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Episode 314
August 4, 2023

"Blimp Commerce"

The guys cover the rise of faux-out of home advertising, Sam Altman’s Worldcoin Orb, and blimp-based commerce. PLUS: Are we bullish about the future, specifically around the future of eCommerce? What does the data show right now as far as the way Salesforce is viewing the outlook of eCommerce and its near-term future? How is the narrative changing and how are businesses using eCommerce to find new markets, especially on the B2B side? Listen now!

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The guys cover the rise of faux-out of home advertising, Sam Altman’s Worldcoin Orb, and blimp-based commerce. PLUS: Are we bullish about the future, specifically around the future of eCommerce? What does the data show right now as far as the way Salesforce is viewing the outlook of eCommerce and its near-term future? How is the narrative changing and how are businesses using eCommerce to find new markets, especially on the B2B side? Listen now!

What is the often-overlooked marker of body data?

  • {00:08:55} - “The culture of commerce right now is participatory and people right now are building on each other's ideas so rapidly and in real time that they can manifest things that it used to be only a luxury brand could pull something like that off.” - Phillip
  • {00:11:45} - “It's context collapse. This is effectively deepfaking the world, resetting how people think about things. It's artificial context.” - Brian
  • {00:13:51} - “The strategy is literally nothing more than getting in a room with your marketing team and even with your brand team and sitting down and just doing a whiteboarding session with a million Post-its that say, "What is happening in the discourse right now?’” - Phillip
  • {00:19:53} - “When you're going to build a system to fix a problem that you created that involves differentiating between whether someone's a human or a robot, don't build an orb for people to line up and get signed up. But you have to look evil to get press.” - Brian
  • {00:32:04} - “Increasingly customers outside of retail are coming to us and saying they want their B2B experience to be as elegant as possible because they recognize as people that that makes their end buyers happier, probably more likely to convert and ultimately, hopefully, save them money and drive up their actual revenue.” - Michael
  • {00:36:38} - “The really interesting change over the last 12 months alone is that we're just seeing new buyers come to the table, especially in non-retail industries, who at the executive level have needs that when you reduce them down, are just like you said, it's about helping a buyer convert and actually exchange that value with the company.” - Michael
  • {00:43:24} - “When money is more expensive, folks are going to tighten the screws down. And what we have also seen is the brands that are doing the best are the ones who have been leaning into their loyalty offerings because, as you and I know, a loyal customer is a happy customer.” - Michael
  • {00:50:51} - “We believe AI truly is the future and moving beyond a world of just predictive recommendations to truly a generative future that really will change the shape of the experience for both buyers and merchants.” - Michael

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Brian: [00:00:00] Ohhhh. Yo. Whaaat? {laughter}.

Phillip: [00:00:08] Is that how you play-by-play things? You'd be the worst sportscaster ever.

Brian: [00:00:13] Oh, my gosh. So when I'm looking at right now, is someone taking a home video on their phone out an airplane window.

Phillip: [00:00:25] Yes. And what's their altitude, do you think?

Brian: [00:00:29] It's oh, this is actually supposed to be like a fighter pilot maybe.

Phillip: [00:00:34] No, this looks like a commercial airliner.

Brian: [00:00:35] Commercial. Okay. Yeah. They see a UFO. And as they zoom in on it Truff is written on the UFO. {laughteer}

Phillip: [00:00:43] Truff. The hot sauce. Yeah, it's a saucer. It's a flying saucer. And they zoom in and slow it down so you can see the Truff logo spinning around as it's whizzing by. Let's talk about that on this episode.

Brian: [00:00:55] Wow.

Phillip: [00:00:55] You want to? Let's talk about this emergence of fake out-of-home. Hello and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about the intersection of culture and commerce. I'm Phillip.

Brian: [00:02:03] I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:02:04] Today we have a little bit later on the show, a shameless attempt to try to get Salesforce and other big enterprises in the eCommerce world to try to sponsor Future Commerce. This is not sponsored by them, not yet. But we do have Michael Affronti from Salesforce, who is going to tell us a little bit about the new report that they have out. And also a little bit touches very lightly on sort of the microservices of it all and like the buzzword bingo of the commerce moment and also touches a little bit on their perspective on the emergence of B2B and how B2B is more B2C-like than ever before. It's going to be a great conversation. Stick around for it in just a few minutes. But getting back to this idea, you might have heard it in the cold open. Fake out-of-home is everywhere at the moment. Brian, I think it kind of started with what I think actually fooled everybody. There was this campaign you might have seen. It's a bunch of larger-than-life handbags that are driving around I believe it was Paris.

Brian: [00:03:16] Yeah, yeah.

Phillip: [00:03:18] It's Jacquemas. Shockingly, well, the discourse was, "Was this real? Was it not real?" And that's kind of where we are at the moment, yes. Producer Erika, thank you. Jacquemus. Phillip doesn't know how to pronounce that word. Never said it out loud before.

Brian: [00:03:34] There's no S? Is that right, Erika?

Phillip: [00:03:36] I said it with my fake French accent. And that's how you know that I'm based, actually. But it was so good. It was so good that people I think they had to actually put out a like "Haha, this wasn't real." There were a bunch of think pieces on it and since then...

Brian: [00:03:53] Truff had to do the same thing. No, I'm just kidding.

