Decentralized Brands
0x75A5
July 5th, 2022

Brands should focus on deepening shared connections by building new mechanisms for participation using decentralized technologies

In a world of saturated media, establishing shared connections to each other as a function of the brand is the next step for Brands/IP to cement themselves into culture.

In this paper, I’ll set some context for the cultural boom of NFTs, how they became a mechanism for community, and argue for brands to focus their web3 explorations on how they can deepen shared connections among their fans and cement themselves in culture.

Notes:

  • One of the Internet’s greatest gifts is the ability to connect us globally

  • People congregated in the niche corners of the internet seeking friendship and connection over topics they loved

  • Because of COVID, life was lonely again - and people sought connection exclusively online

  • The need for connection let NFTs (a form of multimedia) become a visual mechanism for community association

  • Most true, deep relationships are built when people work together towards a goal; even if you don't share as many similarities as you might think

  • People joined NFT projects at first (mostly) to make money, but "they stayed for the people"

  • The participatory activities NFT holders did together, though silly, created a powerful “shared connection” with each other

  • Brands should focus on deepening shared connections by building new mechanisms for participation using decentralized technologies

  • In a world of saturated media, establishing shared connections to each other as a function of the brand is the next step for Brands/IP to cement themselves into culture

Life Before NFTs

Pre-COVID, people moved to the cities their jobs took them to.

Old friendships were left behind, and new ones were formed - but people still desired to be closer to the people with their same interests. The friend we see at work is nice to hang out with, but people wanted more friends that loved the same video game they liked, or bread making, or any niche hobby that allows us to explore our true selves.

Many turned to the internet - the greatest tool for globally connecting humans. Organizing in niche forums, planning IRL events, and building or playing together allowed people to build relationships around a common interest they had.

Even when things were "good," people still longed for more connection, actively using the internet’s tools. But when the pandemic hit? People were extremely lonely. Like very very lonely.

Research from Harvard in 2021 found that “61 percent of those aged 18 to 25 reported high (levels of loneliness)” due to the pandemic. Psychologist Richard Weissbourd stated “If you look at other studies on the elderly, their rates of loneliness are high, but they don’t seem to be as high as they are for young people” with “63% of young people experiencing substantial symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

We lost touch with the physical world, forcing us to invent or rediscover ways to meaningfully connect online, and life doubled down on the internet. Watch parties, virtual spaces, and Group FaceTime are all examples of technologies built to enhance online connection during those times.

https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/02/young-adults-teens-loneliness-mental-health-coronavirus-covid-pandemic/
https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/02/young-adults-teens-loneliness-mental-health-coronavirus-covid-pandemic/

For a certain niche of technologists, Web3 became enticing, as the potential of a decentralized world not run by big tech turned many to begin tinkering on blockchain projects within the open communities.

Early blockchain ICO times (2014-2017) were rocky, but formed many of the initial friendships and groups that still exist to this day because of the work they did together. However, for the next wave of people to onboard, the application of the technology had to adapt - NFTs (ERC-721).

NFT Art as a Method of Multimedia Association

Multimedia is an extremely powerful tool for connection - it invokes multiple senses unlike static digital assets, and amplifies dynamic elements of real life to fully immerse you.

In the old days, multimedia was mainly used in marketing, ads, etc, but since the internet has taken off, many forms of multimedia have been created and contributed to culture. Youtube, Instagram, and Snapchat are all examples of dynamic user-generated content that are created by powerful tools, and shared at scale using social media.

When coupled with internet sharing mechanisms, user-generated multimedia creates powerful byproducts to a community’s culture, aka their bonding mechanisms:

  • Multi-Sense Associative Relationships & Connections

  • Insider Memes

  • Music Recommendations

  • Dynamic Entertainment

  • Stronger Brand Associations

  • Strong Influencer Ties

  • and many, many more

A recent combination (music snippets + personal video + visual effects) has been gaining popularity extremely fast - TikTok!

For Example: If you enjoy American Football and follow NFL Highlight TikTok accounts, you most likely also pickup music recommendations from the highlights because of strong cultural association between the two:

  • Many sports players are rap music fans

  • Many Millennials and Gen-Z are also rap and sports fans

  • Rap music is upbeat, "lit", and energizing

  • Sports highlights are generally quite electric

As a result, music recommendations through TikTok has become one of the primary sources for how a lot of Gen-Z find music these days.

Contributing to pop culture, people add their own contextualizations at each layer, morphing and adding onto the trend. For example, the youth paired dances like the Griddy, popularized by NFL Receiver Justin Jefferson, with music from NBA YoungBoy’s Right Foot Creep into a cultural phenomenon - furthered to the point where Fortnite added the dance + song as an emote you can use.

