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Navigating XR with We Are PHASE2’s Samantha Wolfe

Alan – and XRIgnite — isn’t the only XR shepherding game in town! Samantha Wolfe — who co-authored Marketing New Realities with previous XR for Business guest Cathy Hackl — drops by to share her own insights on how best to help brands, businesses, and campaigns venture into the XR minefield, and come out the other end unscathed.

Alan: Today’s guest is Samantha Wolfe, managing partner at we are PHASE2. Samantha is a marketing and branding strategist, focused on making “never done before” a reality. Sam is a co-author of the book “Marketing New Realities: An Introduction to Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Marketing, Branding, and Communications,” and is a contributing author to Charlie Fink’s book “Convergence: How the World Will Be Painted With Data,” with a chapter focused on augmented reality for brands. She also runs the largest marketing and branding Facebook group focused on VR, AR, and MR, which has over 2,500 members. She’s a board member of the New York VR Expo and South by Southwest Pitch, and has been on the judging panel for the Games of Change Festival and the AWE Auggie Awards. To learn more about Samantha, you can visit or

Samantha, welcome to the show.

Samantha: Hi, Alan. Good to be here.

Alan: It’s so amazing to have you on the show. We’ve known each other for a few years now, and we keep seeing each other at different conferences, and it’s always fun. I think the last time was AWE, but before that was CES. This year we got to hang out in a glass booth; almost like a fishbowl in the middle of CES.

Samantha: I think our picture went up on Fox News or something like that.

Alan: Oh, did it really?

Samantha: Like, the two people in the middle of the glass booth for VR Voice. And we had such a fun conversation. I think Bob Fine was a little taken aback about how excited the two of us got together. So I’m excited for this conversation!

Alan: [laughs] This is gonna be a great conversation. And for those of you who don’t know, Bob Fine runs a wonderful podcast called VR Voice, so you can check that out as well. Samantha, you’re the managing partner at we are PHASE2. So, talk to us a bit about what is we are PHASE2, and what are you guys doing? And then we’ll just have a conversation around the wonderful marketing opportunities that virtual and augmented reality afford.

Samantha: Absolutely. The way I like to talk about we are PHASE2 is that we are about marketing with and for emerging technologies. We help companies who are in the emerging tech space be able to market and communicate what they’re doing, but we also have companies who want to market to and with those emerging technologies. So if you’re an advertising agency or a brand who says, you know, “we want to do something really innovative,” and want to integrate — whether it be AR, VR, AI, IoT — into what you’re doing, that you could come to us and we’ll help you through that process. Or if you’re like, “You know what? We need some developers to help work on this campaign that we’re doing.” We’ll work with you as well. The other thing I’ve said is marketing emerging technologies and emerging technology marketing.

Alan: Emerging technology marketing. I get it. So–

Samantha: It’s both ways.


Alan: Are you talking about virtual/augmented/mixed reality, or are you guys also diving into artificial intelligence and machine learning and IoT sensors and that kind of stuff?

Samantha: Yes. It’s basically anything that touches emerging tech in marketing. I end up being more of the subject matter expert when it comes to VR and AR. But Jennifer Usdan McBride — who’s one of the three managing partners in the group — she has hit quite a number of more technologies beyond that. She used to run Digital and Innovation for J. Walter Thompson, has won Cannes Lions and has a super-impressive résumé, by far. I end up talking about AR and VR and the technologies that are related to it — which is, as you know, you end up getting into AI and machine learning under that umbrella.

Alan: You can’t really have XR without computer vision, machine learning–

Samantha: No…

Alan: Doesn’t really work anymore. So we’re entering a new phase of technology.

Samantha: The general idea was the fact that, it’s based on this idea that sometimes people have that phase 1 of — whether it be an idea or a technology — then phase 3 is success or lots of money. And then sometimes, they end up forgetting the phase 2 in-between; of how to build it, grow it, market it. And then we work with companies to figure that out.

Alan: We just recently launched — as you know — the XR Ignite program as a community hub and connector for startup studios and developers to connect with corporate clients, and really prepare them for doing business with these corporate clients. And it sounds like that’s similar to what you guys are doing, on a one-off basis. So maybe there’s some great synergies; we can feed each other some content.

Samantha: Absolutely. I’ve learned in working this industry; I’m not just a connector. I think you are someone in this [field], but a bit of a super connector. So it’s just sort of like, “oh, you should meet this person and that person, then do this and do that, and these are the ideas we can bring in,” and it just ends up being ten ideas coming at you at once, which — I think — you and I are similar in that respect.

