Digital Transformation Agency

Web3 is coming faster than anyone thought. Agencies need to adapt even more quickly

By Phillip Jackson | Chief commerce officer

February 7, 2022 | 7 min read

Brands from Budweiser to Macy’s are propelling the move toward web3 at a surprisingly rapid pace, and ushering in a new era of direct-to-consumer (D2C) commerce with innovative crypto offerings. Meanwhile, agencies lag behind, lacking the adaptability and skills needed to help enterprise clients succeed in web3, argues Rightpoint chief commerce officer Phillip Jackson. Per Jackson, it’s high time for agencies to shift to the next gear.

If you’ve worked at a digital agency for as long as I have, you can’t help but notice a particular trait: they’re often on the trailing edge of new technologies. What do I mean by that?

Whenever a new technology emerges, it’s the independent freelancers or hyper-small shops that are first to adopt and innovate with it. They don’t have the overheads to consider, which makes them more nimble and able to take risks. They can afford to experiment with emerging technology, and deliver offerings at a lower price point.

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Agencies need to shift into a higher gear, argues Rightpoint chief commerce officer Phillip Jackson

What’s more, freelancers and the proverbial ‘two-Neds-in-a-shed’ don’t typically have the big enterprise clients and the attendant substantial, ongoing work. Enterprise clients tend to gravitate to better-established agencies, and for the most part, they’re a good fit. Enterprises, with their legacy software and huge organizations, aren’t typically on the bleeding-edge of new technologies and are unlikely to request such approaches from their agencies.

But the emerging technologies of today – crypto, blockchain, NFT (manifestations of what’s generally referred to as web3) – are bucking that trend. Agencies are at an inflection point: their clients have embraced web3 faster than they have. Over the past 18 months, enterprise-level companies across numerous sectors have rolled out NFTs and crypto offerings, and announced their intention to build full-fledged, decentralized web3 communities.

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How brands are fueling the wave

In late 2021, Anheuser Busch announced beer.eth (the ‘eth’ referring to cryptocurrency Ethereum). The company rolled out a collection of 1,936 ‘Budverse’ cans, inviting consumers to own a piece of history and gain access to its Budverse.

Macy’s also invited consumers to “own a part of history with a limited-edition parade NFT,” and Nike just announced a partnership with Roblox to create Nikeland, which will deliver a web3 metaverse experience.

Adidas just partnered with Bored Ape Yacht Club, a collection of 10,000 NFTs, each depicting an ape avatar with unique traits. Bored Ape aviators now sell for quite a bit of money. The cheapest ones come in around $330,000, but a buyer can easily spend up to $2.5m. And this past summer, Visa purchased a CryptoPunk NFT for nearly $150,000 in Ethereum, which is the most expensive NFT (and has the largest market cap among all such projects).

Typically, it’s the luxury brands that are most willing to experiment with emerging trends, but in this case, mainstream corporate America is diving in. This is no surprise, as consumers have demonstrated a willingness to open their wallets for NFTs, crypto and new access points to the metaverse. With Venmo, PayPay, Robinhood and others providing easy onramps, there’s no barrier to investing. Consumers can buy $25 worth of Bitcoin or Ethereum via PayPal, watch it grow, and spend the profits in the metaverse at their leisure.

But investments in crypto and NFTs are just the start. The real power of web3 will be the shift in identity and single sign-on. We won’t need individual user names and passwords for every site, or to enter our credit cards and shipping information, like we do in web2. All we’ll need to do is permit a site to access a portion of our tokenized identity and voila, transactions are complete. No more worrying about stolen credit card information.

In other words, the new direct-to-consumer (D2C) world is here.

This represents a tectonic shift; I have never seen, in the space of a year, a technology gain such a significant consumer foothold – so much so that enterprises are scrambling left, right and center to get in on it.

The great retooling

This all brings us back to the question of the role of agencies. Who’s building these NFTs and metaverse communities? I don’t think it’s the big agencies that are currently helping enterprise-level brands in their digital transformation initiatives. It’s the smaller shops, such as VanynerMedia, that are amassing the web3 work at the moment (AB InBev purportedly has plans to invest in VaynerMedia.)

From my vantage point, I see an emergent opportunity for agencies to acquire and aggregate talent so that they can create web3 offerings for an increasingly hungry enterprise audience. But to seize this opportunity, they’ll need a pretty significant shift in skills – a great retooling – in order to help their enterprise clients cater to new D2C demands.

We see that retooling occurring already in some parts of the e-commerce industry. For example, Shopify retooled its platform so that merchants can sell NFTs through their storefronts – the Chicago Bulls built a Shopify storefront for that very reason. Shopify has even announced a beta program for stores to allow them to “sell NFTs without needing to manage all the complexities and regulations on your own.” It won’t be long before all e-commerce platforms are similarly overhauled.

How can agencies obtain the skills they need to deliver web3 products to their enterprise clients? My gut tells me there are less than 100,000 developers with adequate crypto chops in the world right now, and we’ll need more than one million within the next 18 months.

My guess is that agencies will focus on training developers in Solidity, which is a programming language that powers a lot of smart contracts and blockchains, Ethereum’s included. Solidity doesn’t require developers to learn a new language from scratch. A working knowledge of C++ or Rust will provide a solid foundation that can easily translate to Solana.

Now might be a good time to invest in companies such as Udemy, Skillshare and Coursera, as they are the places that agencies can go to upskill their in-house developers.

Web3 is reminiscent of the early days of e-commerce. When Java was rolled out in January 1996, coders and e-commerce developer wannabes read its manual the night before their job interviews at the new dot-com firms. No one had any experience in the new language, but the gold rush was on. All in all, it worked out pretty well for the economy. We can probably expect a similar level of success in the years ahead.

Phillip Jackson is chief commerce officer at Rightpoint.

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