Phillip: [00:03:56] Truff with their UFO. {laughter} But let's talk about. So this is actually a very good Future Commerce concept. You have one campaign that sort of unlocks a new genre unto itself.

Brian: [00:04:13] This reminds me of... Are you ready for this?

Phillip: [00:04:16] Please.

Brian: [00:04:17] Before we jump into this. This reminds me of actually a Multiplayer Brand moment where someone released a video of that Amazon blimp that had all of the little drones that came out of it, and they were delivering packages out of the blimp. It was not even put out by Amazon, so they said, but it was like this perfect... It was so good. Everyone freaked out for like a moment, a whole freak-out moment.

Phillip: [00:04:46] This was great, actually. Yeah, you're right. You're 100% right. So 2019, there's an article. We'll link it up here in the show notes over at Insider. But in 2019, there was a fake user video that showed what was ostensibly a big Amazon blimp that was like giving digital birth or robotic birth to a bunch of deliveries.

Brian: [00:05:09] It wasn't even birth so much as it was supposed to be a base.

Phillip: [00:05:13] A distribution center.

Brian: [00:05:14] Yeah, a distribution center. In fact, this is so funny. The day after that video came out, I was scheduled to speak at the Walmart headquarters.

Phillip: [00:05:23] I remember this.

Brian: [00:05:24] And I showed that video to the group that I spoke to, and there was actually some genuine concern. I don't know if... It was interesting.

Phillip: [00:05:37] That was based on, according to the Insider article that I'm definitely not reading and have total recall of an event from four years ago, there was a patent filed by Amazon in 2014 for sort of a blimp-based {laughter} fulfillment center. We need more Blimp Commerce, which actually is what we need. Remember when blimps were the future? Dirigibles.

Brian: [00:06:02] I don't actually remember that because that was in 1942. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:06:10] Zeppelin Commerce. Zeppelins are the future. Everyone knows it. Lighter than air travel. It's actually, isn't that at the end of Temple of Doom? I think it's the whole Zeppelin scene.

Brian: [00:06:23] The Zeppelin? No, I don't think...

Phillip: [00:06:24] No, no, no, no, no. That was with Sean Connery. So it's a big set piece at the end of the Last Crusade.

Brian: [00:06:33] Yes. Yes.

Phillip: [00:06:34] Blimp commerce. And it's always intrinsically linked with this idea of sort of blimp travel. Follow me down the rabbit hole on this.

Brian: [00:06:43] I'm in. I'm in on this.

Phillip: [00:06:43] The hospitality luxury angle of it.

Brian: [00:06:47] Yes. Oh, man, especially in that Indiana Jones scene, blimp travel looked awesome.

Phillip: [00:06:51] Yeah, freaking awesome.

Brian: [00:06:53] Oh, yeah. It looked way better than airplane travel.

Phillip: [00:06:56] If I'm going to travel all of six miles an hour on my way to a destination, it's got to be in luxury, right? It has to be an absolute luxury.

Brian: [00:07:08] You're not giving it credit. It was more like 25 miles an hour.

Phillip: [00:07:12] Is it 25 miles maybe?

Brian: [00:07:14] No idea. I have no idea.

Phillip: [00:07:16] How fast could it possibly be? How fast could a blimp be? The future of commerce is blimps. But you're right. It goes back to the idea that things are plausibly credible. We want to believe them. That's where the Jacquemus... I'm just going to say it like that because that's how we roll. That's how that campaign actually played out, is that it sits in that uncanny valley of we want to believe it's true. We want to believe that they went to the effort of building giant, Macy's Day Parade floats of their of their supposedly iconic handbags that I know nothing about.

Brian: [00:08:02] It might have been cheaper for Truff to build a little drone that said Truff on it and get a video of it out of it.

Phillip: [00:08:08] But it's not that... It's not that exciting. So this is where when you talk about the future of not just marketing campaigns, but you said the Multiplayer Brand... New zine out by Future Commerce called The Multiplayer Brand, which if we were super smart, we would have a redirecting domain, The Multiplayer Does that exist? No. Okay, I'm going to register that like right now. But if you went to go buy our zine, The Multiplayer Brand, $20 free shipping shipped same day in the lower 48 and we ship internationally to 200 countries. You should get it. It's a great zine, and we've sold literally hundreds of them, which is unfathomable. Super cool that we're at that point that we can do that. But it does delve into this idea of the culture of commerce right now is participatory and that people right now are building on each other's ideas so rapidly and in real time that they can manifest things that it used to be only a luxury brand could pull something like that off. Now a small, direct to consumer, luxury hot sauce brand can do this fake out-of-home thing. Why? Because the commerce environment is so pervasive and the opportunity to access talent of this sort to make these somewhat credible, like plausible high-quality production videos, that is literally not for anything, but not for a big PR move, not to celebrate Paris Fashion Week, not for any other reason than for the Co-Founder of Truff to post it on Twitter and be like "Lol, look at this."

Brian: [00:09:46] I mean, isn't that the best marketing campaign at this point? Just founders posting videos that say LOL?

Phillip: [00:09:52] That's true actually.

Brian: [00:09:52] And they're actually like really good.

Phillip: [00:09:54] That's true. We went to this insane degree of The Multiplayer Brand book. We had the best product photography you've ever seen done for the book launch. And we had hundreds of preorders. They all shipped and then we put out the, with all the literally just screengrabs of the people. Hundreds of people bought these. And then we put out the really nice pictures, the ones that we paid thousands of dollars for like this like photo shoot with our book. And people were like, "Nah, you know you didn't need to go that hard, I guess." What we should have done was a fake out-of-home campaign. Can you imagine a monolith style? Like our zine is like the dawn of man.