Ok, what about NFTs?

NFT’s Art, with the promise of joining a community, was simply a way for people to visually associate to communities & congregate in groups with niche interests, whether they knew it or not.

NFTs enjoyed a similar byproduct because they are also a form of multimedia (Art + Community), but instead of music recs, it’s a form of visual community association. The same way you’d get music recommendations you enjoyed if you followed NFL Tiktoks, NFT art became a mechanism for people to congregate into communities around a common interest - expressed through the art.

If you bought an Anime NFT like Avime for example, whether you knew it or not, you were inherently expressing your alliance to an underlying cultural interest you have, anime, and the community that was formed around it would also probably enjoy that same interest.

Diving into the Avime community, the events were based around watching/re-watching anime, chatting about new manga chapters, celebrating Japanese art/culture, and more, as people developed relationships centered around a common interest they shared.

If you took another NFT - Mannys Game for example - the 3D goofy art brought in a separate group of wholesome, incredibly talented degenerates. The events, conversations, and vibe of the server are completely different as it attracted different type of people based on the visual associations that were made with his branding.

In a world without these visual tools, we'd have to engage in numerous activities, putting substantial effort to vet whether we could enjoy this person/community - and oftentimes they don’t actually share similar interests to us. It doesn’t mean these strangers can’t be good friends, it just means we want to connect with others who share our deepest interests, as shown by the world’s desire to connect online.

In the NFT world saturated with tons of art, it was easy to visually associate into communities.

Multimedia combined with the internet’s sharing tools gives us powerful association mechanisms to speed up the initial association process. We can use these mechanisms to understand the vibe of a community, brand, etc and decide if it’s something we want to be a part of through dynamic tools and content.

Multimedia is everywhere and has been used for centuries, but for this specific niche of technologists, NFT art became the mechanism for community connection.

NFT art helped people visually associate to communities
NFT art helped people visually associate to communities

How Real Relationships are Built

Most new, deep relationships are formed when people do things together - usually with some form of competition or working together towards a goal.

If you look at video games, anonymous people from all around the globe create and build strong, completely virtual relationships with each other - often times because they are working together to win in a game they visually associate with (multimedia ;)

If you look at most school or work relationships, they are built because you deal with the same pressures: you all attend the same classes, study for the same exams, report to the same boss, etc, even if you may not have the same underlying interests.

However, if you’ve ever scheduled coffee chats or have been at networking events, you know it’s quite hard to create real, deep relationships with people even if you are physically in person, know you have similar interests, and are in a mindset to make new friends.

The physical world is great for building relationships, but not so much for discovering and filtering them.

In a physical world, our options are limited by our physical ability to connect. We often become close to people limited by geographic proximity, even when those people may not have many overlapping interests. We explored earlier that even in a time when life was "good" pre-COVID, people still yearned for connection with others similar to them and turned to the internet to do so.

Many knew there's more like them on the internet, and had tried to make friends online but failed. They just needed a real, fun mechanism to help form deep friendships.

That's where NFTs came in.

Perfect Recipe to Build Relationships

"I bought in for x, but I stayed because of the people"

If NFT's were just art, the story probably would’ve slowed, or maybe just stopped there; but for better or worse, money was involved, and people were lonely.

All of it combined became the perfect recipe to build meaningful relationships online.

NFTs required a form of financial contribution, and many bought initially for the promise of financial gain. When money's involved, people want the price of their project to go up - no one likes losing $.

As a result, projects:

  • Organized community events to build relationships with each other

  • Created DAOs or "working groups" to delegate tasks & spin off projects, raise money, create derivatives/art, expand, etc

  • Contributed to marketing efforts & replying to/following each other

  • Created an insider community of memes & culture

  • Developed a collective spirit “WAGMI” with everyone even if a project goes financially south

All these activities, fun or not, coupled with money, gave people incentives to work together towards a goal - which is exactly how deep relationships are built. People checked their floor prices, different rarity traits, collaborated on projects, created extensions of the lore, etc, and ended up connecting closely with each other.

Honestly the things people were doing could even be portrayed as kind of silly: grown people sitting on Discord all day, pretending to be hedge fund traders, moving pictures of monkeys and seals, and becoming friends <3

Most initially bought in for the same goal of becoming rich, but stayed for the relationships they made on the way.

