In today’s episode of the Brand Master Podcast featured Ariadna Navarro, Chief Growth Officer at VSA Partners brand strategy design agency in New York. In this article, Navarro discussed the wild world of Web3 and how big and small brands can make the transition.
Navarro, who is known for her strategic skills, shared her insights on where brands fit within Web3. The conversation included topics such as
NFTs, crypto, and real-world applications of Web3.
She also discussed how to approach the conversation of Web3 with clients.
According to Navarro,
“Web3 is an exciting space for brands to explore, but it can be overwhelming. It’s important to understand the potential of this new space and how it can benefit your brand.”
The emergence of ChatGPT, a large language model trained by OpenAI, was also discussed. Navarro highlighted the
Impact of ChatGPT on branding and where the future of branding is headed.
Navarro’s expertise in future-proofing brands was evident throughout the article.
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Web3 is a new concept that many people find difficult to understand, despite being around for a few years.
Before delving into it, let’s take a step back and learn about the Chief Growth Officer at VSA Partners in New York.
Can you provide a brief background of your journey to your current position?
I am originally from Venezuela, making me a Latin woman in New York. The majority of my career has been spent here, starting in advertising at Leo Burnett.
During a summer visit to New York to see a friend, I was introduced to a head hunter and interviewed at a digital agency called Wonderman.
Two weeks later, I received a job offer, which I accepted without hesitation, and moved to New York with just a duffel bag.
After a few years at Wonderman, I transitioned into consulting, specializing in innovation.
I spent a significant portion of my career thinking about how companies can adapt and grow despite market or audience shrinkage or technological disruptions.
My focus was on business model innovation, pipeline development, and future forecasting.
I eventually moved into a brand job and became the Chief Strategy Officer at Interbrand, one of the world’s largest brand consultancies. They see the brand as a business asset, which resonated with me and allowed all the signs of my career to come together into one job.
I then moved on to become the Chief Strategy Officer at VSA Partners, before taking on my current role as a growth officer.
Throughout my career, my passion has been exploring new technologies and their ethical uses. This ties into the bigger picture of brand storytelling and strategy.
Understanding Web3: An Introduction for New Clients
I love how it started off with that bold, fresh youthfulness of just saying “like a duffle bag.” It reminds me of a time when we had no worries and we just said “let’s go.”
I absolutely love that. You’re perfectly positioned to answer some questions I have at the moment because with the way things are changing, thinking into the future is something we all need to do quickly.
But before we get there, I know that many people are interested in Web3, and specifically, our role as brands within the world of Web3.
Can you explain to me, as if I’m a new client coming into the room and I don’t know what Web3 is, what Web3 is from your perspective?
That’s an excellent question, and I will explain it the way I explain it to myself because it’s still a work in progress. There are actually various definitions of it.
The way I think of it is like this: my mom was a historian, and she always told me that you have to understand the path to understand the future.
So I think of it like this: the web is not the internet, but it’s actually a group of protocols and tools to interact with the internet.
Basic premise number one. Because when you think of it, you might wonder if it’s your browser, but no, it’s a toolkit of verticals and ways to interact.
Web1 was the static web for the olden folk. It had banners, and data was stored on website servers, like Netscape of the world. Web2 is where we’re at today, which is the user-generated Interactive web.
And when it started, the blog started coming in, and you were able to leave a comment in a chat. That’s the era of Facebook, Airbnb, Twitter. It allows for the data to be owned by the companies.
Web3 comes along to solve for data protection, privacy, and ownership. So that’s sort of the impetus.
The easiest way that I think of Web3 is still that interactive web, but it’s decentralized and encrypted in a way that your data is protected. It’s powered by AI and blockchain, which is one of the platforms that powers Web3.
The main thing to take away is that Web3 is decentralized, and the most essential thing is who controls the data and content.
