Are brands ready for the future of loyalty?

Forced to adjust to socio-economic circumstances beyond their control and armed with technology that gives them more access to expertise than ever, consumers today are developing a stronger sense of self-reliance.

Accenture’s research shows that nearly three-quarters of consumers in the Asia Pacific feel empowered to make key decisions in their own lives. They are more self-assured in setting priorities and feel a greater responsibility to make decisions that benefit themselves, their families and society. They are also rethinking the values that drive them and reimagining their life purpose.

Above all else, self-empowerment is on the rise. Consumers are now ready to act in their own best interests. In fact, more than half say that company and brand names are not as important to them as they used to be, and what they look for in a product or brand is likely to change depending on circumstances. The question for companies is: are you ready for this shift?

Active participation and a sense of belonging

Technology now provides a channel for consumers to take control of their belonging and decisions. For example, artificial intelligence is breaking new ground and helping people harness their innate creativity. Anyone can create reasonable-quality language, image and video content with seemingly little effort or learned skill.

Also Read: The future of Web3 communities: What’s next after the NFT community craze?

Through technology, consumers can now participate and shape the future of the brands they love. In recent years, people have been seeking new places online where they can feel a greater sense of belonging and control. With reimagined values and purpose, they are focusing on hobbies and activities that give them meaning and have started seeking out digital groups where they could explore their interests.

Three threads are converging:

  • Online communities of interests and belonging: Globally, Reddit, Discord and Twitch have made it easy to find kinship among people who will actively listen, engage in, and talk about niche topics. There’s a digital channel for everything, from activist causes to coffee, skincare and home renovation. In the Asia Pacific, at least 65 per cent participate in online communities, with food, drink & cooking, health & wellness and travel communities being the top three types. These communities exist at macro and micro levels, global and local, offline and online, creating places where people feel they belong.
  • Token-gating of exclusive content or access: Tokenised access and content have allowed brands to experiment with new ways to monetise branded digital assets and reimagine the experience for superfans into one where two-way loyalty is at the core. India’s cloud-based platform, miniOrange, offers non-fungible token (NFT)-based gated content where users benefit from restricted content through their cryptocurrency wallet. GameFi, or blockchain gaming, allows users to game and earn cryptocurrency rewards, allowing people to monetise their gaming skills and turn hobbies into professions.
  • Digital collectibles: The progression of digital communities is prompting brands to develop new goods and experiences for customers. Communities are forming around digital collectibles, which include art, trading cards and brand catalogues. Colexion, a digital collectibles marketplace in Asia, has launched a premium NFT marketplace in the sports, entertainment, art and lifestyle industries. The platform has collaborated with international celebrities from these industries to sell highly valued souvenirs, from ticket stubs to autographs and more. 8SIAN, an Asia Web3 brand recently collaborated with Vogue Singapore to launch a giftable Love Chain NFT set that provides exclusive access to activities and games in Vogue Singapore’s metaverse spaces.

Ultimately, the opportunity for companies here lies in exploring new places to foster a deeper connection and relevance with people, as their passions, hobbies, and interests tip beyond loyalty into active community participation.

Harnessing the power of belonging

While online communities populated by people who articulate or perhaps unwittingly surface an unmet need will lead to more brands creating products specifically because of online communities, brands must engage their communities or build a new one to grow a customer base. Crucially, the community will lead brands to understand what their consumers — multi-dimensional beings who are complex and constantly evolving — are interested in.

Also Read: How to launch collaborations that grow communities: A guide for Web3 founders

Brands like Doodles are already proving the business model. The Doodles NFT project is a profile picture collection from artists that portray different cartoon characters with joyful pastel colour combinations. It launched in the middle of an NFT frenzy but instead of going big right out of the gate, it built a dedicated, tight community of fans who were financially and emotionally invested in the brand — a rare combination in a space known for speculative investment and making a quick buck. As Doodles has grown, so has participation, with customers taking a proactive role in shaping its future.

Even long-established online communities are branching out in several directions in search of new revenue lines. Reddit, for example, has launched an NFT-based marketplace where people can buy blockchain profile pictures for a fixed rate and released digital collectible avatars on its website and mobile app. This is compelling evidence that community-based engagement is tipping into the mainstream.

These Web3 developments will give brands more direct contact with and influence over their community. Brands must be prepared to make decisions around the dynamic of the new relationship. Will participants be treated as customers or as part of the brand? They must not just prioritise those who will generate profit. The customer relationship must be shaped in a sustainable and organic way that enhances the power of communities and allows them to contribute to bottom-up innovation.

Belonging to a community is a feeling people value, and technology is now enabling a new way to nurture communities where people can connect and build something meaningful. It doesn’t replace in-person connection — it’s simply another route.

Ultimately, customers have one powerful message for companies. “My life is changing faster than ever. How will you stay relevant?” Technology is not the most interesting thing here for the customer. Web3-enabled communities and tokens are just vehicles— customers will buy a benefit that they have deemed relevant to stay in their unpredictable lives.

Editor’s note: e27 aims to foster thought leadership by publishing views from the community. Share your opinion by submitting an article, video, podcast, or infographic

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