Alan: Yeah, it’s a bit of a problem, because you talk to a client and say, “hey, there’s your problem. Here’s ten different ways to solve it.”

Samantha: Right.

Alan: That overwhelms people. So I’ve had to have a buffer now in-between. When I meet with a customer, I’m not allowed to tell them anything; I just listen. And then I come back, I say to my team, “here’s a dozen ways to solve the problem. Here’s all the ways we can service them. Here’s all the different price points.” And then my team breaks it down into a more palatable, easy-to-deliver [form], and then gives them a good/better/best scenario, versus good/better/best/beyond/this and that/everything.

Samantha: [laughs] It ends up being similar, but I end up sort of doing it myself, because I’ve found I’m a good editor. I end up just throwing everything down on a page, and then editing it back, and then finding a pattern within that, saying, “it’s ultimately about these three things.” I just need to put it down, and then a day to back to revise and edit it.

Alan: So, can you talk to us about some of the companies you’re either working with, or some of the projects you’ve done recently? Or… let’s talk about some specifics here. What are some of the specific things that you and your team are working on, or doing, or excited about?

Samantha: Well, the thing that’s been interesting is that… I’ve signed so many NDAs recently, so I end up having to talk a little bit more in generalities. Often because — you know — you work with an emerging tech company, and they don’t necessarily want everybody to know what they’re doing, until they’re ready to explain it. So there’s some on both… actually, there’s so many… we’ve worked with some companies to — say, they are doing amazing technological breakthroughs, and yet people on the other side of the desk that they’re pitching to, or in the universe — the social media universe — they just aren’t getting the recognition that they should. So we work with them to just say, “What is it that makes you unique? And what is it that your customers want to hear from you?” So we sort of break that down into easy bite-size pieces, for them to communicate, and hat we’re repping [them]. One of those projects that — we’ve done it a few times over now, also, working with a couple different companies that are larger, you would know them — name brands that are wanting to work with VR and AR developers to actually create a platform and a community for themselves. I wish I could say their names, but I can’t say. We’ve also worked with a healthcare company that wanted to prototype something, to be able to communicate better with the doctors that are their customers. And then we’ve worked with some agencies, too, who are trying to sort of articulate what it is that they want to be selling to their clients, and their customers, to be more innovative and on the cutting-edge.

Alan: Let’s talk about specifics. There’s got to be some specifics here. What are the things that are really moving the needle for customers?

Samantha: Well, I think that a lot of companies go in wanting to have the biggest, best, more fanciest technologies. And sometimes, it ends up being more about a question of what their audience really wants, and what their budget allows. We were talking about it at Augmented World Expo. Like right now, in the state of innovation, when it comes to VR and AR, it is really about managing both immersion versus reach. We can’t — right now — do both. It’s sort of one or the other. You can have a highly, highly immersive, high-end VR experience; but then, you’re not really going to get that distribution that you’re looking for, unless you already have a event that you can showcase that, or you’ve sort of built in a certain distribution part of your campaign. But in terms of reach, you can partner or do something with a Snapchat or Facebook, which is going to get you that reach; but the immersion levels aren’t quite there. So, you have to have either one or the other, or build into your budget, both.

Alan: Interesting. So, you mentioned Snapchat, and Snapchat is by far the largest augmented reality platform — and they don’t even mention the word AR or augmented reality in anything they do; it’s just a lens, right? So you’re either looking at a lens and seeing yourself, or you’re looking at a lens and seeing the world. What are some of the experiences — because right now — it used to be if you wanted to make a face filter and add a pair of sunglasses, this was tens of thousands of dollars, and it would take six months, and blah blah blah. You can build a face filter now in 15 minutes using their lens studio. So, how has that changed the landscape?

Samantha: Basically, it allowed so many more developers to be able to have access, to be able to have these tools. Then, it becomes a bit more ubiquitous in terms of what is possible. And then it becomes this sort of, “who’s the best out there,” in terms of creating the actual assets. And that’s where having that sort of networking filter, because you could – literally — a lot of the innovation teams that I’ve talked to, who are working with brands, are working with agencies, will say, “oh, yeah, I have all these companies come in and talk to me about what’s possible,” but it becomes about, what are the best opportunities for the technology? What are the best interactions? What are the best uses? How to get the word out to allow people to use it?

It’s becoming harder and harder to break through with just a face filter, or an emoji, or an animoji. It goes back to the basics of marketing and advertising again; it’s not about tech for tech’s sake, right? I mean, that’s where you need to have the teams that have been doing it a while, to understand where you’re going, to get the value out of it; the purpose for doing it.

