Homemade Currency: Crucial To Your Brand

A couple of years ago, at TEDGlobal 2013, Paul Kemp-Robertson gave a talk on “bitcoin” and branded currency that was a bit ahead of its time. But I think we are getting ready for it now.

(If you don’t like or don’t have time to watch videos, read the transcript here. Click here if you want to learn how bitcoin works.)

The bottom is that brands are increasingly using their own forms of currency to bring users into their communities and keep them there.

  • The Starbucks mobile app lets you pay directly from your iPhone and order in advance.
  • Exxon Mobil offers a “Speedpass” that you can put on your keychain.
  • Amazon.com offers “coins” for game purchases as well as a “dash” button that lets you reorder brands easily.

Where dollars are a generic form of exchange branded as American, and bitcoin is a generic form of exchange that has no national identity, brand-based currency is deeply isolationist and creates a sense of identity among those in its tribe.

It is nothing new.

  • Bartering organizations go just one step beyond the normal exchange of favors between friends and family by creating an extended community where members exchange goods and services without money.
  • Bulletin boards in the workplace allow employees of the same organization to buy, sell, share and trade without outside parties viewing the information on display.
  • Before 1863 and the passage of the National Currency Act in the United States, local banks commonly printed their own currencies, which they sometimes didn’t honor. Like bitcoin, only gold and silver coins had true universal value.

What makes branded currency even more important in 2017 is the politically polarized environment within which consumers find themselves.

  • In recent months, with the U.S. election, consumers have boycotted such companies as Starbucks, Pepsi and Kellogg’s in an effort to express their displeasure with political views expressed by their owners.
  • Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump’s fashion collection has been dropped from both Nordstrom’s and Neiman Marcus.
  • And celebrities, who are also brands, have stepped up to take one side or another, leading consumers to declare that they are boycotting a particular star or even Hollywood altogether.

Again, voting with your wallet is nothing new. Since the late 1990s and particularly with the publication of Naomi Klein’s anti-branding book No Logo, consumers have used brands as a tool to influence both politics and culture.

When you combine the technology of branded currency with the existence of activist shopping, the result is likely to be that brands leverage consumers’ passion in ways that benefit their bottom line. Where in the past they may have sought to avoid controversy to appeal to the mainstream, we can now expect to see them taking stronger, more articulated stances on social matters. We can also expect the formation of more “secret” or “private” groups and communities that bear the mark of the brand.

Where the customer goes, so goes capitalism.


All opinions my own. Photo by Alexas Fotos via Pixabay.


All opinions are the author’s own. All content is copyright of its respective author.
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