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The cat is out of the bag on the technical side of NFTs (or should I say Crypto-Kitty?) Every day, new services pop up that make it easy to drag, drop and mint your own NFTs. The barrier to entry to create your own digital items is low. And this has led to a flood of criticism that NFTs are a bubble. Who wants to buy all of this crap art?
But just because it's easy, doesn't mean it's easy to win in this space.
Take T-shirts. In the 1950s, if you wanted to sell t-shirts, you had to own or have connections to a factory that physically made them. Then there was shipping. Then there was distribution. Etc. Flash forward to 2022, and t-shirts have been "drag-and-droppified." Technology has eliminated the barrier and the middlemen. Does this mean that t-shirts are a bubble? Does this mean that people will no longer buy t-shirts just because now everyone can make them? No, they'll buy the shirts they want.
People buy t-shirts that fit their style, make them feel cool or fashionable or have some personal meaning to them. T-shirts are a form of self-expression. People will always need to express themselves and differentiate themselves from the people around them. Brands and creators that can use t-shirts as a vehicle to transport their own worldview and ethos, will sell. Generic knock offs., or random t's uploaded to Amazon will get ignored. As in all things; T-shirts to NFTs, it's survival of the coolest. Survival of who can create the most meaning and emotional connection.
NFTs aren't cheesy illustrations of animals. They are units of brand identity. They are signal boosters. Just because you can technically make an NFT, does not mean you're going to make it. The digital items that thrive are just like the t-shirts, lunch boxes, branded candy bars, hot sneakers and cool cars that people keep buying. The creators that imbue their NFTs with meaning and manage to mint culture, will make it. All others will fade away.
Maybe in 2017, the superstars who moved the needle in the space were the coders who technically enabled non-fungible tokens to be created. But in 2022 and beyond, the technical abilities have spread out and are no longer the differentiator. The value and importance of digital items will be in the hands of brands that can put their cultural cool into digital amber, preserving authentic meaning on the blockchain.
There will be low hanging fruit as always. A shallow, profit printing way to get involved at some layer. Think: world-beating IPs like the Disneys, the Marvels, and the imagery that you can put on a pair of underwear and socks and manage to sell out on autopilot.
There will be newcomers, like Bored Apes, who seemingly come out of nowhere, capture the cultural zeitgeist and manage to start up a legacy from ground zero.
There will be niches in every category you can imagine. Artists and musicians who connect with the heart and soul of their fans. This will create a symbiotic relationship where both sides will contribute and benefit from the increased exposure of the creators as they push further into culture.
Those who know branding, will win.
It could be personal brands, legacy brands or new cultural phenomenon brands.
But the ones who rest on their digital laurels at merely being able to technically show up at the NFT table, or who copy and paste derivative ideas onto the blockchain will be ignored. In our attention culture, we crave meaning, story and values. We look for things to cheer for. And we want easy ways to express our values. This is what branding is an onramp for. Without branding and meaning, NFTs are hollow vessels. A collection of directionless pixels taking up space on the vast sea of the distributed web.
Brands with sharp POVs and clearly communicated world views will have lasting power. Just because the medium of communication has changed, doesn't alter the basic rules of branding that have proved successful at each iteration of culture.