Alan: If we were to break it down for people — let’s assume we’re talking to a marketing department — they want to start using these technologies. How would they get started?

Samantha: Well, I think the one thing that people have to do, is to try it first. If you try it, you start playing with it. I mean, that’s sort of how I got started with it; you just sort of start downloading things. You start realizing that there’s a lot of out there, where you sort of go, “why did they make this?” Or, “why do I need to come back and use it again?” And I think that that’s almost the first step in all the process.

Cathy Hackl — who’s at Magic Leap — and I wrote about Marketing New Realities about a year and a half ago. That was to allow marketers to start understanding that, once you get over all the acronyms and some spatial thinking or whatever, that it’s really back to the basics of the marketing and branding and positioning and communication. After that… I mean, for me, it ends up being like, “who are your users? What do they do? What are they doing now? How have you already been engaging with your customers? What are they expecting of you?” And then, how can you use AR and VR or maybe a new technology to be able to augment that, and supplement that, and complement that? So it’s not just creating technology because you’re like, “oh, we should do this VR; we saw our competitors did this VR experience.” But it becomes, “how are we engaging with our target audience in a deeper, more meaningful way? And an ongoing way.”

I think that that’s where a lot of companies get tripped up; whether it be a tech company [that] gets tripped up, or outside of tech company, is that they tend to go, “we’re going to create this one thing; it’s going to be great,” and then you just sort of forget it after launch. What some of the companies in the space are starting to be able to realize is that, it becomes an ongoing relationship. AR is sort of an ongoing relationship. VR might be a very deep and intimate one in a very short period of time — at least where it stands now — but AR is sort of ongoing, in the sense that social media is ongoing; a website is ongoing. AR can be ongoing, and needs sort of updates and new experiences over time. So, you have to start thinking in that way of the supplement/complement. You can have something where you are launching something that is new and exciting for AR. But to do it just once, with a very short engagement, is really doing the technology a disservice, and doing the company a disservice as well.

Alan: I think we’ve seen a lot of really cool one-offs. One of the VR ones that I’ve seen was the Jack Ryan launch, where they put you in VR and — I think it was launched at South by Southwest this year — and send you down a zip line in virtual reality. Like, you’re wearing VR on a physical zip line, zipping down. Like, that’s insane. That probably cost a million bucks; but it was a one-off.

But I think one of the things that was underestimated, especially in the early days a couple of years ago — now, not so much, because there’s a lot more of it — but the earned media around using VR for these things. Topshop did a VR slide where you’re in the store, you put the VR and you slide down a slide like… it’s so gimmicky and dumb. Yet, they got world-renowned experiences out of it. And back in the day four years ago, Marriott did this thing in Times Square, where they had a transporter pod; you stood in this pod, put on a headset, and you’re transported somewhere else in the world. And all they were doing is was showing 360 video. And that was enough to garner them massive global media attention. They got hundreds of millions of media impressions out of that, and they’re still getting media impressions out of it.

But I think the bar is being set really high now. I mean, that Jack Ryan thing set the bar even higher. And we’re starting to see the creative agencies dive into this. And the creative agencies are going, “okay, well, we’ve tried this. What about this?” And one of the things that I saw in AR that just blew my mind — I think it blew everybody’s mind — was the Burger King thing where you take your phone, you point it at any of their competitors’ branding, and it catches on fire and says “flame broiled is better; here’s a free Whopper.” I think technology for the technology’s sake is not enough anymore. It used to be. But now we’re into that point where people are demanding really cool things. The question I have is, what are some of the cool things you’ve seen that has made you go, “wow, that’s amazing”?

Samantha: What you were just talking about is a little bit of what we used to say, “AR or VR just for PR,” right? I mean, there’s always the cool and exciting thing for launch, but–

Alan: Well, some of it is making fun of VR, like the Chick-Fil-A thing where they put VR on cows. I mean, that’s not even real VR, but it’s funny as hell.

Samantha: [laughs] Yeah, I know the team that worked on it. I did an event where I had them come and talk, so I think–

Alan: Well, a question I have is; what were they showing the cows?

Samantha: [laughs] Exactly. I think that there’s so much… VR and AR started getting you sort of questioning about your own personal understanding of what the world is and what’s possible. I think that there tends to be a bit of that anthropomorphizing of, like, putting headsets on different animals because you’re like, “well, what would they think? What would they do?”