The Short Story:

  • A group of niche, technology builders were seeking meaning and connection in a time of loneliness

  • NFTs utilizing a byproduct of multimedia let people visually associate to certain projects and cultures

  • Financial ties gave people incentive towards collaborating and working together aka "skin in the game"

  • Relationships were formed because the people who congregated had similar interests, worked together under a goal, and developed close bonds

Humans want to belong to something bigger than them, and the sub-cultures that were formed from the financial skin in NFTs + the underlying community formations that happened as a byproduct of multimedia + the fact that we're sad and lonely - was the perfect recipe for us to make friends :)

The disappointing part is we had to pay money to figure out how to build friendships.

"I bought in for x, but I stayed because of the people"

Applying NFT Lessons to Decentralized Brands

Brands should focus on deepening shared connections by building new mechanisms for participation using decentralized technologies

Media NFT projects are just collaboratively told stories (decentralized brands)! Some of the best traditional IP is already enabling collaborative storytelling, but not in the purest, decentralized ways. The winners will dig deep to think about using the benefits the blockchain provides to meaningfully better enable community and relationship building → Decentralized Brands.

Good IP builds experiences, but great IP captures imaginations and builds relationships with its lovers. Top-class IPs like Marvel, Lego, Pokemon, Mario, Barbie, etc, steal your attention and invoke powerful emotions even if you’re not experiencing their universe at the moment, and every interaction they create furthers some kind of relationship with the lore or the community who enjoys it.

Some of the greatest IP focuses on kids, but some like Call of Duty, NFL, beers lol, focus on more mature audiences. They still consistently create ways for loyal, tenured fans to continue enjoying the franchise they love by building bonds between players in new, innovative ways. For example, Call of Duty introduced Warzone, a multiplayer Battle Royale game (a game-format further popularized by newer titles like Fortnite and Apex) styled with COD elements so their audiences can enjoy the same IP they love while building deep relationships in a new* game format.

So far, many NFT projects have been working to develop lore, stories, and context surrounding their universe. However, to become a great IP I believe they should truly focus on building better mechanisms to from deep relationships by creatively using web3/NFT tools to enable meaningful participation & experiences.

  1. Build a good core - Without a good core or story, any expansions enabled by web3 are meaningless

  2. Play with web3 + other experimental channels to build meaningful, emotionally captivating experiences with your IP

  3. Build experiences that connect your community to each other in ways that haven’t been done before

The blockchain can enable scarcity, ownership, verifiability, and more, giving us novel ways to experience, expand, and most importantly contribute to IP. We can create interoperable games, creatively enable digital assets, build payment systems for proposals/contributions, and more. Traditional IP has only scratched the surface of what can be done in with collaborative storytelling, and I believe the future for successful brands is in creating powerful shared connections using web3 tech.

Shared Connections = Long Term Loyalty

Brands should focus on deepening shared connections by building new mechanisms for participation using decentralized technologies

Look at some of the most iconic IPs - many of them were first enjoyed as children, but even as their audiences grew up, their fanbases still embrace the stories by enjoying the universe’s expansions and nostalgic feelings they bring. Adults enter Yu-Gi-Oh competitions, play Pokemon Go, continue fanning over Star Wars, and enjoy Disney World almost as much as their kids!

Why? Because these brands were successful in creating a shared connection to both their IP but more importantly - the fans to each other.

Creating a powerful, shared connection to each other through stories is how you build a sustaining and captivating universe for people to continue feeling emotionally attached. Personal connections to a brand are important, but are 1:1 and as a result quickly fade. Shared connections among a group, however, typically require participation and as a result are dynamic, powerful, and heavily influential - aka culture!

In a world of saturated media, establishing shared connections to each other as a function of the brand is the next step for Brands/IP to cement themselves into culture.

Let’s explore some examples!

Ex. Turtle Talk with Crush in Disney World

Crush actually isn’t an AI, it’s a form of digital puppetry! There’s a real person back stage, assisted by some brilliant technology, creating a captivating show in the Nemoverse for children and adults alike.

The puppeteer engages the entire audience with their timely quirks, and creates a special bonding experience between the people/families and Finding Nemo. It’s so enchanting that families fly all the way across the world to experience these moments they cherish forever.

You can see a similar, but less engaging experience at the Doodles event in NFT NYC. They put a digital DoodleBot on screen, probably powered by AI, and you could speak phrases to it triggering difference reactions. Though it was a neat interaction, it felt like it had little effect on experiencing the Doodles IP (and probably still cost a good amount).

Talking to DoodleBot triggered different animations
Talking to DoodleBot triggered different animations

Both have similar final products, but the magic of the experience is because people love Finding Nemo + the nifty technology Disney intentionally employed + the relationships they cultivated with the community and families. Crush could’ve easily been an AI with less quality responses and people would’ve still liked it, but what makes Disney so damn good is that they chose to use a real person, purposefully enabled tools to better experience their IP, and put on a brilliantly delightful show.