Brian: [00:10:40] It's not too late. We can still do it, you know? I mean...

Phillip: [00:10:42] That true. We should actually... I'm going to hit up...

Brian: [00:10:43] We can print more books.

Phillip: [00:10:46] I'm going to hit up Nick Ajluni and ask him what 3D artists did this Truff thing. By the way, this UFO campaign is not the first that they've ever done. We also recently saw I think this was featured in our newsletter, The Senses, that they did this campaign with the eye or that big dome. The video dome.

Brian: [00:11:12] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:11:12] Las Vegas. Where again, also they must be fascinated. Truff is fascinated with commercial airline out-the-window photography. But it's this plane that's landing in Las Vegas and the eye is transforming into this giant Truff hot sauce bottle that's like towering. It looks like it's the Burj Khalifa. It's like a thousand stories tall, this hot sauce bottle.

Brian: [00:11:38] Do you know what else this is? This is another thing out of our Visions report, which is where The Multiplayer Brand originated. It's context collapse. This is effectively deepfaking the world, resetting how people think about things. It's artificial context. It's just very obvious versions of this.

Phillip: [00:12:04] Say more about that. That's super good.

Brian: [00:12:06] People are being set up for a world that's not even the context that they think it is. Someone might not have seen the eye yet. Actually. There are a lot of people that haven't. When it actually popped up in my feed, I was like, how did I not know about this already?

Phillip: [00:12:31] You did. You did know about it because you saw it when the rest of the world saw it. Because you are also online.

Brian: [00:12:36] Because I am also online, yes. Right.

Phillip: [00:12:38] So this kind of media, this brand activation is for the extremely online.

Brian: [00:12:42] It is. It absolutely is. Yep.

Phillip: [00:12:45] But do you believe... I have to ask you, I'm going to put you on the spot on the show.

Brian: [00:12:49] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:12:50] Do you think aliens are real?

Brian: [00:12:52] Oh, umm.

Phillip: [00:12:53] I hope they are because then the future of commerce is going to be like really wild.

Brian: [00:12:59] Alien Commerce.

Phillip: [00:13:01] Alien Commerce. Space Commerce.

Brian: [00:13:01] Space commerce. We already have Space Commerce.

Phillip: [00:13:04] The Department of Space Commerce exists already. We're ready for this. This is like, I'm going to be so chill if there are aliens. It probably destroys my whole system of belief and faith. But that's a whole other conversation. But aliens being real... Do you believe aliens are real, Brian?

Brian: [00:13:21] Um. No. I don't.

Phillip: [00:13:24] Okay.

Brian: [00:13:27] I'm a nonbeliever.

Phillip: [00:13:28] It's enough to have the discourse on the Internet about it. And that's where, you know, this campaign that brands can lean into is meant for a specific audience. And this is like a mash up, right? It's a Venn diagram of public conversations. And this is how brands can win. So you want the strategy behind all this BS that we're talking about right now? Just we're having fun with it. But the strategy is literally nothing more than getting in a room with your marketing team and even with your brand team and sitting down and just doing a whiteboarding session with a million Post-its that say, "What is happening in the discourse right now?" And eventually, you'll come up with, "Well, fake out-of-home, plus our brand, plus the eye in Las Vegas or this dome. What can we do with that?" Or "UFOs are a part of this conversation and this thing that everyone's going to forget about next week. It's no longer culturally relevant anymore. But these UFO hearings or UAP hearings in Congress, what can we do with that? And can we match that up with fake out-of-home?" That is how brands execute strategy and become talked about for 30 plus minutes at the beginning of a Future Commerce episode that is purely a vehicle to try to get Salesforce to sponsor this podcast.

Brian: [00:14:52] {laughter}

Phillip: [00:14:53] Michael Affronti, if you're listening, give us a call.

Brian: [00:14:54] We should just, you know, do something fake out-of-home just for Salesforce. Future Commerce plus Salesforce.

Phillip: [00:15:01] I wonder what our other platform sponsors think of this episode right now. This episode is brought to you by Vertex. They don't care. They plug into Salesforce too. It's fine. 50,000 executives and leaders in the eCommerce space agree that Future Commerce is where they see around the next corner. {laughter} So maybe Salesforce gives us a call. This is so unabashed.

Brian: [00:15:23] Okay, I want to do a really obvious transition. We mentioned the eye, which is sort of a giant round thing.

Phillip: [00:15:30] This is how you're getting there?

Brian: [00:15:33] Small, round things.

Phillip: [00:15:36] {laughter} It's a terrible, terrible segue.

Brian: [00:15:39] The thing that I'm talking about right now is, of course, the orb that you have to go to to go get your Worldcoin verification.

Phillip: [00:15:48] Oh, my gosh.

Brian: [00:15:51] Dude, this also just caught me off guard. Blew my mind.

Phillip: [00:15:57] Explain it. What it is. The orb for Worldcoin.

Brian: [00:15:59] Worldcoin is Sam Altman's...

Phillip: [00:16:05] Definitely not the Lex Luthor of our time. Sam Altman.

Brian: [00:16:09] Yes, definitely not.

Phillip: [00:16:10] Definitely not. Definitely not.

