March 29, 2023
The Great NFT Rebrand: Is the Name NFT Here to Stay?
The headlines have shouted “crypto winter” for months. And it’s true that digital currencies and tokens took a beating, price wise, in 2022. But for those who aren’t in boardrooms regularly, here’s a little secret: interest from businesses looking to build on blockchains hasn’t abated.
In fact, we are still meeting with massive enterprises and iconic brands on a daily basis. And they have good reason to be interested – as I wrote in February, there are a number of ways traditional businesses can use NFT launches, for example, to create tremendous value.
These blue-chip businesses intuitively understand the value a modular, zero-gas blockchain like SKALE can offer them, from greater community engagement to passive long-term revenue. Utility isn’t the roadblock. Instead, the biggest hurdle for onboarding the next wave of enterprises onto the blockchain is simple: branding.
We can’t avoid the contagion that the term ‘NFT’ now carries.
What started out as a novelty to many mass market consumers first discovering crypto in 2020 rapidly grew into a cultural phenomenon that saw a digital college by an artist named ‘Beeple’ sell at a Christie’s auction for nearly $70 million.
Think about the casual non-crypto person watching this. Suddenly, their television screens were filled with cartoonish Bored Apes and pixelated CryptoPunks were being sold for millions — and virtual land selling at prices higher than their physical world mortgages.
These were all landmark events for the crypto world of course, and people like me who have steadfastly believed in the power of the blockchain years before many had even heard the term.
And there’s no denying that the sudden rise and popularity of blockchain projects launched the web3 space into another stratosphere.
However, much of that meteoric interest in the blockchain came from its speculative value rather than its utility value — which for many came crashing down to Earth with the crashing price of Bitcoin, Ethereum, NFT collections, and other web3 projects in 2022.
While such a sharp drop wasn’t totally unexpected, given the massive run-up, it was jarring for the casual person, and particularly those that had taken a chance on this new technology based on speculative value.
And so, when I say ‘NFT’ now, it can mean very different things depending on the person I’m talking to. For many, it’s not a positive connotation.
Here’s a thought: If everyone who launched an NFT didn’t actually use the word anymore, would we shrink the pie of blockchain users — or would we actually grow it?
Marketing Values vs. Marketing Technology
When was the last time you thought about what cloud storage provider your favorite website uses?
It’s a weird question to ask: On a base level, the average user does not care, or even think about, whether the site they’re interacting with is on AWS, or Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure.
They just care that it works.
Blockchains, NFTs, it’s all the same. This is architecture, and architecture is certainly critical for builders to know. But most home buyers aren’t thinking about what’s behind the drywall when they look at a house.
It’s not the plumbing that sells the house. And right now, we’re trying to sell plumbing.
It’s a losing battle. Instead of marketing the blockchain and then describing the values of that technology, we need to just talk more about the valuable features that these products are bringing to the average person’s life.
Back to the Basics
None of this is novel. You have to know your customer. You have to diagnose their needs. You have to show how your product solves those needs. You have to do it in a language they understand.
These are fundamental business principles, and I think, at times, we get so excited about the potential of the blockchain to change the world for the better that we forget that such principles apply to us, too.
A number of companies are already showing how to underscore the values of blockchain technology without fixating on it, from accelerated and gamified loyalty programs at Starbucks to even more immersive community building on Reddit.
Instead of terrible NFT launches that gamers rightly saw as self-serving, what if gaming companies had just said to gamers: “The products you earn in-game are now yours: This is a programmatic way of showing that. And, by the way, you can trade, sell, and loan these items out to others, all transparently.’”
All of that value would, of course, be stored on the blockchain — you could hold them in custodial wallets or even give users in-game wallets that are connected to actual on-chain web3 wallets — but communicating value is what actually matters to 99% of users.
So…What Should We Call Them?
No, seriously, I really am asking you, and am curious to hear what readers here think would be a better term.
My instinct is that it will have to be a case-specific solution, depending on the business or brand launching an NFT function to their customers.
‘Digital collectibles’ is a popular proxy term, and one that I think is especially effective for companies that already trade in physical collectibles, such as trading cards, sneakers retailers, comic book stores, etc.
Budweiser should be commended for its thoughtful ventures into the ‘Budaverse,’ punctuated by its zero-carb Bud Light NEXT launch that featured its own NFT in this year’s Super Bowl.
But I don’t know that the average Bud cares if his brew is an NFT or not. Neither does the guy buying a new Toyota, or cheering on his favorite sports team, maybe doesn’t give a shit about if it’s an NFT he’s buying — he cares about the value it’s bringing him.
We should continue thinking about how to make that value even clearer. Maybe for the sports fan, his season ticket purchase comes with an NFT called an ‘mPass’ — a “master pass” that grants him direct access to his favorite players, videos from behind-the-scenes airdropped to his wallets, etc.