Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
Brands, companies and organizations face the increasingly difficult task of connecting with their customers in meaningful ways, across many channels, throughout all hours of the day. The primary way to achieve this goal has been to collect data, analyze the data and then make top-down decisions and implement them across multiple channels. But how can brands collect the data in the first place?
First, consumers make a trade. We give our data in exchange for a service, like Facebook or Instagram. Then our data is sold to the highest-bidding brands, and those brands use our data to serve us their advertisements. That is how branding, Web2 and the majority of the internet we use today operates. The problem? In a Web2 world, when our data is collected, it is stored in a static database. This means our data (name, address, email, phone number, etc.) is owned by whichever company or service we made the initial trade (which is why they can sell it without our consent).
What does data collection have to do with branding? When brands own consumer data, they no longer have to provide value to reach consumers. Instead, they only have to outbid the competing brands trying to reach those same consumers with their advertising.
I know you are thinking, “OK, and how will Web3 be any different?” Great question. In a virtual world built on blockchain (Web3), we can and will still share our data in exchange for a service. However, that data won’t live in a static marketing database forever with thousands of entries that the consumer cannot access or own. Instead, it lives in a dynamic marketing database, and consumers can both give and revoke access to and from whomever they want, whenever they want. Enter the age of autonomous power and control.
When consumers have the tools to choose who owns their data, who gets to contact them and when, they also decide which brands matter, which stay and which go — without the direct influence of advertising budgets. Co-created branding, similar to Web3, requires decentralization of influence. It is no longer enough to create a brand message and spend enough to take market share from your competitor. Instead, brands have to know their consumers, respect them and most importantly, they have to listen to them and listen well.
What is co-creation? Co-creation is the practice of collaborative product or service development. Co-creation is a kind of open innovation. Information and ideas are shared rather than held close to the chest. The consumer decides what matters most and what action the brand will take next. Co-creation is inclusive, transparent and self-organizing. The community decides what is essential, and the brands take on the role of active listeners and executers.
Co-creation’s central idea is that working together is better. As a result, the brand is no longer an entity seeking personification but a thing to build and own collectively, with intent and purpose. The brands that adopt this theory of collaborative growth will provide constant value that keeps consumers in their marketing database because they desire to be, not because they are forced to be.
Brands have long valued their creators, giving large bonuses to executives and celebrity endorsers. This practice of incentives is accepted because the executive, the board, the founders, etc., technically own the brand’s successes because they own the ideas that built it, or rather, they own the IP (intellectual property). After all, historically, the brand’s central team develops the concepts and holds all the risk if those ideas fall flat or negatively impact the brand. Co-creation places its values similarly, as the creators still own the IP, and brands should value the owner of the IP accordingly. In a sense, the owner of the ideas should get the credit. When a brand is co-created, the community develops the concepts, not the executives; they implement the ideas, but they don’t own them. Making the executives equal to the community they serve, co-creation flips the script.
Co-creation is the future. There is no stopping it. Branding, as we know it today, will completely transform. As Web3 becomes more and more prominent and consumers gain autonomous power and control over their data, brands will have no choice but to rely on their communities to ensure long-term success. However, the brands and organizations that adopt a strategy of decentralized influence by co-creating will not only survive the shift from Web2 to Web3, but they will also thrive.
As an advocate for and owner of a personal branding agency, I have spent years explaining why every person should build or at the very least manage their personal brand. Personal branding has never been about packaging yourself; it has always been about autonomy and control. For example, are you more important because you went to Harvard, or is Harvard more important because you went there? Are you more of an athlete because you wear Nike, or is Nike the shoe for athletes because you wear it?
People are the reason these companies exist. We are the reason the internet and the world wide web exist, and we are the reason it continues to evolve. We are builders and creators. The brands that allow their communities to build and create with them will be the brands that succeed in a world where we can choose to leave any community at any time. Personally, I am thrilled about the coming transformation.