Brian: [00:16:13] He invented this.

Phillip: [00:16:14] Some would say that he's the Lex Luthor of our time. I would. I'd say definitely not.

Brian: [00:16:19] Definitely not.

Phillip: [00:16:20] Especially if OpenAI wants to sponsor Future Commerce. I think we're going to have to launch a Patreon after this. This is where we're headed.

Brian: [00:16:29] Yeah. Yeah, totally. We're going to need our listeners to support us. Hey, listeners, how much do you like us?

Phillip: [00:16:37] By the way, can I celebrate how your personal growth is that five years ago, if I had been on this little... If I had been trying to do this five years ago on this podcast, you would have been cringed out. You would not have played into this little sendup. So I'm proud of you.

Brian: [00:16:55] Oh no, I would have been into it. It's just...

Phillip: [00:16:57] You think?

Brian: [00:16:58] Yeah, we're just better at it than we used to be.

Phillip: [00:17:01] And that's not saying much because don't think that... {laughter} I don't think we're that good at it right now. Sorry. Sam Altman.

Brian: [00:17:08] Okay, so Sam Altman. He founded this company called Worldcoin, which is intended to help be able to differentiate between AI and humans. It's a verification system for...

Phillip: [00:17:21] But this is an actual problem that needs to be solved.

Brian: [00:17:23] It is. It's a real problem. It needs to be solved. I don't disagree.

Phillip: [00:17:30] To tie it back to something, by the way, it's a problem because right now, especially in text-based communication, let's say that there's like an uncanny valley right now as to whether you would be interacting with a human or with a large language model. And supposedly this Worldcoin, the orb, fixes this problem that Sam Altman himself has created.

Brian: [00:18:00] Right, exactly. He's created the problem and the solution. There's no way he's not Lex Luther.

Phillip: [00:18:06] That's capitalism, baby. Yeah, the ultimate capitalist.

Brian: [00:18:12] Gosh, there's a bunny trail that I want to go down hard, but I won't yet.

Phillip: [00:18:16] Michael Affonti would not appreciate you going down that bunny trail.

Brian: [00:18:19] No, no, no. This bunny trail is amazing. But long story short, the only way to get into world coin is to go to this thing that's literally an orb that you have to go sign up and get verified through.

Phillip: [00:18:35] You verify through a lot of biometrics.

Brian: [00:18:40] Biometrics is the way to get verified.

Phillip: [00:18:42] Retinal scan. Fingerprints.

Brian: [00:18:46] And this is mind-blowing to me because...

Phillip: [00:18:50] I've heard it's like perineum mapping. That's not true. I made that up.

Brian: [00:18:55] Chris, Strike that from the record.

Phillip: [00:18:59] No, no, no, no. It's funny. Everyone's perineum is totally different. They're like, it's a fingerprint, basically. Can you imagine? Sam Altman... {laughter}

Brian: [00:19:13] Honestly...

Phillip: [00:19:14] I don't know if that's true or not.

Brian: [00:19:15] Honestly, there's no way to know if that's true or not.

Phillip: [00:19:18] It could be true.

Brian: [00:19:19] Lex Luther.

Phillip: [00:19:21] Sounds like something Lex Luther would do. "I've got a 75-point perineum scan that proves that I'm human." So go on.

Brian: [00:19:36] I don't think I have anything else. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:19:41] Wow.

Brian: [00:19:41] You said it all. This is how creepy this is to me.

Phillip: [00:19:47] At some point...

Brian: [00:19:48] He's set it up like... Okay, fine. I'm just going to finish my little diatribe here.

Phillip: [00:19:52] Okay. Please.

Brian: [00:19:53] When you're going to build a system to fix a problem that you created that involves differentiating between whether someone's a human or a robot, don't build an orb for people to line up and get signed up.

Phillip: [00:20:06] But don't think that it gets press any other way. So that's the...

Brian: [00:20:11] Oh, yes, you have to look evil to get press.

Phillip: [00:20:15] That's modern. It's very modern. You have to you may not be evil, but you have to look evil...

Brian: [00:20:22] We're screwed, man. We can't even be mean on an interview.

Phillip: [00:20:25] That's true. It's true. I'm trying. I'm trying really hard to be edgy. If you know me...

Brian: [00:20:33] The upcoming interview would not suggest that's true.

Phillip: [00:20:36] That's not true. It's not true. None of this is true. Salesforce, please don't sue us. What you should do instead of suing us is sponsor this podcast Just send us an email. It's fine. You can email us. It's totally cool. This is the reality of this though, is that this identity verification is its own weirdly Venn diagram kind of a moment. Not only does it lean into it is effectively like an NFT, right? This is a token for anonymous online actors to not have to reveal their identity but prove their humanity because ostensibly nobody else would hold this token. And also, also Brian Lange, it's a means of earning passive income because they are paying people for their biometrics on an annual basis. And I saw some discourse. It's like $50 a year. You're going to line up and give... Like this is exactly...

Brian: [00:21:37] Signed away your biometrics for $50 a year.

Phillip: [00:21:40] You could not have made a better... This is so primed for... I'm going to call it right now. The Bible tracks of like the 1990s are going to make a hard comeback against this kind of movement because this is so perfectly Venn diagram for mark of the beast discourse because it is so evil in its appearance. It's so come into this orb and get scanned so you can buy things in the future. Your perineum is the key that unlocks the future.

