Marketing in Web3: the Old, the New, the Hype-free
As Web3 goes mainstream in the next five years, changes will come with it, similar to what we saw in the social media boom in the early 2010s. From channels utilized to user behavior, marketers will need to learn how to leverage known and new channels – but this time, without the benefit of years of data.
It’s incredibly exciting – but it’s also going to force marketers and acquisition-obsessed industries to re-evaluate the how, why, and what of each tactic.
User behavior is key – but without the data reliance
In the last 10-15 years, marketers – and the exec teams that review company performances – have become data lead rather than data-informed. Forcing decisions around what CTRs and conversions show, rather than focusing on how to create new ways to both get and keep customers. It was the era of “performance marketing” rather than building brand, product, and sustainable growth. It was the era of DTC built on cheap ad costs and flashy brands that didn’t always have a strong offering. User behavior was chalked up to “purchase decision” and funnels, rather than understanding user needs, wants, and stickiness. That’s all changing with web3.
The next 5 years are going to take us back to the basics of marketing while we build the future: creating brand trust in Web3 by understanding user needs before the user can understand them.
How does this affect marketing? Let’s count the (non)definitive ways:
Customer and User Research
In the past, we could lead great studies on how people have used products and how those products fit into a user/customer’s lives. From lipstick to shoes, to a game – even house-sharing a la AirBnB had hotel users to learn from. With Web3, most users cannot know how they’ve used NFTs and FTs in the past because the industry is so nascent that most people have not come across them in a meaningful way – and those who have are enthusiasts and early adopters.
While I’m a die-hard fan of user interviews and customer research, this era presents a new way of building those studies: understanding how users could use new technology when they have minimal interest in it. It’s relying on customer conversations – while pushing your internal teams to build something no one knows they need yet.
Marketing Shaping User Behavior is Less Predictive
A larger market shaping user behavior is increasingly less predictive than it used to be. User behavior, needs, and desires change with the environment they are functioning in – if the environment keeps changing, so does their behavior.
In the last decade, we’ve seen several “unprecedented times” and every time we start to think that will normalize, a new set of “unprecedented times” shows up. These wild swings affect what users need and want – and more often than not, what they want is comfort, trust, and reliability when everything else is chaos.
Build Trust first, Hype Later
Since experiential marketing took over (I love it, I’m a fan, I ran one of the first iterations of it), many brands have taken it to mean “create hype.” In Web3, we see it daily. It’s about the big splashy thing X company did – it’s also why there is deep mistrust of this industry.
Any time a new industry is born, the industry needs to gain the trust of consumers and users.
In Web3 this means:
(1) good product,
(2) easy to understand;
(3) nice people;
(4) delivering what you said you would deliver;
(5) and being inviting, friendly, and being consistent in all of the above.
This isn’t gravely different from Web2 marketing – but it’s substantially more important because it’s a new industry with bad press. That’s not to say that building hype is bad – just know the difference between hype of built on substance in Web3, and hype built on knowing the right people that will talk about you.
Customer Success over Influencers
The best (and worst) thing to come out of the Acquisition Era of marketing was how we worked with influencers. Instead of finding people that would try out products and become true brand ambassadors, it turned into the Kardashian era of “find the person with the biggest followers” and the influencers often became people that peddled any product that paid them enough.
That cycle created a distrust of brands and certain influencers. It’s why celebrity hype isn’t *as* big as it was in the 90s. People are tired – and if they see an influencer or a celebrity doing something in Web3, they question it first rather than embrace it.
So how do you deal with this?
Create phenomenal customer experiences in Web3 – from the moment they engage with your brand all the way through to when they start working with your team. That way, if you do end up with a celebrity friend at your event or in your ad, there is word-of-mouth support behind what you’re doing.
Product Quality over Being Cool
This is a holdover from the DTC era where white labeled products were sold to customers as a “direct to consumer alternative that cut out the middleman.” However, the products had minimal retention because they rarely measured up to the cool factor created by phenomenal, albeit untrustworthy, marketing.
But, as noted, that was an era of acquisition – we’re in an era of new users, community, and retention. This means ease of use in products matters more now than ever before. Users are delving into new territory, which means they will research, talk to other users, and share their thoughts online if they feel like they are being duped.
Flashy marketing will get them to the well, but they aren’t going to drink from it unless they are confident that it isn’t poisoned.
Community Making over Community Marketing
We’ve seen a huge push for community as a marketing tactic in the last 5 years, both in Web2 and Web3. However, few companies have a strong understanding of community in Web3 – they see it as a marketing tool, while many seasoned marketers will tell you that community is a set of would-be-brand ambassadors that you serve.
If you build a community in Web3 so you can market to it, it will fail. Instead, the focus in Web3 should be on building communities that help each other understand how to move within Web3. Facilitate and serve these communities so they can derive value from them – and in turn, you’re creating brand ambassadors that will be loyalists because you’re providing them a service without trying to sell them something.
Community making is a slow and steady effort – it’s based on need rather than hype.
Undoing Data codependency
It’s a new era. Accept and embrace the fact that data is not available in Web3 the way it is available in Web2. Don’t look at it as a downside, but as an opportunity to build better models that make room for understanding shifts in user behavior in Web3.
It’s uncharted territory – and we get to chart it! This will mean marketing cannot walk into every meeting with the metrics that were readily available in Web2, but smart companies will understand that this is an era of defining metrics, now living and dying by them.
Embracing the Market Chaos
As the market shifts, politics keep everyone on edge, and climate change quite literally changes the landscape – marketers, and companies need to embrace the fact that we live in a time of chaos.
Chaos isn’t all bad – it forces teams to be nimble, intuitive, and focus on problem-solving at the moment rather than 5-year planning. Make marketing decisions on a monthly and quarterly basis rather than annual and long-term planning, be open to shifting and respond in a smart way to market/political changes.
The marketing landscape is changing and pushing companies to think about creating sustainable brands that stand the test of time. It’s a big shift from performance and social marketing, back to full suite marketing that uses every lever available to create market trust. It will continue to evolve and we can’t predict where it will go next – if we did, you wouldn’t trust us.