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In Web 3.0 terms, today is 1995

I just spent the morning at a fascinating conference about Web 3.0, run by agency community Cactus, under their Agencynomics event brand. In embarking into what was a deep dive into this unquestionably hot topic, the full-to-bursting attendance confirmed that understanding of Web 3.0 was far from universal, even for a largely B2C-orientated agency crowd. And that in turn shows B2B isn’t far behind.

The conference kicked off with a fantastic keynote from Tom Head, the self-styled ‘Web3guy’, who began by by explaining the origins of Web 3.0, why it's significant and different, and then went on to outline the key components of it, and how they inter-relate (potentially at least). Although I’ve seen a number of presentations on this topic before, at least some of these were completely new to me – and I clearly wasn’t the only member of the packed audience in this situation. This session was therefore an excellent grounding in the topic, was extremely welcome and well received, and a great scene setter for more detailed discussions to follow.

And this got me thinking: the concept of Web 3.0 is certainly nothing new, so why are so many of us struggling to get past the basics? Perhaps I’m unusually stupid, but I find it unusual as a marketing topic in being hard to grasp or pin down – in other words, to mentally contextualise, so that I understand how it relates to what we’re doing in B2B every day. And building on that, why aren’t we saying any real-life examples of it in B2B?

An alien world

The answer could be because many of the components or constituents of Web 3.0 are often inherent in how a business operates and deeply structural in nature. To be deployed effectively and meaningfully (rather than peripherally, like NFTs) requires grappling with these fundamentals as part of profound structural change to that organisation – and most likely many of its partners and customers.

That, sadly, is beyond the scope and remit of many B2B marketing leaders at the current time, and in the immediate future. Even though the most marketers (and even agencies) aspire to leading this kind of deep level transformation, at the very best, it’s still a struggle. Not always through lack of trying, most marketing is still confined to that thin layer of activity where the organisations and its services and offerings meet the customer. A metaphor to illustrate this could be the earth’s atmosphere (which is marketing, sales and customer success) and the earth’s crust (or mantle) which is product development, engineering, operations, etc. In some businesses’ the customer engagement layer is thicker than others… it’s an imperfect metaphor, but hopefully you get the picture.

The deep structural basis of Web 3.0 components like blockchain, Dapps, tokens, etc. (see pic above) are alien to marketing, and that makes it very difficult environment within which to lead. If a room full of agencies don’t feel comfortable in Web 3.0, and require gentle coaxing into it, then you can bet client side marketers are far less at home.

As Jordan Adams from Oneninefive (who I bumped into at the event) put it, in the meantime, while Web 3.0 demands these profound structural changes, too many marketers can’t even get legal to sign off on a logo change. The contrast is stark – they are worlds apart.

Crypto and NFTs are leading the Web 3.0 charge

That may be how it is today, but Tom Head’s contention, is that Web 3.0 coming, and I don’t doubt he’s right. The question is, how fast. He posted a stat which showed that 87% of CEOs felt Web 3.0 will be crucial to business success in the future. What was not clear was who the respondents in this poll were (B2C biased most likely) and how much knowledge they had about what Web 3.0 actually was, and how it worked. Did they have a good grounding in it, or was it a nebulous but important-sounding term that they knew clever people were talking about and had vaguely heard of… so of course it was going to be critical, right? I have a hunch there were more of the latter than the former.

So what does all this mean? Certainly not that marketers can go away and ignore Web 3.0. Tom concluded by showed a great clip from 1995 of Bill Gates being interviewed by Letterman, where the famous chat show host quizzed the tech pioneer about this thing called the Internet, and what the point of it was. I won’t spoil the punchline of the clip, but the crux of it was that, at the time, Gates couldn’t really explain why you’d want bother watching a baseball game on the Internet, when you still had the radio. Perhaps he didn’t try, or perhaps he didn’t know. The message here is clear: in Web 3.0 terms, today is 1995.

Moreover the rising level of investment in things like Cryptocurrencies (as dodgy as they sound) and NFTs (as facile as they sound) are driving development of Web 3.0, and bringing forward the day when it becomes a real ‘thing’ for consumerland marketers, let alone B2B marketers… and there will most likely be a lag.

So we need to keep our eye on it, and watch how it emerges. As Josh Bolland of JB Cole UK put it, in the panel discussion that followed the keynote, in one critical sense there’s nothing different about Web 3.0 from any other kind of marketing or service. It’s about meeting a client’s need. At the moment, it’s unlikely that any client need will be credibly met by Web 3.0 as a solution, let alone whether it would be genuinely deliverable given skills, resources and budgets. But the time is getting closer when it will.

Congratulations to Danny Turnbull, Dan Archer and colleagues at Cactus on a well put together, well attended event and stimulating event.