Let's explore if Doodles could’ve easily used the same AI, but just switched the character as a low-fidelity example to create a more meaningful experience:

  • Why not use the throw up Doodle? It’s the most recognized one?

  • They just announced Pharrell Williams as the Creative Brand Officer, why not put his Doodle in there?

  • In celebration of Doodles2 (which should’ve totally been named 2Doodles btw, s/o Jon at Big Head Club) what if they had an art experience where multiple people have to come together to create a new Doodle?

Ex. Manny’s Game - an NFT project

An NFT project I love that has successfully built bonds using web3 tech is Mannys.Game. A community of wholesome degenerates initially formed around Manny’s 3D, gamified NFTs and he continuously gave people ways to establish deeper relationships while enjoying the Mannyverse™️ and lore. Open-sourcing his 3D model, giving artists the ability to create 3D accessories, creating in-person events, and building unique experiences (Tattoo Shop, Achievements, etc) using NFTs, are all ways he brilliantly enables his community to connect and form real friendships.

We’ve seen these types of activities be enabled in many projects, but in Manny’s Game, people actually do it. Why? It’s because they 1. love the lore, and 2. every experience he meaningfully crafts brings the community closer together to experience Mannys.Game on a new level.

Ex. Manny’s Tattoo Shop

From the tech side, the tattoos are updatable metadata tags on the Manny NFT, but the experience he built within the Tattoo Shop is so much more. Each Manny comes with an initial texture/rarity, but he expanded the personalization of each Manny.

The community got super creative with their tattoos, creating all kinds of amazing and hilarious designs. He also created a discord bot that shows all the new updates in the server and it became an engaging circular experience, bringing the community genuinely closer together.

Again, it’s not just about the tech - it’s the community experience he built using the nifty tech rooted in a lore people enjoyed.

A non NFT example - Pokémon Go

Pokémon is the #1 best selling IP, bringing in almost $100 billion globally as a franchise. Almost everyone loves Pokemon, playing a major part in many childhoods, even across generations!

Pokemon Go is a brilliant example because they extended their IP in the most meaningful way possible. Everyone wanted to befriend a Pokémon as a kid, and creatively using nifty MR, the team created a free experience where anyone could be a Pokemon trainer in real life.

They didn’t stop there; the way the game is structured is completely social.

Pokemon Go “lacks extensive tutorials, leaving players to look for each other for answers and advice; it incentivizes comparing collections to check on your progress against others; and it also has features that let you collaborate with others in order to get far more Pokémon together than you would get alone” - which brought forth a fresh, collaborative experience for the IP.

And its success is undeniable, breaking App Store records within the first week. People were meeting in their local woods and hiking for the first time in their lives just to catch a Dragonite or Mew.

It was genius because it gave people the ability to connect and experience a world they love together using cutting-edge technology.

These are just some ideas/examples, but this first essay is not to theorize all the different experiences we can create. However, I think the ones who succeed will keep one thing in mind: how can I use NFTs/web3 technologies to meaningfully expand my IP, and enable real relationship building within my community to create a loyal fanbase?

When people are deep into a lore and love something so much, they will congregate physically or digitally, using whatever tool is present at the time. If we can give people the tools to build new, meaningful experiences and relationships when they do come together - I think we can create something meaningful :)

Thought Exercise

And now an interesting question posed by Jacob at Zora:

Is the Mona Lisa being diluted or expanded as it’s shared?

Of course, relevance is subjective, but I’d say it’s expanded because the internet has enabled the ability to re-contextualize the painting. Though the derivatives don’t have monetary incentive (something the blockchain can enable), the internet has enabled derivatives to be widely shared, contributing heavily to the Mona Lisa’s relevance in modern culture.

If media sharing was limited, the Mona Lisa could’ve just been another painting, but it has instead been re-contextualized in every era, expanding and giving it new meaning in today’s world. We create modern day relevance by adding our own layers: making memes by cropping pepes and minions onto it, referencing it in movies and shows, and more.

You could state that the “original” value of the painting has diluted but I’d argue it hasn’t. People are aware of the Mona Lisa because of modern contextualization, and they maybe even make an effort to appreciate it in their lives due to its new context. I’d argue, because the Mona Lisa was a good base IP, the contextualizations are powerful additions to the base, expanding on the Monaverse (lol).

Minion Lisa
Minion Lisa

The End

Thanks for reading <3

If you have thoughts pls feel free to dm, I’m always looking to chat, share insights and develop new perspectives :)

with <3

- nishant m & pyro ⊹⊹

Post Picture: “A story written by the world” by Midjourney AI

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