Brian: [00:22:22] Oh, man. Oh, man.

Phillip: [00:22:26] Oh, my gosh. Yeah.

Brian: [00:22:28] It actually does get back to something though, that was in my first ever Insiders piece of all time, which was there is going to be...

Phillip: [00:22:38] About body data?

Brian: [00:22:39] It was, yeah, yeah. There's going to be a verified web and an unverified web. Yeah. And the unverified web is going to be awesome. And the verified web is for commerce and dating.

Phillip: [00:22:52] You know what's funny is that if you follow the truth of the future happens, but not the way that you think it will, that is literally the world that now exists seven years post your article. Seven years post your gesticulating about body data, that is actually the world that exists. It's through tightly controlled walled gardens of commerce that you have to participate in that have real name policies or require verification of humanity by you clicking on all of the crosswalks.

Brian: [00:23:34] This gets really wild because a lot of this data, actually I don't know how much data that they're collecting. I mean, you've made it clear they're collecting a lot of data.

Phillip: [00:23:46] Some say they know my perineum better than I know myself. You never thought I was just going to keep leaning into the joke.

Brian: [00:23:54] I know. I set you up there to keep leaning in. That was my point.

Phillip: [00:23:59] Lean into the perineum.

Brian: [00:23:59] But this is going to get wilder and wilder. In fact, this is why potentially the cloud, honestly the cloud may go, as far as data storage goes, we may have to go back to having our data stored not in the cloud. And we go down the Brian Roemmele path because PII is getting mixed up in here. Health data, the stuff that hospitals have...

Phillip: [00:24:33] Cat's out of the bag. I don't think that's true. I don't think it's possible. I was thinking about this too. You're so right. And this is where... I don't want to be... We've talked about a lot of conspiracy theories on this particular show, which we rarely ever do. If this is your first episode of Future Commerce, it's never this fun.

Brian: [00:24:57] Aliens. That was a reference back to the first Brian Roemmele episode.

Phillip: [00:25:00] Here's the problem. The truth is these sort of harebrained conspiracies of coronal mass ejections or EMPs or solar flares, they all have these potential, you know, unknown, global events that put our whole state of being as far as like the very digitally enabled online cloud-based systems... It does kind of draw it all into question. Is this the repeating of history or the rhyming of history with regard to like the libraries of Alexandria or something to that effect? And are we setting ourselves up for some Pompeii-level mass, cultural extinction event because we have concentrated all of our knowledge and learnings into the pockets of a few very large corporations, of which Salesforce is definitely not one of them because we love you, Salesforce. But also, we're sort of distributing the learning of it and the building of that onto the next phase of technological growth, which is potentially quantum computing. Did you see? You were, I think you were camping all week, but apparently, now we have multiple competing papers saying that we have ambient room temperature superconductors now. Did you see this?

Brian: [00:26:41] I haven't seen this yet. I've been in the woods all week. That's why I'm so tan right now.

Phillip: [00:26:48] You're like burned. If you're not watching the YouTube, this man has some sun. Yeah. It's wild. It's wild. Neuralink does its first tests, I think, this year. I think we went through actually in retrospect, we created a brand called Future Commerce when it was extremely exciting to be talking about the future of commerce. And then there were four really dull years when everybody thought the future of commerce was direct to consumer.

Brian: [00:27:20] I believe I actually predicted that, by the way.

Phillip: [00:27:23] Did you?

Brian: [00:27:23] I think there was an episode where I said, "I think the technology that we have right now is what we're going to ride for the next 3 to 5 years." And yeah, I'm pretty sure that was about 3 to 5 years ago.

Phillip: [00:27:37] Yeah, I think you might be right. And if you're curious about who else is predicting the future of commerce, today, we have a very special guest. I am excited, nay thrilled, to have our next guest on. But we'll get to our interview with Michael Affronti right here after the break. Over the last, I would say, almost ten years has really been powered by large pieces of software that have really created what we know as eCommerce today. One of those, of course, is Salesforce. Salesforce powers eCommerce at scale for the most recognizable brands in the whole world. Today we have Michael Affronti, who is the SVP and General Manager of Commerce Cloud, the commerce portion of Salesforce, who's going to tell us about the future of commerce. Welcome to the show, Michael.

Michael: [00:29:20] Hey, Phillip, Thanks so much. It's great to be here, and I appreciate you having me on.

Phillip: [00:29:23] Of course. And you know, I'm sure astute listeners would wonder right off the bat if is this a sponsored episode. It's not a sponsored episode. But what I love is having the ability to get leaders like yourself in front of our audience to talk about what you think the future is. If you had to look into your crystal ball, Michael, from your vantage point, what are you doing to build the future of commerce today at Salesforce?