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Explaining the Evolution of the Web3
To distill it a bit, we could say that Web1 was like a monologue. Those on the internet broadcasted their message without the ability for us to respond.
Web2 is more like a dialogue, but we still have to go to their world or address, and they own the conversation.
Web3 is a breakaway from this dynamic, where we don’t have to go to their address or give away our data. It’s a decentralized world where we own our stuff.
Would that be a good way to distill it?
Yes, I mean, consider this fascinating aspect. The control part is what I find difficult to comprehend, and it still is because it’s a concept. It’s like, okay, so the files reside on multiple servers, on multiple computers, but since it’s blockchain, only you can access the files.
It’s a strange concept, as if there’s a shirt in someone else’s house, but you own the shirt, and you enter the house to retrieve it. It’s bizarre, isn’t it?
However, when you consider Web2, you purchase a shirt on a website, and make a payment that has to go through the website’s rules.
The website creates these rules, but there are also government policies and trade and payment transparency regulations that you have to abide by.
There are layers of rules that govern the interaction. In contrast, Web3 doesn’t have these rules.
Therefore, there’s a significant ethical debate about whether it can be used for nefarious purposes, as you can imagine. It can hopefully be used responsibly and ethically.
I suppose if we use metaphors and analogies, it simplifies my understanding. When we go to someone’s address for a conversation, not only do they own the conversation, but other entities monitor it to ensure it aligns with their protocols.
All of our data belongs to them, and many different entities have access to it.
Decentralization creates a bubble around our privacy and information, so we don’t have to go to their address and have others listen in on our conversations.
We’re taking back control and ownership of our data. Is that right?
Crypto is the best proof point of that. We’re going through this crypto winter, but we have yet to see the good side of crypto.
The good side of crypto is decentralizing and eliminating the supervisor, such as the bank. You can pay someone in crypto without them needing a bank account.
It creates this extraordinary world of possibilities.
The challenge and the problem is, it hasn’t been used for that as much. It’s been used as an investment or a betting tool.
That’s where we’re at with crypto.
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How Brands Embrace Web3
If you think about it, back in the day, if you and I were neighbors and you had a skillset of creating pottery, and I had a skillset for farming.
I could go and farm your garden and you could pay me in pottery because there is no other overseer of that relationship and of that transaction.
And that kind of disappeared in the world of Web2 because you had all of these different layers.
Now with this decentralization, we’re able to take a bit of control back and we’re able to barter a bit more and trade a bit more and determine our own rate and the way we do things a little bit more than we could in web2.
That’s kind of the… and again, this is an evolving thing.
Even though I’ve been in and around the world of Web3 for a little while now, I’m still evolving my own thoughts on really categorizing it because I like to visualize things and put them in a specific place in my mind.
It’s still settling for me to have that clarity and I think that’s an evolving thing.
Over time, that will become a lot more clear in terms of brands and the world of branding.
Where do brands fit into this world of Web3 and where do the opportunities lie?
Obviously, there are different facets to this, the likes of NFTs, crypto and Meta. Where do brands have the opportunity to embrace web3?
You just hit on the top three things we know now: the back end of Web3 World and the front end, which is AI. This is the easiest way I can explain it to clients.
Blockchain and AI will power Web3 because of the machine-to-machine conversation, and the front end of that is the three things you just said:
There may be more coming.
When I think of brands and the conversations we have, very often, we’re doing a campaign for someone, and we think about doing an NFT.
I look at the Metaverse, in particular, and NFTs as another channel to engage with the brand.
The longer you interact with a brand, the more in love you’re gonna be, and the more you’re gonna buy or recommend it.
Social capital has a cred value, so if you can create more opportunities to engage with a brand, then you’re gonna increase brand and business value.
An NFT is just tokenizing a digital experience so that you can use it to do something. It could be a thing like Michael Jordan, whatever basket, and whatever game.
You buy it for a gazillion dollars and show it to some friends. NFTs could be a token to an experience, like going to an NFL game, giving you backstage access to the whole experience.
