The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone’s editors or publishers.
Brands, businesses and organizations face the increasingly difficult task of connecting with their customers in a meaningful way, across many channels, every hour of the day. The primary means of achieving this goal has been to collect data, analyze it, 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 their ads to us. That’s how branding, Web2, and much of the internet we use today works. The problem? In a Web2 world, when our data is collected, it is stored in a static database. This means that our data (name, address, email, phone number, etc.) belongs to the company or service with which we made the initial exchange (that’s 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 just have to outbid competing brands trying to reach those same consumers with their advertising.
I know you’re thinking, “OK, and how will Web3 be different?” Excellent question. In a virtual world built on the blockchain (Web3), we can and will always share our data in exchange for a service. However, this data will not live forever in a static marketing database 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 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 can 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 need to know their consumers, respect them, and most importantly, they need to listen to them and listen well.
What is co-creation? Co-creation is the practice of collaborative development of products or services. Co-creation is a form 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 brands take on the role of active listeners and implementers.
The central idea of co-creation is that working together is better. As a result, the brand is no longer an entity in search of personification, but something to be collectively built and owned, with intent and purpose. Brands that embrace this theory of collaborative growth will deliver consistent value that keeps consumers in their marketing database because they want to, not because they’re forced to.
Brands have long valued their creators, awarding hefty bonuses to executives and celebrities. This practice of incentives is accepted because the executive, board, founders, etc., technically own the successes of the brand because they own the ideas that built it, or rather, they own the intellectual property ( IPs). After all, historically, the core brand team develops the concepts and holds all the risk if those ideas fail or negatively impact the brand. Co-creation places its values in the same way, as creators still own the IP, and brands should value the IP owner accordingly. In a sense, the owner of the ideas should be credited. When a brand is co-created, the community develops the concepts, not the leaders; they implement the ideas, but they don’t own them. Making executives equal to the community they serve, co-creation flips the script.
Co-creation is the future. There’s no way to stop it. Branding, as we know it today, will completely transform. As Web3 becomes increasingly important and consumers gain empowered power and control over their data, brands will have no choice but to rely on their communities to ensure their long-term success. However, brands and organizations that adopt a decentralized influence strategy by co-creating will not only survive the shift from Web2 to Web3, they will also thrive.
As a personal branding agency advocate and owner, I’ve spent years explaining why every person should build or at the very least manage their personal brand. Personal branding has never been about wrapping yourself up; 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 athlete’s shoe because you wear it?
People are the reason for these companies. We are the reason the Internet and the World Wide Web exist, and we are the reason they continue 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 you can choose to leave any community at any time. Personally, I am delighted with the transformation to come.