Michael: [00:29:46] Oh, thanks, Phil for the question. And also yeah, again, it's great to be here. I've always appreciated you guys because I think it's helpful to have like, you know, I talk to my team a lot about we get in the balcony and think about what's going to happen over the next 3 to 5 years at the same time as helping our customers with the day to day conversion and all the things that matter. So it's great to have this conversation. I certainly wish I had that crystal ball. I think like many of us, we think we have one, and in particular, I think we're looking at the three big personas that have to think about commerce every day across the customers that we work with. And we broadly talk about the merchants, of course, the folks running the commerce sites and both B2C and B2B experiences. We think about the buyers, of course, you and me, buying socks and shoes or maybe restocking the shelves at one of the companies we work at. And then this third group that we've been caring a lot about over the last two years and certainly some of the things we can talk about today is the non-traditional person doing commerce. And by that I mean the sales representative or the field service agent who is doing their job. But now, especially with the tools available from platforms like Commerce Cloud can now actually become a revenue-generating opportunity for the company. So those three big buckets we think a lot about the transformations that are happening and certainly what we can power for our customers. And I would say, the broad strokes and certainly something that we're very fascinated with are how can AI help amplify the productivity and the usefulness of commerce for all three of those groups of people? That's number one. And number two, how do we think about that buyer experience as really pushing on all aspects of commerce to help it transform faster? The customer's always right. So we're constantly thinking what is going to meet the moment for the buyer and then really making sure that the platform services those needs on behalf of the merchant.

Phillip: [00:31:38] And this is something we've been talking quite a bit about is that the more pervasive that the E in eCommerce gets, the more digital that transaction becomes, the more opportunity we have to find those different modalities of buying today. One thing we've talked a lot about is how B2B buying, purchasing on behalf of a business and their role has become much more consumer-like. And I think part of our thesis there was, well, we've had to use consumer-style applications to drive some of those experiences, but now there are B2B specific eCommerce stacks. Salesforce operates one of those, right? So when you're thinking about that, what are you seeing trends-wise in that style of purchasing and what's powering that today?

Michael: [00:32:26] Yeah. I like to think about exactly what our customers care about when I think about where we're headed with things like B2B. So I was in Europe a couple of weeks ago and was having a great lunch with a couple of our customers, and one of them is a large chemical manufacturing company. The CIO held up his phone when I asked him what he thought about B2B commerce, and he pulls up the equivalent in his market of Instacart here in the US, it was a grocery delivery app. And although I couldn't read the words because it was in a different language, you know, it's obviously elegant UI and I could tell it felt very much like the Instacart that I use here in the States. And I said, "Oh, that's cool." And he said, "We want our B2B buying to feel like this." And I said, "Oh, that's interesting." And here is, you know, a chemical manufacturing company, not necessarily someone you'd think would be bleeding edge consumerization of their B2B digitization. But, he like most of the customers that I talked to in the last 12 months, really have, I think, sort of almost snapped into this modality of, "Wait a minute, I'm a consumer. I enjoy when things are elegant, beautiful, simple, mobile, and easy. What if that was the case for the folks that are restocking chemicals for their manufacturing plants from us?" And the reason that he points that out is he said their current experience and we're working with them to transform onto the Commerce Cloud platform... He's like, "We built this homegrown B2B buying portal and no one gets past browsing. They end up just calling the reps anyway." So he's like, "We're gaining no self-efficient self-service efficiency." And he's like, "We're not digitizing. We're basically just having an online brochure." And I said, "Well, that's really interesting." So my point, Phillip, is I think increasingly customers outside of retail are coming to us and saying they want their B2B experience to be as elegant as possible because they recognize as people that that makes their end buyers happier, probably more likely to convert and ultimately, hopefully, save them money and drive up their actual revenue.

Phillip: [00:34:21] And of course, that's what we really need to see in these businesses. I think we do the world a great service by implementing commerce because as we said at the beginning here, I think culture is commerce. I think the way that people intersect with each other, the way human connection is made, is commerce will always be present when people are present. The other question is we have to afford it, right? And so when you're making investments, especially in technology, you want to see a return on that investment. A lot of people today are really still very centered not on the buyer experience or buyer journey. I see a lot of technologists that are looking for industry terms, industry standards, and industry buzzwords that sort of fulfill a checkbox like a matrix of how they make decisions and the way they acquire software, for instance, and software powers these customer experiences. Let's talk a little bit about your perspective on how those needs at the CTO level maybe, or the CIO level are impacted and how you're shaping up your go-to market and your offering in the Commerce Cloud team.

Michael: [00:35:26] Yeah. Oh, that's a really good one. I'll express it through two things. One is the conversations we have. Again, this is the transition we've seen in the market and also what's very evidenced by just the way we go to market. It used to be the standard was it's the chief digital officer that's in charge of thinking about eCommerce, e-Commerce. And I think what we jokingly say inside Salesforce is that, in some cases, we're talking about big C commerce to a customer, which is more traditional eCommerce. If they've got a background in doing it, maybe they're using another platform or homegrown. But increasingly we talk about little C commerce, where we're talking to the Chief Technology Officer, we're talking to the Chief Procurement Officer, and they are coming to us not saying, "Hey, I'm ready to kind of digitize my self-service buying and I'm ready to..." They come to us and they say, "Hey, we want to take some of the repetitiveness out of our sales person's lives. What can we do to make reordering easier?" They come to us and they say things like, I gave the example earlier, "We've got field service techs who are literally doing work on site, producing a work order, and then the customer is waiting three weeks to get an invoice that they can pay." So what are these opportunities that we could afford them to help make those changes? And that's the really interesting change I think, over the last 12 months alone is that we're just seeing new buyers come to the table, especially in non-retail industries who at the executive level have needs that when you reduce them down, are just like you said, it's about helping a buyer convert and actually exchange that value with the company. But they're not coming at it with that big C commerce mentality. They're coming at it with I've got a persona like a seller or a field service tech who I just want to make them more productive. But that productivity can come from shifting some of what they do to self-service using eCommerce technology. So I think that that transition is really interesting and sort of just getting started in the market and certainly something that we are really excited about here with some of the products we launched this year.

