Engaging superfan communities through digital tokens

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) generated a lot of hype in 2021, which led many smart people to dismiss them. The way brands experimented with NFTs basically amounted to a PR stunt—the main goal was to garner press for being innovative.

That said, smart, strategic use cases for NFTs are emerging. It is particularly exciting to see how certain brands are using NFTs to develop “superfan” communities. These communities can eventually be leveraged to revamp and modernize their loyalty programs.

It’s possible for superfan communities to have tremendous scale since media headlines have overly fixated on NFTs that sell for six or seven figures. In fact, most NFTs sell for $200 or less, so a modest net worth isn’t a barrier to entry.

By offering NFTs, marketers have a new way to identify high-value superfans who are most passionate and eager to spend money with their brand.

Possible approaches to building superfan communities with NFTs

1. Unlock access for superfans
NFTs can be used to gain admittance to in-person events, conferences, VIP lounges, and special sections within venues, replacing traditional and digital tickets.

They can also grant access to private, moderated Discords where brands can offer puzzles, memes, surveys, scavenger hunts, and giveaways to reward superfans for their dedication. Or NFTs can unlock video tutorials and webinars, which may be interesting for B2B companies.

A very nascent example is the NFL offering virtual commemorative tickets as limited-edition NFTs in partnership with Ticketmaster. The NBA’s Dallas Mavericks took it a step further by offering special rewards to fans who collected the most NFTs based on the number of games they attended. While these tokens can’t be used to get through a stadium or arena checkpoint yet, the momentum is building.

2. Offer prizes and incentives to reward collectors
NFTs will be used as a sweepstakes entry point for fans to have a shot at winning prizes. This is already happening, and I expect to see more of it in 2022.

For example, the company behind NBA Top Shot (a blockchain-based marketplace where basketball fans can buy and sell video highlights of players) created a sweepstakes letting owners of Phoenix Suns NFTs win tickets to Game 5 of the NBA Finals based largely on how prolific they were as collectors.

3. Merge physical and digital worlds for validation
Since transactions with NFTs are recorded on the secure Ethereum blockchain, they’re starting to be used to validate the authenticity of physical goods.

As an example of this, Robert Mondavi Winery recently launched a series of artistically designed porcelain wine bottles linked to NFTs. Buyers were prompted to purchase an NFT in advance of receiving the corresponding bottle, with the NFT serving as a certificate of ownership.

NFTs will also let people showcase their style and personal taste within social communities or fledgling metaverse environments. Steph Curry released 2,974 non-fungible tokens featuring digital replicas of the shoes he wore when he broke the 3-point scoring record in December. One of the key aspects of these NFTs is their interoperability—owners can show them off across three different metaverses.

Branded NFTs represent a new way for people to bring physical belongings into virtual worlds and articulate brand affinity. They’ll do this for the same reason that some people buy limited-edition vintage sneakers in the real world–to be seen wearing them.

From fandom to brand touchpoint

There is enormous value in identifying and engaging with superfans, even if it’s a relatively small cohort overall. Once superfan communities are created with the help of NFTs, brands can engage with them organically instead of relying on interruptive pre-roll or in-feed ads. Brands can also use look-alike modeling to identify other customers with similar attributes.

Obviously, there are many effective approaches for cultivating brand loyalty, but a blockchain-based loyalty program would offer additional interactive capabilities.

Brands are just beginning to scratch the surface of these capabilities in terms of gamification and the ability for third parties to build upon or interact with digital assets. With consumers owning NFTs that they can sell or trade, brand loyalty becomes a literal investment.

“As the metaverse becomes a reality, NFTs will become invaluable to marketers, in part because of their interoperability across virtual communities.”

NFTs will become a social currency that helps people connect with brands and express their fandom in the same vein as a Facebook “Like” or a YouTube “Subscribe,” which are also digital manifestations of people’s interests and passions. But, since NFTs are a more interesting creative canvas, they’ll be more potent as a brand touchpoint.

The key here is patience. Notwithstanding all that’s been said about them, NFTs are still in their infancy, and we can expect to see a huge amount of innovation and creativity in how they’re brought to market in the coming months and years. The gimmicky use cases will lessen, and the true potential of this technology will shine through.