It’s a virtual element in an analog experience. When you think of a brand,
What are you gonna create that’s meaningful?
What is your moral imperative and responsibility to that person?
I think it’s a powerful tool. You just have to think about how to use it in a way that’s creating some value.
Challenges and Opportunities for Brands in the Digital World
Yes, it is still very difficult to conceptualize what the merging of the digital and analog worlds looks like.
If a brand creates a meta and brings its customers into a digital environment to monopolize their engagement or attention, there is an ethical question that arises for digital brands, especially gaming brands.
Since the 1980s, gaming brands have created products to keep people attached to the screen, and this is not going to change anytime soon.
When it comes to real-world applications, let’s take an example of a normal business, not a big brand like Nike or Apple.
For instance, a million-dollar business that wants to embrace the world of Web3.
What does the real-world application of Web3 for a brand of that size look like?
It’s a great question because big brands have money and are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into this.
A friend of mine told me the other day that she bought a bracelet from a jewelry maker friend of hers who has a small brand worth about 3 million dollars. With the bracelet, she received an NFT of a painting by her partner.
So, in my friend’s mind, the $3,000 bracelet seemed like a bargain because she was getting a beautiful gold bracelet with a little diamond and a piece of art.
This is a perfect example of adding value. When you think about how to use NFTs, it’s about enhancing the experience.
You have to look at NFTs like any other brand execution.
What is your brand strategy?
For example, Coca-Cola is all about happiness.
So, how do you use that digital experience to drive happiness?
If you can do it in a way that tells a consistent story, then it works and makes total sense.
For small companies, the world of possibilities is even bigger because most of this stuff is built on open solars. They can hire a developer and create something quite easily and quickly.
Then they can put it on any of the NFT marketplaces. Anyone can think about how to enhance the experience and create a moment where the customer opts in.
In the past, it used to be about creating moments where the customer doesn’t opt out, but now you have to create moments to opt in.
This means you stop what you’re doing so that you actually pay attention.
When you are a small company, think about what value you can add. For example, if you are a hand cream company, and you always sell hand creams but don’t have a lot of dollars, think about what your customers need and if you can solve that through the digital experience.
Value Of NFT
The way I understand NFTs is by looking at them as social currency. I don’t know who it was, maybe it was Gary V or someone like that, who speaks a lot about it.
You show off your possessions, like your kicks or your Mercedes, as social currency to the world to say,
“Hey, this is my status. This is the space I play in.”
Do you see NFTs in the same way?
I think the perception of NFTs has changed due to the crypto fallout. Crypto is needed to purchase NFTs, so it’s different from when Gary V talked about it a year or two ago.
I remember being obsessed with the Bored Ape Yacht Club early on, and it made me realize that not everyone was familiar with what I was talking about.
When I went down the Crypto Madness rabbit hole, I became so obsessed that I would talk about it at dinner parties, but after an hour, I realized that no one was interested in what I was saying.
Most people don’t own NFTs, and it’s been an experiment with ups and downs.
Decentraland, the most well-known metaverse, only has 50,000 people left. NFTs require a lot of energy to burn crypto, and the blockchain that Bitcoin is on uses as much energy as Finland.
So it’s hard to talk about NFTs without considering the whole picture. The idea of social currency has been dampened by energy usage and the ways NFTs have been used for not-so-good purposes.
However, I believe it’s just a cycle of innovation that will come around.
Introducing Web3 to Brands
You work for a branding agency and that’s what you talk to businesses about, their brand.
When you sit down, whether it’s in a discovery or a workshop, with a client who may not be up on Web3 but is relatively progressive and wants what’s best for their brand, how do you raise the topic of Web3 and present the opportunity to them?
What does that conversation look like?
It’s a great question, usually brought up in the context of a business conversation. We’re not a Web3-only agency, unlike others that focus solely on Web3 development or marketplaces.
