Have you ever wondered what will the future look like now that generative AI and the Metaverse are poised to revolutionize the digital landscape?
In the 20th episode of the DesignRush Podcast, we discuss the intersection of branding, Web3 and AI, as well as how the latest tech trends will result in a digital revolution that's here to stay.
Our Senior Editor Vianca Meyer talks with Michael Gaizutis, the founder of the leading subscription-based branding agency RNO1, on how big brands maintain a unique edge in the increasingly competitive market.
Michael is the founder of RNO1, a world-recognized experience design agency for tech and commerce brands. Being featured as an expert in several renowned media outlets, Michael's efforts have helped to propel technology and eCommerce brands significantly in the market, with four companies leading to acquisition by larger brands, one airing on the hit U.S. TV Show "Shark Tank" after securing funding from billionaire investor Mark Cuban, and two tech/AI companies securing $100 Million in funding with a $1 billion market valuation.
Vianca: Could you share what sparked your journey into the world of advertising and marketing?
Michael: My journey began with a deep appreciation for advertising and marketing, which I pursued academically and then through various roles in ad and brand agencies.
I've had the opportunity to work with big consumer tech brands, like Sony PlayStation of North America, and in recruitment advertising. Eventually, I ventured into consumer tech, founding a startup that aimed to compete with Quora during its prime.
This startup experience, along with my time in Silicon Valley, reaffirmed my affinity for the agency realm, leading me to establish RNO1, initially as a consultancy. We adhered to the mantra "live the brand," and started by taking on small projects, which grew over time into larger engagements.
Our early clients included Cox Media Group and Microsoft, among others.
How did RNO1 evolve from its early days to the subscription-based agency it is today?
RNO1 has always aimed to challenge the status quo in the agency space.
Over the years, we've learned a great deal and evolved significantly. Our focus has always been on technology and great design, working closely with our clients and adding value to their brands.
About five to six years ago, we recognized that the typical project and retainer models in the agency world were broken. We shifted to a subscription service model to better serve tech and commerce brands.
Initially, we faced setbacks as our clients loved the idea but couldn't fully leverage it. Over time, we refined our approach and began attracting the right partners for our model, which now caters to series A, B and C-funded startups, and a range of tech sectors.
Can you elaborate on the subscription models RNO1 offers and the types of companies you work with?
We offer subscription models tailored to different stages of a company's growth.
One is geared towards foundational work like digital branding and UX/UI design, while another focuses on digital marketing strategies, including TikTok SEO and CRO, to facilitate growth.
These models are designed to help both new e-commerce brands and B2B tech companies scale effectively.
For instance, we've been working with a FinTech company on developing a digital banking platform capable of managing significant global assets. Our subscription models are varied:
- Revolve - For foundational growth
- Ryde - For marketing and customer acquisition
- Retrn - For forward-thinking tech companies in AI, the Metaverse and blockchain
We saw a need for this last subscription because of our experience with crypto and Meta companies, and it's designed to be futuristic. Our goal is to fuel growth across different channels and platforms, supporting these companies not just for their current needs but also where they're headed in the next five to ten years.
What sets us apart is our desire to not just work within the current tech landscape but to anticipate and shape its trajectory. It's about understanding how to fuel a company's immediate growth while also strategizing for its future in a rapidly evolving digital world.
That foresight is baked into our subscriptions, which offer a comprehensive range of services from branding and design to full-scale development and marketing strategies.
The success we've seen, especially with recent clients in the FinTech sector, illustrates the potential of this model.
We're actively building platforms that are competitive and capable of managing substantial assets on a global scale. It's these kinds of ambitious projects that excite us at RNO1 — projects that aren't just about immediate results, but about laying the groundwork for sustainable and significant growth for years to come.
How does your agency maintain its distinctive edge, especially when collaborating with big brands like Microsoft, Airbnb and Disney?
It's crucial to consistently and radically differentiate. There's a tendency to become complacent, to think that if something works, it will continue to do so indefinitely. This complacency is a trap; you must keep innovating to stay ahead.
Control what you can, and for us, that means standing out in a sea of similarity. Even as others may try to replicate our work, we must persist and continue to differentiate. This philosophy applies whether we're dealing with small startups or large enterprises.
Our clients are drawn to our unique model and the quality of our work. We challenge them to think and act differently, which is something we excel at.
- Our agency is multi-faceted, covering digital branding, UX/UI design, development, and marketing
For instance, we're exploring TikTok SEO, which is quite unconventional. In B2B tech, differentiation requires a big-picture approach and the ability to navigate market volatility and uncertainty.
To illustrate, I like to compare our approach to Tesla's impact on the automotive industry. Tesla's radical differentiation in technology, execution, and customer experience changed the game. That’s the level of differentiation we strive for with every brand and business we partner with.
Whether it's redefining a digital brand identity or designing a SaaS platform, we're all about creating engaging, connection-driven experiences. Our marketing team is always looking for unique conversion strategies, exploring new platforms, and using them in innovative ways.
We keep pushing and challenging the status quo. Listening to market leaders like Gary Vee, who juggles multiple projects knowing some will fail, inspires us. Recognizing that failure is a part of progress is vital.
The market ultimately decides the outcome, but we focus on controlling our differentiation and continuously adapting to what the market demands.