Phillip: [00:37:21] That's sort of a shift of the mentality and maybe the role of the buying center. So you're having to... I'm sure that comes with its own challenges, and sort of messaging to the market, "Hey, we're capable of delivering what it is you want, even though maybe you have some boxes to check." What are some buzzwords that people come looking for when you're realizing, "Yeah, we maybe have a solution for that? The market has decided it's called this thing. Maybe there's a different way to be thinking about this holistically in your business instead of just buying a technology stack that purports some buzzword, as you know, on the tin."

Michael: [00:38:46] That's right. Yeah. I personally try to avoid buzzword bingo whenever I can, you know, in terms of talking about what we do. And I think, therein lies really I think how we talk to these specific new buyers. The first step is always ROI, because typically, as you know, a buyer who's not used to buying any sort of commerce technology, there can sometimes be sticker shock, no matter what the platform is, because it's a big investment to think about moving from a legacy ERP system to a modern catalog management system as part of an eCommerce solution and all the trappings around it. And that's part of the reason why we've worked so hard to make sure that we are as modular as possible because I think what we have found is modularity I think is one of those buzzwords where even the new buyers are saying, "Hey, how do I not do the whole enchilada at once? Is there a way for me to start bringing this on piecemeal?" So that's number one. Number two, I think, is making sure that we can help these different personas and actually have ROI that's quickly positive. I like to talk to customers about in-year ROI and making sure that the investment that they're getting out of our platform is not something where we have to have a five-year pitch to their board. It's actually about this year we will help improve conversion on your site for your direct to consumer or we will help improve the productivity of your sales reps by making self-service ordering a more systematic thing. So I think modularity, ROI, and then the last one, not to get into buzzword bingo, but AI. What are we doing to help transform the experience. I think most customers today, unless they're super, super high-end retailers, are still figuring it out. And a part of what we've been doing with these new buyers is having conversations about what we think that means to them and how we can help them navigate that journey.

Phillip: [00:40:27] Let's shift gears just a little bit. One thing that Salesforce does in the ecosystem is a lot of research and sort of listening to the direction of... You power a lot of eCommerce in the world. So you have a perspective that very few have. The industry report you just put out recently talked a little bit about the directionality of sales velocity. Meanwhile, some people think, well, eCommerce had this regression to the mean. There's a lot of narrative around the post-Covid era of eCommerce and how much customers are really going to eCommerce as a destination. What we're seeing is a lot of a lot of hype around that shifting is still digital, but it's being spent on different things. So potentially travel experiences, Barbenheimer, who knows? But let's talk a little bit about are there perspectives that you have? And can you tell us a little bit about some of the data points that you're observing in platform on your end?

Michael: [00:41:32] Yeah, what a great topic. I appreciate that, too. We spend a lot of time looking at our own data, which I think most companies do. But we're so fortunate, as you mentioned, to power such a large percentage of the world's leading brands that we do have a fairly unique perspective when we get into our sort of umbrella here. And we talk a lot to the customers to validate this data and really get into it and to understand what's happening. And I think as we published, we're seeing the first time since we've been publishing our report, I believe it's 2014, a decrease in year-over-year sales growth for retailers during and around Prime Day, which is a really nice milestone moment in the industry now to just think about what's happening in the market. Same thing with Cyber Week. And when we dig into the data and we dig into talking to actual customers to both validate and expand on it, we hear similar to what we've seen year over year, which is that I don't want to say it's the Covid whiplash, but we really still are, even though every graph shows some version of reverting to the mean, what we observe happening in the market is still a bit of the whiplash coming from Covid where you had a lot of brands shoot up during Covid, as we well know. We had a lot of companies sort of gear up for this forever momentum that was going to take retail eCommerce to the next stratosphere, if you will. And as things have started to revert, they're dealing with a different reversion, which is what the actual buyer is going through. And folks just like you and I, in thinking about when do we open our wallets up, that is an independent thing from what the brands are trying to do. And I think that where they meet is what we're seeing in our data, which is that folks this year in particular are generally a little bit more skeptical of spending disposable income than they have been in previous years. And you could do a whole separate podcast on all the macroeconomic factors impacting that. But in general, when money is more expensive, folks are going to tighten the screws down. And what we have also seen is the brands that are doing the best are the ones who have been leaning into their loyalty offerings because as you and I know, a loyal customer is a happy customer. And even if there is a slight dip in their spending, they're more likely to come back to you if you're nurturing them, providing them value-added services and really personalizing to their needs. So even though there's been a bit of a top-line dip, the companies we see that are probably poised best to navigate through it are the ones who are using this time to lean into loyalty, nurturing their customers, providing those offers, and really driving that repeat visit to make sure that at least that awareness stays attached as customers sort of reset their own spending expectations, especially going into the holidays.

Phillip: [00:44:06] Other economic factors show that we're at historically low unemployment here in the United States. Spending as far as, we're looking at the CPI report. Inflation looks very favorable. It looks like that's getting under control. Are we bullish about the future, specifically around the future of eCommerce? What does the data tell you right now as far as the way that Salesforce is viewing the outlook of eCommerce and its near-term future?

