Innovation with Web3: Next Gen Strategies for Brands & Retail

August 24, 2023

Passage Protocol Co-Founder Meral Arik hosted a discussion about Web3 innovation at the recent D2: Retail Edition conference. Her guests were:

  • Gmoney, the CEO of 9dccc and Admit One, is an entrepreneur, cultural thought leader, and educator. He developed the first crypto-native fashion house and lifestyle brand to exist on the blockchain.
  • Devin Nagy, the Director of Emerging Technology for Diageo North America. His role is to look after the digital future of Diageo’s many beverage alcohol brands like Johnny Walker Crown Royal and Don Julio. Diageo is an established brand that has done a lot in the Web3 space during the last 18 months.

Fast Moving History

Meral: Let’s talk about your brand and its journey to Web3. Tell us about your Web3 activations to-date and what you’ve learned. What exactly does it mean to incorporate NFT and NFC technology into a product? What does the product experience look like? What has it allowed your community to do that maybe legacy brands can’t do?

The CEO, Gmoney aimed to solve three problems: aesthetic, scarcity tracking, and community engagement using Web3 technology.

  1. Create an aesthetic I want to wear. I’m well known online but am not IRL. This technology helps me translate products for my customers.
  2. Once in the wild, consumers want to know how many of these luxury products exist. Decentralized technology helps do that.
  3. Most interesting and entertaining at the same time is that once the product is out, I can build a community and gamify experiences to keep customers engaged. Web3 technology helps build brand affinity with my consumer base. NFC tags that are attached to NFTs and can distribute NFTs. Through gamification, a community can come together IRL and bring connections home to create social layers and empower them as brand ambassadors. With this tech, an individual can buy clothing by scanning an NFC tag right there on the garment and be a brand ambassador. The brand knows who the micro-influencer is, and that’s super value to the brand and the ecosystem. It allows you to empower brand influencers. That is just scratching the surface.

Devon Nagy shared that Diageo sees that consumers are now expecting brands to bridge the physical to the digital.

As a result, Diageo has sold Johnny Walker Ghost and Rare physical bottles, a unique luxury liquid that is paired with NFTs. It’s a way to get closer to the luxury consumers they are looking to covet and grow. The reasons Diageo moved into the Web 3 space are twofold. First, the strategic reason was for them to be part of the vibrant cultural movements – they need to be relevant in this space. Secondly, it helps accelerate their approach to reaching the luxury consumer (some bottles are thousands of dollars).

Later, Diageo has spent time thinking about how to use the tech to verify authenticity and ownership for luxury buyers and asked questions like “How do they monetize brand IP (i.e., Crown Royal is a 200+ year-old brand) to provide new levels of utility”? One example is Crown Royal – the purpose-driven brand that created crown collectibles to support veterans. When buyers mint a Crown Royal digital collectible, the brand packs up a purple bag and sends it to service members abroad.

Meral: Of the examples you’ve shared, it appears there are two ways to think about the web3 space. One is in-house, coming up with your own activations; the other is partnering with established web3 communities and influencers. How do brands determine what strategies are best for them?

He stressed the importance of key considerations in Web3 strategy, such as budget and leadership support. Firstly, assess your available investment. Secondly, gauge executive commitment. Adapt existing internal systems to new structures, like membership rewards programs. A combination of approaches may yield the best results, leveraging industry best practices. He expressed particular enthusiasm when top leadership is on board.

D. Nagy pointed out Diageo has a culture of innovation, and license from their CMO and leadership to test and learn. Diageo started in the Web3 space with partnerships in culture (i.e., celebrity talent). Johnny Walker, whose mission is progress, partnered with World of Women, a prominent collection of over 10,000 NFTs, at events like Art Basel to collaborate.

Authenticity is important as you’re trying something new. After that initial muscle was built and the learnings were brought in-house, they leveraged the technology to build and approach marketing differently.

Inflection Point

Meral: What’s changing in the market today and what are some of the major questions your peers are asking?

At Diageo, the primary focus is on startup-level innovation. This fosters clarity for the public and eases user onboarding. Conversations with solution providers drive Diageo’s digital evolution. The shift toward Web2.5 benefits Diageo’s diverse brand portfolio, accommodating varying audience scales.

Furthermore, he mentioned one of the most exciting things is that brands coming into the web3 space are not just reaching the web3 savvy of their constituent base, but their entire consumer base to onboard them. One example he cited was Louis Vuitton, who in June 2023, offered a “connect wallet” on their website. This type of thinking will take brands far into the future more quickly.

Web3 and AI

In this case, the narrative of AI has taken over the conversation of Web3, at least temporarily. Diageo sold 75 bottles of Johnny Walker Blue on Block Bar above retail price. It was bundled with additional utility in that the NFT was formed with an AI image created by an influential artist. AI is mainly being used on the design and creative side, and to authenticate origin. NFTs and AI seem to go hand in hand.

Takeaways from Brand Innovation

Lastly, Panelists shared recommendations for those new to Web3 technology and strategy.

  • Read trade and technology publications and engage in social media. Stay up to date on recent brand case studies and industry trends.
  • Collaborate with technology partners and be willing to test and learn – it won’t sink your business.
  • Buy a small amount of crypto and “play” with it – see how it all works at least from a personal perspective.
  • Be authentic to your brand – whatever you decide to do within the Web3 space, do it with purpose and with the right partners.

Watch the full panel discussion here.

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