I've referenced the Snapchat announcement, that they are going back to a new version of the AR lenses. They made the big splash, probably been about two or three years now with the Snapchat lenses. They had the kiosks, those little pop-up kiosks all over the world, where if you found one, I think they were a hundred bucks, and you had to pay for it and swipe your credit card on the machine. But it was a vending machine to buy the glasses this time around as they come out with the next version that they said they're only giving them to a small number of people. There's not going to be a vending machine. The reason I think that's important is that a lot of these big brands are leading hardware technology. They're about to nail it, you know? And, and so is Apple, these AR glasses air view from Apple are coming, they have unveiled a bunch of patents even in the past two months. So if you follow Apple patent lead, they start purging is not the right word, but disclosing all of their patent technology as they are about to come to market. And these AR lenses. I think at WWDC here in another couple of weeks, we should hear what the timeline looks like?
34:33 MI: Thinking a little bit more towards the future and what this is going to look like in the future. Do you think that running marketing in these virtual worlds will be easier due to the tools being available more regularly as we're becoming part of mainstream advertising practices?
35:02 MT: I think it just gets more complicated. Running these kinds of campaigns. Starting to think about if you can create any experience, anywhere, at any time in an augmented world, just a lot, a lot of levels there to market or for a marketer to solve for, right. Solving for the real world, the physical space that you're in. So, the shopping mall, if it's advertising or even if it's online, the way we typically browse the web or the way we have browsed the web for the last 10 years, all of a sudden, if I can click a link and I go into a metaverse, I go into a virtual store. Now I can market there, as well. It can look a lot different or it could be the same, but have some different outcomes, some different call to action, as opposed to buying the thing. Maybe, playing the game, I don't know. So it gets more complicated. The other thing is, I touched on NFTs, but I think inside of these virtual worlds ownership gets really complicated. Who owns the assets inside of these worlds? That's from a marketing perspective, it's a difficult one to even go down on. I don’t want to open that can of worms, yeah, I don't think that marketing gets easier. It just gets more complicated, more levels to solve for and more channels. There you go. I mean, there's the punchline. It's another, yet another channel of what marketers have to take on.
36:50 MI: Well, last question to wrap it up, as we look to the second half of 2021, I can't believe it. What's on your to-do list to get done before the end of the year?
37:04 MT: I’ll go back to the question about the first hire. I’m thinking about that product market fit. I think for me, as I continue personally to learn the industry around 3D and AR, I think getting the messaging right. And then translating that message into a new web design to make sure that our website explains what we do, well, to the people who are using our services, because I think that we've solved what we do well, but I think from a messaging perspective, I want to really hone in on making sure that that's well optimized and well-communicated on our website.
37:49 MI: Awesome.
37:50 MT: So, one big thing to get done before the end of the year will be a website redesign.
37:52 MI: Well, I'm really excited to see where everything goes for you and Threedium. Really appreciate you coming on the show today. Where can people find you?
38:09 MT: I'd say Twitter is probably my best place. DM me on Twitter. I'm @MikeToner. Um, I'm on Instagram @MikeToner, but it's mostly just pictures of my kids. So it's not not the technology stuff. If you're into 3D AR DM me on Twitter is probably the best place. And then Threedium. It's a.co.uk. Check out some of the models that we're doing. And following us on LinkedIn is probably the best place to see the latest and greatest of what we're publishing.
38:37 MI: Great. We’ll definitely check them out and again, glad to have you on today.
38:39 MT: Thank you so much, I appreciate it.
38:40 MI: No problem.