Trust, community and dopamine. Oh my!

Headshot of Max Lenderman next to the words "Into The Metaverse"

Younger generations will invariably find trust, information and connection within their own communities.

Like many others, I’ve fallen into the rabbit hole of Web3 while slurping on a big gulp of crypto Kool-Aid. My interests are far from money-making speculation and “shitcoin” memes; they rest much more in the egalitarianism and positivity of DAOs and blockchain invention. 

In this context, there are three macro-currents that I find fascinating in the space that marketers can also chew on.

Trust (or lack thereof)

A huge swathe of the U.S. population no longer trusts established institutions – financial, political, social, educational, scientific or otherwise. Whether a function of polarization or the growing income inequality chasm, belief that the established systems for opportunity and access works is dwindling among the public. 

Trust is a massive form of currency, and it has been radically depleted by traditional institutions, especially for the millions of people who are instead diving into NFTs and cryptocurrencies. 

Just look at Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer. Trust in the government is down. Trust in the media is down. But trust in business is up. In fact, business is the only institution with a 61% trust level globally, as well as the only institution seen as both ethical and competent — and more trusted than NGOs. As the report states, “trust is the new brand equity.” In fact, highly trusted brands are seven times more likely to be purchased. 

Community 

If you can’t trust institutions, you can trust your friends. Like-minded and collaborative groups are breaking free of Web2 walled gardens and blazing their own futures on Web3. 

In a polarized world, it’s natural for people to find their tribes and coalesce around them. A committed community with a lofty mission and a willing talent pool is not just unstoppable in Web3 – it’s highly valuable. To paraphrase a famous entrepreneur: a sub-Reddit community of 1,000 people in Web2 could be a $100 million DAO in Web3.

Younger generations will invariably find trust, information and connection within their own communities. According to a Superfly study, 79% of Gen Z respondents say that “connecting with their inner circle” is more important in a post-COVID world. And Vice’s Experiential White Paper shows that 81% of Gen Z’ers say that sharing with friends is what makes an experience “fun.” 

As early adopters of Web3, younger generations are finding it more fun than the Web2 world of Boomers and Gen X. The opportunities to collaborate, co-create and collectively own something — whether an NFT, a cryptocurrency or a DAO — are so much more thrilling and shareable. 

Which brings us to our third element that drives the Web3 world. 

Dopamine

Our brain releases large quantities of dopamine whenever we find pleasure in something: eating sugar, kissing, the first sip of wine at the end of the day — or getting a bunch of likes from our Instagram posts. 

Marketers have known the power of the dopamine rush for years. From tantalizing burger photos, to experiential installations, to freebies and VIP lists, brands use tons of dopamine-releasing tactics. Measuring dopamine is now a highly effective way to test commercials and movie trailers to see if people are engaged with the content before buying media. (Just se the work that a company called Immersion Neuro is doing in this space.)

Web3 is a dopamine factory. There is a certain level of gamification to the thrill permeating the space. It’s no surprise that Web3 communities are sprouting on game-native platforms like Discord (along with Twitter and Telegram). Buying and trading cryptocurrencies and NFTs are button-clicking-optimized. 

There’s also a palpable surge of adrenaline when learning something new about the space, discovering a wildly innovative application or getting on a whitelist to a not-yet-minted piece of intellectual property. And when a community you respect rewards your posts with tokens, or you get airdropped some cool, exclusive blockchain swag — aaaah, it feels so good.

Trust. Community. Dopamine. I’d build any brand around these tenets. And that’s exactly what is happening today. The Bored Apes, CryptoPunks and DogeCoins of the world know what they are doing, and it’s time brands and marketers take notice — as well as a page from their playbooks. 

Max Lenderman is CEO of Mudfarm Ventures and a teacher at Denver Ad School and University of Colorado, Boulder.

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