Why NFTs should be seen as worldbuilding opportunities for brands
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Brands planning to sell NFTs in 2022 face stiff competition and rising holder expectations. Some successful NFT projects like World of Women offer utility-focused NFTs to holders with real-world value. Some have partnered with motion designers, musicians or 3D artists to stand out. Others write stories where NFTs are characters and a community votes on their “journeys.” A select few make cartoons to keep holders engaged. Companies and groups have already gone beyond traditional monetary incentives to attract Web3 developers in today’s tight job market. All of those NFT projects share one thing: none are tied to a legacy brand or recognized IP.
The “why” is clear to crypto art enthusiasts, Discord community leads, brand strategists and storytellers — brands aren’t creating a presence. This key element to creating stickiness has been ignored as big consumer brands, towed by their PR teams, sprint to the expectation of NFT windfalls. But they forget to bring the Web3 picks and shovels.
Doing the required NFT homework
Tactful marketers see beyond the hype around NFTs and know there are more use cases for the technology beyond art and collectibles. Savvy marketers are planning NFT debuts by studying how current projects flourish, market, promote themselves and organically grow without logos or sponsorship money. These strategy-first marketers view Discord servers as classrooms to absorb how token holders and non-holders interact to help each other. They’re also searching for creative and behavioral trends that trigger certain NFT projects to boom.
Another prerequisite is considering which blockchain community fits your project. This is done by joining Telegram groups connected to these disparate groups. For instance, Ethereum is often used by artists for one-of-one drops or small collections, while scalable offerings like Polygon and Solana are most adopted by gaming communities.
A critical consideration is the ecological impact or adopting a blockchain that uses proof-of-work or proof-of-stake consensus. Blockchains such as Solana or the sidechain Polygon offer more eco-friendly transactions due to the technology behind their systems — proof-of-history and proof-of-stake, respectively.
The next “NFT Super Mario flag” for marketers is determining what their target audience knows about NFTs. Customer interviews via forms and live Q&As work well here. This step is needed before mapping out probable short and long-term outcomes resulting from brands using NFTs in their 2022 marketing strategies.
Doing things that previously worked won’t work
I’ve been on calls where reporters asked brands what utility or quantifiable value their NFTs grant. PR teams can no longer sprinkle NFT pixie dust on announcements to make companies or organizations look like first-movers. Just months ago, press releases were enough to score media coverage. But not anymore. NFT holders and the media have raised their standards, forcing marketers to step up their offerings.
While crypto exchange Coinbase has upwards of 56 million active user accounts, we’re still at the innovator’s phase of the five-stage technology adoption life cycle created by Everett Rogers. Global media outlets, art magazines, trade publications, and analyst firms are rushing to hire new resources to cover Web3 because they see things like generative NFT artwork as more than a fad. They recognize NFTs made a dot on the art history timeline. On the other hand, brands have mostly perceived batches of generative art as only a new digital revenue stream or novelty, not new channels to tell their larger story.
The saying “marketers ruin everything” exists for a reason. When something’s cool, it doesn’t take long for marketers to appear and siphon dollars from it. The bulk of branded NFT collections has brought us to this uncool-Uncle-does-TikTok-dance-videos moment. The interesting projects are outliers, like the adventure-based Louis Vuitton game where 30 NFTs designed by artist Beeple are discoverable.
NFTs = another form of worldbuilding
At its core, an NFT is a ticket or passport to a show or world. NFTs are one-of-a-kind digital or virtual assets that can take on any use applied to them. To me, anyone selling an NFT creates a world, whether they know it or not. Whether they planned to or not.
What brands should learn from thriving NFT communities is that NFTs are Web3 access keys to new worlds. In these worlds, brands add a new layer to customer relationships. When marketers grasp that NFTs are passports, their a-ha moment arrives. This understanding unlocks the limitless possibilities they can offer their brand culture and customers.
These NFT-led worlds should be treated — and created — with the same level of care and attention to detail that physical stores, websites, concerts, theme parks, and movies receive. Just as the Apple store immerses us in an environment, NFTs allow a new layer of connection to be established between a seller and buyer.
The best fictional worlds — Marvel, Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars — are nourished by stories, shared values, and fandom. Brands have forgotten to bring strategic storytelling to their hurried NFT releases. How can this be when storytelling is always the starting point for worlds from artists, brands, and franchises like Guillermo del Toro, Jay-Z, Barbie, The Beatles, Spongebob Squarepants, James Bond and LEGO?
Portal to success
How brands approach the promotion, launch and sale of NFTs will determine if they’re worth anything. The evergreen worlds their NFTs can access will be the key to earning community trust which will ultimately lead to sustainable success.
Benjamin Jackendoff (a.k.a. B. Earl) is a Marvel writer and partner at Skyview Way Studios
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