Alan: “Chicken VR! I’m free range now!”

Samantha: [laughs] Exactly. What was really fun; I partnered with Augmented World Expo this year. They were doing their first marketing track, and I was really able to sort of dig into what’s going on there; what are the best-in-class examples, what is possible with the technology? I mean, I think about it every day. The fun thing about the Facebook group — that’s the VR/AR/MR marketing and branding — is that I literally am thinking about these things all day long. [laughs] But I had a couple of people on my panel, that I thought, their companies; I’d reach out to them — hadn’t met them before — but reached out to them, because I thought that they were doing some amazing things. And one with the Zappar with 7-Eleven. And the other was the team that did the Sleep Number. And the Zappar 7-Eleven, I thought was really fun because they had created this sort of ecosystem within 7-Eleven, where you had a reason to go back and continually engage with their app. I haven’t seen that. I mean, Snapchat has done that a little bit. They’ve done some Nike things, which are really neat, which are geolocated experiences.

Alan: Did you see the LeBron James poster? I believe it was Trigger Global, who did that one.

Samantha: I mean, these are some of the coolest companies out there, for sure. But I think it’s just a little bit of a tipping point of what’s possible. Whereas some of the decision makers are still seeing the QR codes that launch a video. And that’s not quite enough.

Alan: Although – although, I will preface this — I have seen activations where a newspaper — and their target audience is families and maybe some elderly people as well — and they created AR experiences built into the newspaper. And you would see senior citizens pull their phone out and kind of go like a scavenger hunt through the newspaper. They would look for the little AR symbol, and it would bring them enriched content locked to the page, and it was like bringing the page together. And they’re seeing really, really good numbers; excellent uptake from the users, and their advertisers like it, because now you’re able to add some additional content. But they focused on just enhancing the digital print first. And I thought that was not something that every magazine in the world will do. But I thought it was a good use case. And the newspaper itself has expanded to, I think, 88 different newspapers, so… it’s successful.

Samantha: From a print and magazine [perspective], I think that AR is a great thing to be able to supplement campaigns. I think it’s just that if it’s only, “you launch a video and there’s just a video,” I tend to want to push the boundaries of things and see, you know, “is there a way to make it interactive? Is there a way to make it updated? Is there a way to connect it to other parts of the campaign?” I guess that’s where I come from, because I feel like if you’re just going into a room and then you have a few trigger points and all they’re doing is launching videos, you have to sort of go, “would you want to do that? What’s going to make you download something?” I remember one of the panels at a debut there was the woman from PGA. So she’s in an interesting situation, because AR would be amazing if it could be able to track where the ball is and give more information to the technology. But she said on site, you can’t get somebody to download an app because there’s just not enough. So that’s where entering a 5G is possible.

Alan: I know Trigger Global, they were putting sensors in hockey players, and then in the puck. I think that’s really cool where you can recreate the entire hockey arena on your coffee table. It’s not going to replace watching the sport. People are like, “oh, you know, I can put AR and watch it in AR.” You’re not going to hold your phone up, even if it’s in glasses. You’re going to want to watch the sports as they appear on your 4K television. But, how cool would it be to put the game on the table, and see the replay in augmented reality? That’s interesting. Or maybe play a game with some other people, while you’re in the middle of the game.

Samantha: Well, I think that it’s also that you end up taking that in and you take something that– what, like Eye Candy Lab does in terms of the video recognition. If you do the connecting of multiple technologies, so if you end up doing something where you have a Trigger, you have an Eye Candy Lab, if you have sort of multiple– you have a Snapchat, you go, “how do all of these connect together and how do they create a sort of cohesive campaign?” It’s changing the way I’ve done a lot of integrated marketing campaigns. And it used to be that you go, “okay, here’s the radio campaign, here’s the print campaign, here’s the TV campaign, we’re gonna have some events.” Now it’s so much more complicated than that, because not only can you do that, but then you also go, what’s your stack of technological capabilities, and how does that help your overall campaign over time?

Alan: Absolutely. So what are some of the metrics that you’re seeing? How are people measuring the success of this campaign?

Samantha: Well, the thing that I keep on saying is that when it comes to AR and VR, it’s really about the word “engagement.” I actually wrote a post once saying, “engagement used to be further defined and quantified.” It does end up varying based on company and based on campaign. Like, what does engagement mean to you? And you sort of have to define that success metric for yourself. Is it that you want people to go out and talk about a product, recommend a product, repost something? Is it that you want to get more inbound leads if you’re more of a B2B situation that you want? I personally end up dealing with more of the tech companies, whereas my partners end up dealing a little bit more with the brands and agencies. But a lot of companies come to me, they’re like, “I need to be able to talk on panels and be considered a thought leader and have a article in a trade magazine.” What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? And then how do we figure out how to get you there and what’s the path to to get you there?

