What Bored Apes Can Teach CMOs About Guiding Their Companies Into the Future

The buzzworthy NFT phenomenon represents all that is possible in today's digital landscape

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I love digital. It’s shorthand for solutions. It’s a medium. But it’s also bigger than any channel.

It’s tactical tools, part of UX, fluidity and feel. But it’s also powered culture. Digital has turned brands into memes. And put movies on streams. And your currency into the cloud. The reality is that digital is all of this. Digital is no longer a “thing.” It flows through everything.

That brings me to Bored Apes. To the uninitiated, they’re a buzzworthy NFT—a collection of 10,000 unique illustrations that can be used as avatars, each dressed and expressed differently. It was launched last year to the tune of hundreds of millions of impressions that were matched with millions of dollars, comments and much more.

If you own a Bored Apes avatar, you have bragging rights and a stake in a whole new creative economy. They are commercial, exclusive, democratic, functional and valuable little wonders. And yet, they’re nothing.

Bored Apes are emblematic of all that is possible in today’s digital landscape: a cultural, creative, technological, influential affair. Understanding this phenomenon can help weave the Bored Apes mentality into your work.

Think horizontally, not vertically

Consumer expectations don’t respect category boundaries. Defining yourself by a category means competing for marginal gain.

But when a business thinks horizontally—outside the category—it is more sensitive to things like partnerships, unconventional competitors, cultural and technological inflection points, and really anything likely to disrupt it. All of which makes a brand highly attuned to disrupting itself.

Let’s think horizontally for a minute.

Meet Brittney. She’s been working from home full-time. Time is at a premium, which means she wants to find healthy meals quickly and efficiently. Sound familiar?

There was a time when she’d meal plan, go to the grocery store and cook. But the bodega simplified that for her. Then Instacart hit the scene, dropping off what she needed, when she needed it. But who has time to cook? Enter Fresh n’ Lean. No muss, no fuss. Right? Not according to UberEats, who cut right to the chase—freshly made local meals delivered in under an hour! What could serve her expectations better?

Imagine if someone tied it all together? Meet Alfred, a real-estate company that competes with Instacart, who leverages the bodega, who is competing with the grocer, who is leveraging and competing with Uber. And Uber (frenemy of restaurants) is really competing with Fresh n’ Lean, who’s probably going to find some way to leverage Alfred to support the chef to… you get the idea.

Wait. Is Alfred a marketplace or a real estate firm? Does Instacart have media value? Is the UberEats driver a shopper? Can they be replaced by a robot? Can the grocer still win in the end? Yes. To all of it.

You see, in many ways, they’re competitors, but they’re not competing at all. Many of them are looking outside their category to see where the disruption is, and where collaborative opportunities exist.

Prioritize collaborative advantage

Building a brand used to be simple: set your mission, set your vision, and state your purpose. Amplify it with a distinctive identity. Your brand’s gravitational pull took care of the rest.

But today you’re not just growing a brand; you’re building a business. Luckily, your brand is attracting more than people. It’s assembling an ecosystem. Start thinking horizontally and you’ll find one to integrate with, not just compete within.

Competitive advantage is done. It has given way to something more rewarding and abundant: collaborative advantage.

Competitors aren’t just competitors anymore, they’re partners.

From influencers and media to businesses, brands have entered the age of collaboration. Vimeo and YouTube. Impossible Foods and Burger King. Post Malone and Bud Light. Slack and every business. The Grocer and everyone. Competitors are now partners, too.

Just as Bored Apes create shared value, the modern CMO must ask herself: What are those in her ecosystem looking to achieve? What value are they looking to extract? And what does she need from them to grow her brand?

Interactions speak louder than words

When you think about the shared value you can help create within your ecosystem—as much as you think about what value you can extract for yourself—you’re halfway to developing the next important piece in our digital trifecta: signature interactions. Identify yours and scale what you are, where you are and who you are.

If every successful brand has an ecosystem, then every ecosystem thrives on signature interactions. Some are spoken or heard. Some are taps or swipes. But at their core they are fundamentally the same: simple social moments that repeat. Without them, there is no brand.

Reddit calls itself “the front page of the internet.” Could it achieve that without its iconic +1 / -1? How about Tinder? What is it without swipes? Or Uber without its rating system? Meta’s mission is to give people the power to build community. But what would it be without a Like button?

The interactive microcosms of larger brand ideas are all around us—beautiful moments of utility and emotion that enable your customers to grow your business through experience, something no branded communications could ever do.

It’s time to start integrating interaction strategy into your branding efforts, with a supreme focus on each one you create.

What’s next for your brand

The future is more than Bored Apes run amok. But they teach us a huge lesson in how transforming a brand means you must transcend its category.

They also teach us that as brand leaders today, we must go beyond identifying and defining a brand by creating symbols of progress. We must push past mapping needs, wants, fiction and delight, past purpose. We must identify how all of this is woven into our ecosystem. Find and interact with your symbols of progress, and you’ll collaborate your way to growth in the new economy.

It’s the future of business. And the future of your brand.