From storytelling to story making, communities trump media
Going forward, the brands and creators that are going to win in web3 are those that are going to recognize that their customers and fans are seeking belonging and active participation. Building and enabling communities will be the new engagement standard, tapping into the power of crowds and collective co-creation. This will slowly but surely have a transformative impact to how brand and creators think about growth marketing and relationship management: from transactional one-to-one audience activation to sustained many-to-many community engagement, and from top-down creation and promotion to bottom-up co-creation and advocacy.
With power shifting and value relations being redefined, brands will not only have to rethink how they engage and retain their existing customers, they will also need to adapt their front-of-funnel acquisition and growth tactics. Brands will need to treat (potential) customers as an active part of the exchange, one which will need to be permission based and symbiotic. As social creatures we look for mutuality to feel connected to one another: a sense of shared values and beliefs, a level of like-mindedness. The way we relate to brands is no different. We are not just looking for functional value, instead we increasingly expect brands to go beyond product (what & how) and invest in establishing common purpose (why) first; earning their way instead of just pushing us to click on the “buy now” button.
Stories is how we relate to one another. People come together through connected stories, collectively made and told. Every brand will need a compelling narrative, a story which is authentic and ownable, one that resonates with the culture it operates in. In addition, a brand’s story needs to be an invitation to connect, engage and contribute. With web3’s community first focus, brands will need to adopt a mix of storytelling, story making and world building, leveraging the collective creativity and skill diversity of the communities they engage with. The power of community storytelling lies not only in the stories created — but also in the process of their creation.
People love telling stories and love exploring their own creativity, especially when they can earn recognition and status among a community they identify with. Engaging someone in a creative process is not only compelling, but it gives them ownership that translates into promotion and amplification of the brand to new audiences outside its current reach. To be effective, community stories need to give each individual member of the community the ability to benefit from the contributions of many, while crafting a very personal experience of their own.
In web2, the medium is the message. In web3, community is the message. Similar to how media place a filter on a message and add context in a way that significantly impacts how a message is delivered and interpreted, communities in web3 will become the primary curators of brand stories, by filtering, endorsing, enriching and amplifying a brand’s messages.
When brands build and engage their own community, the brand is the hero and members aggregate around the brand’s story, vision and purpose to forge meaningful connections and experiences. The value proposition for community members changes from one of consumption and promotion to that of ownership. As such brand ownership is no longer the exclusive domain of the company, but one that is shared with all stakeholders. The concept of brand is, by design, a manifestation of the community which adopts it into their lifestyle. It means seeing the dissolution between brand and community, where “brand is community, and community is brand”. Ultimately, it means letting go of the idea that a brand is centrally controlled. It’s the potential to redefine the core anatomy of a brand itself, the ability for brand community members to create value however and whenever they feel without permission, living up to the principles of the ownership economy to distribute a brand between an entire community that owns it.
This new engagement fabric forces brands and companies to reorient their growth strategies from customer acquisition to community acquisition and empowerment. In addition to building their own communities, brands can also look to engage and collaborate with other communities that share common values or passion points. By figuring out how online communities are forming, the values and needs they have, what they’re building and where they’re moving to, brands can become enabling and supportive partners, providing the products, services and experiences these communities are looking for.
These kind of brand collabs aren’t anything new and can range from traditional sponsoring and product placement, over influencer partnerships and celebrity endorsements, to more subtle forms of community support and cause collaborations. Brands have always looked to partner with other brands, influencers, or media, to stretch their reach and benefit from compound network effects. But they’ve also learned that they can only activate other communities credibly if they collaborate in ways that feel totally natural and authentic. The ability to stretch a brand will ultimately be defined by the its elasticity: the ability of the individual brand to establish itself in new areas.
Is your brand elastic enough to expand its presence successfully with new societal and cultural norms; with novel ways of doing business; or with a new language? How successfully can you ‘transcreate’ your content and which consumers will be most receptive? Will your brand proposition feel valuable when consumers who now covet ownership more than anything else expect a new type of value creation?
What’s new in web3 is the expectation of empowerment, mutuality and agency that comes with every new partnership or collab. Communities in web3 are all about participating in meaningful ways in support of a common purpose. Successful collabs put community members first and are extremely mindful about how this impacts the special membership bond and unique sense of purpose that has been established.
For sponsoring and collabs to transcend to the brave new web3 world of communities, they will need to be:
1) earned and endorsed (proof-of-X)
2) participative and supportive (by & for the community)
3) value accretive (community flywheel)
Brands looking to collaborate with (web3) communities will need to earn their place. Very much like with any member in the community, there is a minimum viable expectation (MVE) of mutuality and agency for a brand to become a respected and endorsed partner. The mantra of ‘by & for the community’ forces sponsors to create reciprocal relationships, proving their fit with and support of the community’s purpose and projects. In addition to endorsing a community’s constitution, a brand sponsor will need to prove that their involvement and contributions will benefit the community and advance its mission and projects.
By & for the community
In order to become a respected partner to the community, brands will need to invest time and resources to deliver the responsiveness, interaction and participation expected from peer-level connections and collaborations. This goes way beyond programmatic inserts or branded presence, and requires a sponsor to humanise and personalise their brand interactions, giving members the opportunity to think of the brand as a friend or peer, rather than a product. And by crafting community specific experiences and providing member-only benefits, community sponsoring become true collabs, helping members meet their needs and the community deliver on its mission.
Finally, brand sponsors will need to contribute to a community’s economic flywheel, augmenting the social, utility or ownership value a community represents, while directly or indirectly helping that value to be captured and redistributed. By aligning to a community’s incentive model, brand contributions will drive a positive-sum game, with successful collabs either feeding the community’s treasury or returning value to its members. And in doing so, growing the overall appeal and (tokenised) valuation of the community.
In web3, the community is the message …
As communities increasingly become the carriers and curators of brand messages, brands will need to evolve their engagement model from an attention model to an intention economy. Whether in building and engaging their own community, or affiliating with and supporting other communities, brands need to be ready and willing to cede control over story and message to community members and trust they will run with it. Once we have the opportunity to own a part of the brands we enjoy and admire, some the key levers of building and activating brands will be transitioning over to the community. With shared purpose and intention, and aligned incentives, the communities a brand engages and collaborates with, will increasingly shape its narrative.