Alan: Let’s talk about the difference between VR, AR, and MR; virtual reality, mixed reality, augmented reality. Where do you see them fitting into different marketing campaigns?

Samantha: You know, I get asked this question a lot. I mean, AR is almost that must-do. You have to figure it out. It’s a little bit of when people were launching websites and people were like, “oh, I don’t need to launch a website.” And now it’s like, “okay, what’s your AR strategy” needs to be just sort of a basic campaign, basic discussion you need to have internally. Mixed reality, I feel like people are using that a little bit less. I mean, I think that that’s almost under the AR umbrella. I think when it comes to, if you have a B2B launch where you’re going to have some sales, people are going in and talking to your customers directly and they can bring a headset, that that’s where you can bring in mixed reality, at least at this juncture.

VR…and I think that that is a little bit – again — thinking almost first of “where are you going to be? Where is this going to be?” Eventually, if the goal is to create branded content that is going to reach a higher-end, forward-thinking design audience, and you want to have it in a film festival or sort of overlapping with a film festival audience, then you go, “okay, maybe we need to do VR,” or, you know you’re going to have a series of events nationwide or globally, and then you go, “okay, now we need to integrate VR into what you’re doing.” I think what’s going to be fun is seeing even post-holiday shopping, and what the Quest is going to do for distribution. And then you can start thinking immersion versus reach; sort of pull in one direction versus the other is going to be less of a pull? It’s going to be, “you can get immersion and reach,” when VR is even further distributed.

Alan: So, Samantha, you wrote the book Marketing New Realities. How can people get a copy that book?

Samantha: Amazon!

Alan: Oh, perfect.

Samantha: Yeah, if you just do “Marketing New Realities” on Amazon, you can find that and get either a digital copy or a hard copy. And then obviously Charlie Fink’s book–

Alan: “Convergence.”

Samantha: I wrote the advertising chapter in that. And that is a must-read for anybody inside or outside the business. From a marketing standpoint especially. You know, even people outside of marketing have said that they’ve found that our Marketing New Realities book to be really helpful as well.

Alan: Yeah. I actually wrote a piece in Charlie Fink’s “Convergence,” as well.

Samantha: Right! The chapters in there with the XR Ignite. It’s such an amazing industry to be a part of, with true innovators. And I mean, you’re a definitely a powerhouse within that, Alan, for sure.

Alan: Thanks. I work really hard.

Samantha: Yes, that is very clear. For sure.

Alan: Since you brought up XR Ignite, I will give it a plug. If there’s any studios, startups, or developers that are looking for help connecting with brands and corporations — in marketing or training or anything in any industry — you can go to and sign up there. We’re building a community that connects the best startup studios and developers with the best corporations in the world, and really creating that open dialogue community where they can learn about the technology, how to deploy it. And this podcast is kind of part of that holistic approach to really mentoring the industry on how to grow. So it’s been an exciting part. As of today, I think we’ve had 140 or 135 applications for XR Ignite.

And, as of this morning, the XR for Business Podcast actually reached 10,000 listeners.

Samantha: Congratulations. I’m sure that just the beginning.

Alan: It’s just the beginning. We’ve only been doing it for 30 days, so…

Samantha: [laughs].

Alan: 10,000 listeners in the last 30 days, which is pretty impressive.

Samantha: That’s great.

Alan: Hopefully that grows to hundreds of thousands and we can inspire everybody.

So my last question, Samantha: what is one problem in the world that you want to see solved using XR technologies?

Samantha: One problem in the world. Oh, my goodness. There are so many problems with the world that I would love to solve. I think that AR and VR is ultimately about connection. It’s about connecting people to each other, sort of through augmented reality; connecting people to the world; connecting people to brands, to marketers, to other people’s experiences. It really just creates a whole new level of engagement and connection, that it’s just inspiring. And people haven’t tried or played with AR and VR, there’s so much to do and experience that, it’s really quite awesome, and everyone just needs to start working on it.


Alan: Oh no, I just… I just did the whole outro, and was on mute! [both laugh]

Looking for more insights on XR and the future of business? Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify. You can also follow us on Twitter @XRforBusiness and connect with Alan on LinkedIn.

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