Regarding the challenges with big brands like Microsoft or Disney, could you share any specific challenges you faced, and how these experiences shaped RNO1's approach to future projects?
Working with larger brands poses unique challenges due to their multiple divisions and internal goals, which can create a disconnect from the larger vision.
However, these collaborations can lead to significant growth and learning experiences. Interestingly, we've found that we make a more significant impact with mid-sized companies, particularly those in series A to C funding stages.
These companies are in a growth phase, seeking to capture market share and aiming for IPOs or acquisitions. Unlike larger brands, which often focus on maintaining their market position, mid-sized companies are on the offense, driving toward aggressive growth and innovation.
- For big brands, the challenge is different; they're defending their market position
It's akin to playing a defensive role in a game, holding the line, as opposed to being on the offense. In business and brand building, however, there's a need for both strategies. Large brands need to defend their position while still innovating to stay ahead.
Our role at RNO1 is to understand whether a brand is in defense or offense mode and to help them radically differentiate in either scenario.
With mid-sized brands, our focus is on how to amplify their unique qualities to outpace any competition and resonate deeply with their audience. We encourage them to look beyond direct competitors and to emphasize what makes them fundamentally different and superior.
Our work is about helping brands, regardless of their size, to understand their position in the market and to adopt a strategy of radical differentiation that will ensure they stand out and appeal to their specific user base in a scalable and efficient way.
With the rise of Web3, how significant is it for the focus of RNO1?
Web3 is certainly a significant aspect of what we at RNO1 consider progressive technology. Our interest isn't confined strictly to Web3; we're looking at the entire spectrum of innovative technologies, as our goal is to be at the forefront of this evolution alongside our clients.
Our focus is on future tech – AI, mixed reality, meta-like environments – that's where our passion lies. It's essential to acknowledge that these technologies are in the early stages, and there's a lot that will change in the coming years.
We've observed that brands diving headfirst into new technologies can either reap significant rewards or face considerable risks. The situation with FTX and the subsequent impact on the crypto community illustrates the volatility in these nascent markets. The same goes for NFTs and the metaverse initiatives.
Take Meta's heavy investment in the Metaverse; it's not about failure but recognizing the earliness of the vision. It's reminiscent of the early internet days around 1993 and 1994. However, given the rapid pace of technological advancement, reaching maturity won't take decades – it could be as quick as three to five years. The key is to stay aware and adaptable to these rapid changes.
With the convergence of AI and Web3 being pivotal in digital transformation, how do you perceive this union, and why is it garnering so much attention in the digital sectors?
AI holds immense potential across various sectors. For instance, I'm currently investing in a health tech company where AI plays a crucial role. The scope of AI extends far beyond content; it's becoming integral in tech brands, B2B, consumer tech, eCommerce and many other aspects of our lives.
The intersection of AI and Web3 is particularly interesting.
Until now, there's been some separation between these two realms, but we're starting to see more convergence. Web3 companies are increasingly integrating AI technologies into their blockchain-based projects. This combination is more likely than AI adopting Web3 elements, given AI's broader applicability as a technology stack.
- AI is more remarkable than Web3
While Web3 initially seemed glamorous, reminiscent of the Gold Rush era with everyone chasing the next big thing in crypto and NFTs, its long-term utility and sustainability are still being evaluated.
AI, although it's become a buzzword recently, has been around for a while and is now gaining more traction. Its potential for sustainable utility is vast and far-reaching, impacting numerous industries like fintech, cybersecurity, and health technology.
The strength of AI lies in its ability to adapt and integrate into various environments over time.
Many of the companies we work with today are AI-enabled, tapping into its power to transform and innovate within their respective fields. This makes the convergence of AI and Web3 not just an exciting prospect but a transformational one for the digital landscape.
Given the current challenges, how do you see them influencing the future of Web3 and the Metaverse, and what strategies should businesses adopt to navigate them?
We are still quite far from the metaverse as we imagine it to be fully thriving.
There have been various initiatives like Decentraland and other visions of the Metaverse, and while some brands are finding success and monetizing these platforms, it hasn't fully realized its potential yet.
The release of devices like Meta's Quest 3 generates excitement, but I'm looking for a more immersive experience. The ultimate goal is something akin to the holodeck from Star Trek – a truly transformative experience far beyond what current technology offers.
We're currently in a transitional phase, similar to moving from a flip phone to a smartphone. The idea of the Metaverse is groundbreaking, but the technology, utility and widespread adoption are not quite there yet.
However, it's worth noting that certain metaverse-like environments are already highly successful.
Take Roblox, for example, which has created an expansive gaming platform with millions of daily and monthly active users. This shows the potential of such environments, even if they don't fully align with our futuristic visions of the metaverse.
Simulation-based environments, even with advancements like haptic suits, still have a long way to go before they feel truly real.
Businesses need to recognize that, while we will eventually reach a more advanced stage of the Metaverse, we're not there yet. Strategies should focus on incremental innovation and leveraging current technologies effectively while keeping an eye on future developments.
To conclude, businesses should be realistic about the current state of the Metaverse and Web3, focusing on what can be achieved now while preparing for more radical transformations in the future. It's a balance of innovating within the existing framework and being ready for the next big leap.
We thank RNO1 for this amazing interview! If you liked it too, feel free to check their work and stay tuned by following them on social media!