Michael: [00:44:40] Yeah, I love that. We are very bullish. And I'm not just saying that because I work on eCommerce technology and software myself, but I do think it is, as we talked about just a few minutes ago, it's one of the reasons I love this space, I do believe it is sort of wound into our DNA as people that we are ultimately consumers. And I think that, not to get too sort of philosophical here, but the desire to exchange value for goods and vice versa, I think is inherent. And what that actually means in practice is, I think, we're going to see continued digitization of more and more of consumer experiences. And I think the omnichannel approach being taken by a lot of retailers right now is really a good indication of that. It's not that necessarily customers are not spending, it's that maybe they're spending in different places and/or their experiences have changed, especially post-Covid, where they want that multichannel experience looking for items where they want to be able to QR code their favorite product in a store, and then have an interaction with a bot offline or out of the store, rather, and then interact and maybe complete the purchase there. So I think we're very bullish on it. We're very bullish on really meeting the new consumer where they are, which can be on many different channels and some of which we're probably not top of mind for most companies. The second part, I would say we continue to be very bullish on is this digitization of the B2B buying experience, because as we talked about, we're seeing in spades new economic buyers coming on board, looking for new ways to drive productivity and revenue in places where maybe they didn't think about commerce before.

Phillip: [00:46:16] There's been a lot of talk over the years, again, in the echo chamber of the eCommerce ecosystem, we have some things that I think a lot of people might say are truths, but maybe they're less true today. The way to grow a business, especially on the B2B side, is that we've looked at B2B as being this fixed number of customers, a fixed number of accounts. It seems like that truism is changing a bit. We're seeing more businesses actually engage in digital commerce for B2B transactions. And as that digitization takes place, we are seeing growth in that area of business and attracting more customers and having a more global reach. What could you tell us a little bit about how that narrative is changing and how businesses are using eCommerce to find new markets, especially on the B2B side?

Michael: [00:47:12] Yeah. Phillip, building on what we just talked about we're seeing a couple of things happen in the B2B space. One is these new buyers around the different business units that could really find value out of B2B commerce or just commerce in general. If you strip away B2B, they don't think about it necessarily as that. They just think about it as digitizing. The second is, and this is some of what we released this year and I'll just make it real with a product example. We've talked to a lot of customers in the B2B space over the last two years, and one of the things that came up really clear in our customer conversations is for a lot of these new buyers, a lot of these new departments, they're not ready to go full commerce "transformation," and I air quote it because it can be as big or small, depending on the company. And what they told us was we'd really like a way to get started more simply. And what they actually mean is not we want a bunch of composable microservices in this case because often these are not engineering-led departments. These are procurement or sales or a supply chain division. So what they told us was, very specifically, it'd be great if we could automate some of the repetitiveness that our sales reps are going through. And this ties directly to one of the products we released this year, which is what we call our commerce apps for Salesforce. And one of them is this reorder portal that we built, which is essentially a slimmed down version of a B2B reordering site that actually is built into our sales cloud. And what that allows is every sales rep in your organization to automate the repetitive task of sending out the same invoice every 2 or 3 months. And we found that that is really a powerful way to talk to this new buyer as we chatted about, Phillip, because now instead of shifting it into this big commerce transformation, we can talk about, let's automate the way that your sales reps do some of the tasks that are not high value add so they can shift into relationship building mode, new business mode. And now all of a sudden the B2B buyers say, "That's cool, I'll spend money on that. I'll automate and gain that efficiency key," and then that sets us up to build that trust where we can go and help them do a more thorough transformation where we add a full B2B commerce site, where we add things like subscriptions and other tools to help drive the B2B commerce transformation in their organization. So we see it as a sort of full spectrum approach, and I'm very proud of the fact that a lot of the commerce app technology we built has been a direct result of these conversations with these B2B customers.

Phillip: [00:49:39] Discourse with your customers being the future of commerce. I think that is very, very much in our wheelhouse. We always end these by asking you what is the future of commerce? You've mentioned a few things I heard AI. I heard B2B buying. Succinctly, Michael, what is the future of commerce to you and to Salesforce?

Michael: [00:49:59] Oh yeah. The future of commerce to Salesforce is absolutely an AI-led future. And we think about that both for the buyers and the merchants. On the buyer side, we truly believe, and I believe personally, that we're watching a massive transformation in the way that consumers ask for things from the Internet broadly, in terms of assistance and GPT and the way that customers will expect to have tasks completed. And one of those tasks will be finding the goods and services that they need to make their lives better and their lives happier. So really being at the forefront of that is going to be critically important and we're certainly doing that with some of the products we've released. On the merchant side, we see it in our customers words is all about productivity increasing their ability to go to market faster and getting more leverage out of the incredibly skilled people that they have doing things like promotions, merchandizing, and content development. So we believe AI truly is the future and moving beyond a world of just predictive recommendations to truly a generative future, if you will, that really will change, I think, the shape of the experience for both buyers and merchants.

Phillip: [00:51:04] And if that happens, you'll have heard it here first. We are Future Commerce, of course, and I think one of the companies that have been building the present state of eCommerce, Salesforce certainly best poised to help deliver on the future of commerce. Michael Affronti, thank you for joining us on this episode of Future Commerce and thank you all for listening to this episode of Future Commerce. You can find more episodes of this podcast and other Future Commerce properties. We have a bunch of them these days, almost every day of the week we're publishing content., and if you want it in your inbox so you are never missing out on what the future holds, it's Thank you for listening to this episode of Future Commerce.

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