Our conversations with clients center around their business and brand. For instance, let’s say a client has disengaged employees despite launching a new brand. Their business problem is understanding and engagement.
To solve this, we think about an experience strategy, business strategy, communication strategy, or behavior change strategy. After creating a strategy, we need to consider how to execute it.
So, if disengaged employees are the issue, we suggest creating a batch system with NFTs. Every time they receive a shoutout, they can earn an NFT, and after five NFTs, they can receive a bonus.
NFTs should not be thought of solely as digital pictures on a phone, but rather, used contextually.
This approach makes it easier to discuss with clients and demonstrates the real value of Web3, rather than just investing in it for the sake of it.
Involving Employees and the Future of AI in Branding
I like the idea of involving employees from an employer brand point of view to generate that culture and get them involved in the brand itself, and to really embrace the brand.
I think this is an ever-evolving thing that we need to keep our finger on the pulse of. With everything moving as fast as it is, it’s pretty difficult to do that.
Now, you said something to me earlier that I thought was very interesting, especially with where we are now.
You always live in the future, and although we’re talking about Web3 and what’s coming, we’ve seen a pretty sobering reality of where we are with AI through ChatGPT in the last few months.
What have you seen with ChatGPT, and someone who thinks ten years into the future, where do you see this going in terms of the disruption it’s about to cause, first in general, and then specifically in the branding world?
I am an adopter of new technology and tend to have an open mind rather than shutting it down because it is scary.
I value intellectual nourishment and when I see students not having to study or write essays ever again, it really scares me.
However, if the good ones embrace new technology first and use it in constructive and helpful ways, the bad ones will follow. We cannot close our eyes and ban technology.
I have seen many universities change their tune on technology. Initially, they banned it because they realized that students were submitting identical essays, which were all written by machines.
However, now they are starting to think about teaching differently.
Can AI be used to do some of the work in teaching?
Can it be used for more hands-on learning or interactive discussions?
Similarly, brands are also starting to use AI to write ads. While AI can replicate logic and learning, it cannot replicate creativity and human interaction.
The creative human mind is impossible to replicate, and human interaction is essential. AI may learn faster than humans, but it cannot replace the creative human mind.
In summary, I am an adopter of new technology and value intellectual nourishment.
While AI can be useful for certain tasks, it cannot replace human creativity and interaction.
Embracing Technology and Human Connection
I believe that replicating the human creative mind will be easier than replicating human interaction, which will take longer.
Although this technology is here, we may not be ready for it yet. However, ignoring it is not an option. There are ethical and philosophical questions that arise from using this technology, such as the moral dilemma of using writers to produce content on behalf of a personal brand.
As technology evolves, it will continue to raise questions about creativity and the boundaries of what is possible.
In terms of human engagement, even if technology becomes as good or better than humans, there will always be a thirst for actual human interaction.
As such, we should not ignore this technology but instead, embrace it and consider how we can use it to our benefit.
Brands can use this technology to their advantage by recognizing the value of human connection and incorporating it into their strategies.
Would you agree that human connection is an area that we should embrace and leverage?
I agree. Let me give you another example of what you’ve been saying for so long. I feel like this has been happening for about a decade, although I’m not sure why.
You conduct focus groups for campaign innovation concepts and you often hear feedback like “that’s kind of salesy” or “that sounds like ad speak.”
Consumers want brands to be authentic and transparent, and they can see right through inauthentic advertising.
Exactly. If people want brands to be honest and transparent rather than self-serving corporate entities, then using AI to create packaged responses, communications, and experiences is the opposite of that.
Yes, I agree. Although AI can learn to sound human or quirky, if consumers can already see through inauthentic advertising, they will likely see through AI-generated content as well.
Therefore, there will be even more demand for genuine human interaction, whether that takes the form of real people creating content or some other type of interaction that feels authentic and comes from a genuine point of view.
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