Partnerships between brands (or other organizations with an obvious affinity) were an established practice decades before the internet existed. For instance, brand-funded TV programming became popular in the ‘60s as a way to reach homes everywhere when a critical mass of sets were purchased. And so the process of finding new partners in order to stay relevant to consumers (as their behaviors, and spaces where they spend time, morph and grow with seemingly exponential ferocity) is nothing new to brand marketers.
By: Alan Kittle, Summer Friday
What is perhaps a little newer about web3 is how brands and projects, native to the environment, are sprouting up at an alarming rate. Each day a project breaks the mold of derivatives or finds a differentiated “utility” for a newness-hungry audience. Each day we see thousands of fans flock to like, retweet, and tag friends on the latest content drop (hype videos and concealed art), and vie to enter invite-only Discords. Each day those mold-breaking projects are re-spun, and the fans who missed out on “aping in” all rush to something new to earn early adopter status or access to their token mint. The pace of change is endless, tireless, and almost impossible to keep up with.
I should say I have been “undercover” for only two months now, when I began to spend time searching Twitter hashtags for OG invites, WL giveaways, and tips on low-floor projects. I now “clan up” with alpha groups, grinding Discord servers to gain access to low price drops — all in order to flip NFTs to those badly “FOMO-ing” on OpenSea to get their hands on the latest anime skater boy PFPs or any one of a myriad animal-led projects. We all talk about disappearing down the rabbit hole, and we all talk about taking care of our wellbeing and switching off, but the struggle is real, and it's fraught with peril for the average enthusiast.
NFTs Aren't for Everyone
So when web3 is such a proverbial maelstrom for consumers and project creators alike, how and where (and with whom) can brands utilize NFT partnerships to appeal to their customers? Can they adapt processes from, say, influencer marketing to bridge the gap from today to tomorrow? Yes, possibly, but have most brands actually established a robust approach to that form of partnership after 6-7 years of the creator economy’s growing popularity?
Let’s start with what most strategists should agree is the first scary step into the unknown: analyzing if your customers are genuinely spending time seeking out these NFT projects. If so, are there a statistically significant number of them to make any experiment a worthwhile investment? If you’re bullish on market sizing, how do you evaluate if they want to be your “fren” in web3? Would they prefer to compartmentalize interactions with you for some other place and time? Are they ready to embrace the new version of your brand? So far, so good; your brand has some genuine portability into web3 — with status of ownership, for instance. Or a way to extend value, e.g., URL to IRL rewards.
Let's Go Deeper. Here are Some Examples
For most, unfortunately, what you mean to a customer in the “real world” is very tough to replicate in web3. Beverage brands can’t recreate a taste, nor can auto brands let you get behind the wheel for a test drive. And some have failed pretty miserably to inspire early adopters.
Yet others are learning from their peers’ failures and creating genuine excitement. Adidas, Nike, Ray-Ban, and more are finding great partners who mesh with consumers who match their existing personas. And yet, further still, and this is where it gets really interesting, a new breed of NFT project is emerging that offers hope for everyone looking for green shoots of opportunity. These projects are building native web3 IP brands deep within the rabbit hole, or garden, if you’re Azuki.
Seated in the intersection between Japanese and skater cultures, a small team of creators have exploded onto the scene. In three weeks since their Azuki red beans split open to reveal “dope” PFPs, they've entered the top ten most traded NFTs of all time. Generating over $30m of value on launch day, they have a robust and public growth plan — they have 450,000 on Discord, 280,000 on Twitter, and the most uninhibited community I’ve ever seen on social media. Samsung can only dream of their engagement numbers, and their marketers had to spend billions of dollars over many years trying to tap into social media “WOM and BUZZ.”
This Azuki project has set a new standard for NFT creators and provides lessons for brands looking to join the fray. Take time to follow the cycle of a project and look for healthy signs of a sustainable community. Ensure you partner with a doxxed leadership team, with credentials as genuine strategic thinkers, who have a solid understanding of their fandom’s hopes and dreams.
And really DYOR (Do Your Own Research) into what type of NFT project partner you want: are you simply looking to earn some attention and be perceived as edgy and cool by association, or are you purposefully and authentically looking to add value to your customers in a space that’s emerging (but with genuinely high upside and possibly serious downside)? Are you ready and willing to have the right balance of impatience and rigor as the fandoms growing in web3?
If I have one piece of advice to impart, it is to be prepared to evaluate the potential of a brand partner with a very different set of metrics for success. Embrace the discomfort and be ready to learn a new way of making friends and influencing people. And maybe, just maybe, your brand has a shot of providing something new, something desired, and something different with an audience that digests more new ideas in one day than we often conceive in a lifetime in our industry.
Alan Kittle is the Executive Creative Director at Summer Friday.