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Merging the Metaverse with Licensing: How Virtual Consumer Retail is Becoming Today’s Reality

Anna Knight, senior vice president, licensing, Informa Markets, interviews Justin Hochberg, chief executive officer, Virtual Brand Group.

Anna Knight

August 23, 2022

5 Min Read
Justin Hochberg.
Justin Hochberg.Virtual Brand Group

The metaverse continues to make waves throughout all aspects of the business world, especially in licensing and branding. Fashion, beauty and various forms of retail are joining in on the metaverse action; virtual fashion retail spaces have been created on platforms like Roblox, which allows a completely new and unique shopping experience. 

According to NASDAQ, an emerging trend in the retail world is using virtual reality to test out products, such as trying on clothes in a virtual store, having avatars model certain brands in the metaverse and consumers purchasing NFTs that can turn into physical items via 3D printing. In fact, some organizations like Obsessar are putting together virtual malls for a one-of-a-kind shopping experience where consumers can test products from the comfort of their homes. 

I had the pleasure of chatting with Justin Hochberg, chief executive officer, Virtual Brand Group, to discuss how he’s integrated the metaverse into his clients’ everyday experiences with their products and marketing, and how he plans to combat the biggest challenges this ever-evolving digital world faces. Justin will speak of his experiences during his session “Metaverse in Action: Converting Buzz to Consumer Purchase” at Brand & Licensing Innovation Summit in New York City at Convene New York. Secure your pass for the Nov. 8-9 event by registering here

Related:First Wave of Speakers Confirmed for B&LIS Innovation North America

Anna: Tell us about yourself. We’d love to hear about you and your company’s role in the licensing industry. 

Justin: I am the CEO of the Virtual Brand Group, the world’s largest metaverse brand licensing company. We work with global companies across retail, beauty, entertainment and fashion to build their metaverse businesses. This means we do two things: we advise brands how to create their metaverse strategy and go-to-market plan, second we also license their IP to build and operate their metaverse business across all platforms and technologies. We have created new virtual merchandise products, games on Roblox, rewards programs and are even working on branded virtual casinos. 

Virtual Brand Group is most publicly known for launching Forever 21 on Roblox, which has become the case study featured across over 50 publications, research reports and several books on how to launch virtual retail. Recently, we launched Barbie’s first-ever virtual fashion line. However, one accomplishment I’m most proud of is winning Licensing International’s “Best Digital Product” last May, which was the first-ever metaverse product to win.  

I’ve always been deeply involved in the brand licensing business. For over two decades, I have assisted brands to leverage new technologies, create revenue streams and tell their story in new ways. I got my start by building a $1 billion brand franchise for NBC’s “The Apprentice.” Since the invention of TV, brands have always been a part of the medium, but more as an on-set placement or integration (think a soda can sitting on a desk). My innovation was to reverse that and make the show about the inner workings of how a brand creates its product, markets the product and sets it up for success. Once that became wildly successful, we realized we were creating products on the show. I then created a licensing program to take what was created on TV and let brands sell them in the real world. For example, during one episode of “The Apprentice,” contestants built competing Staples desk organizers. The winning product was sold nationally and generated over $40 million at retail in its first year. 

Can you speak to the leading challenges the industry is facing right now? 

There are three big challenges the industry is facing now. First is understanding the transformational shift to the metaverse and its possibilities for brands with regards to product design, development and sustainability. Imagine a world with no supply chain issues or zero marginal costs per sale. That’s what is happening right now.  

Second, IP holders should understand the entire new business models developing, take advantage of products not being fixed, or products being sold only once, like a lunchbox. However, these products evolve over time. An exciting aspect with bigger revenue innovation is a brand can now generate revenue every single time its product is sold in its lifetime. Right now, a brand earns money when it’s sold at wholesale or retail. When it becomes a collector’s item or is resold, you don’t know about it, nor do you receive a penny. The metaverse enables a brand to profit for every single transaction. 

Third, where will the next IP come from? Giant brands like Disney and gaming companies will always have a place in the ecosystem, but this new technology enables the “long tail.” Most creators don’t have massive infrastructures to create new IPs in a fast, cheap and international manner that is highly valuable for the licensing industry. How do you find that? What deals do you make? These are the questions that we answer working with our brand clients. 

What drew you to speak at B&LIS this year?  

I can’t think of a place that has got more potential business for VBG anywhere in the world than among the licensing community, which is smart and actively looking for new ways to find new business opportunities – that’s what makes B&LIS special. 

Could you share a brief preview of your session? 

My session will cover how to enter the metaverse today. I will share the top 4 mistakes VBGI have made, with data and case studies from Forever 21, Barbie and a few new things that we haven’t announced yet. I will offer practical guides so when you leave our conversation, you’ll know what to do the very next day and how to work with your brands and management to help them understand the massive possibilities here. 

Secure your pass for the Nov. 8-9 event by registering here.

About the Author(s)

Anna Knight

Anna Knight is the Vice President of the Global Licensing Group. She has worked for Informa Markets (formerly UBM) for 10 years, most recently holding the position of event director for Brand Licensing Europe, the continent’s leading brand licensing event

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