Memo: The Return of Ty Haney

Much can happen in two years. She was the face of an industry and then – fairly or unfairly – she was one of its many whipping posts. She’d later return to Outdoor Voices to reclaim her role as its creative driver. In doing so, Outdoor Voices regained its footing. It’s in a much better position than it was before. In 2020’s Evolving Brand of DTC, I wrote:

Surely, with Ashley Merrill at the helm, Tyler Haney back in an active role, and a new CEO search in process: a positive outcome is more likely than it was with Mickey Drexler involved.

With her next project, Haney takes another leap away from retail’s old guard (represented by the likes of Alex Mill CEO Mickey Drexler) and into the new. Is an NFT a conduit to a new era of customer loyalty? Haney thinks so. Her new venture, called Try Your Best (TYB), got the New York Times profile treatment this week as Haney makes the pivot from her past dealings. She’s making the pivot from leading a workout revolution through accessible athletic apparel to her next one in the world of Web3. TYB essentially trades access for brand engagement and the concept has been covered at 2PM. From the New York Times:

Though she is no longer with Outdoor Voices, Ms. Haney, 33, is hoping to bring its tenets of community building and consumer engagement into a new sphere: the blockchain-based future of the internet known as web3. She’s betting that in the next phase of online retail, “minting things” will be the new “doing things.”

TYB seems to be the product of keen observation and opportunity. We’ve seen recent successes with DAOs, NFT-based communities, and metaverse product drops – Haney is betting that this is the natural progression. Right now, the fervor and hype surrounds branded NFT drops. Brands like Nike, Adidas, Gucci, Balmain, Champion, and Clinique have released their own NFTs. Depending on the brand, the use cases vary. Some are marketing tools meant to test the waters. Some drive purchases via in-game partnerships. Some are tied to loyalty programs. Starbucks has made moves to tokenize its loyalty program. In a recent 2PM memo, we make the point that this type of project is a natural progression in retail. In this way, Starbucks would be the best candidate for a parallel corporate structure built atop a DAO. The potential is a shift in ownership and influence, providing more input from the company’s best customers. From November:

Starbucks has an enormous, built-in community. There are few major retailers that could achieve what Starbucks can with its existing infrastructure. A loyalty DAO would mean new product ideas, governance over potential marketing tactics, and rewards based not only in short-term gain but long-term upside. The Starbucks loyalty program, with the help of the mobile app that totals 28.4 million quarterly users, could precede a fundamental shift in how Starbucks uses one of its most valuable assets. If Starbucks does tokenize its loyalty program, corporate governance would be tiered: traditional C-suite, stock-based premium shareholders, and the loyalty DAO.

The common thread across these projects that they are designed to grant exclusive membership into a sort of “club” for brand fans. That’s one reason luxury brands and sports brands have taken to NFTs so quickly – brand affinity is high in those fields. In this way, NFTs are more than collectibles, they are corporate status symbols or declarations of rank.

What TYB wants to do is pull this sort of one-off-NFT-drop brand engagement into one platform. On the How It Works page on the site, the company uses a brand called Joggy as an example (Joggy is a new brand also led by Haney that sells CBD products). Users who participate in customer feedback loops by weighing in on decisions like packaging colors (one example seen on the site) receive collectibles in return. These unlock access to things like exclusive or early-access products, event invitations and private channels, according to the site description.

The concept of branded community has been heralded in the DTC era, when companies recognized that loyal customers – or the community – were the most valuable assets. Especially in an era where brands lived and died by lifetime value and retention rates. Community is both marketing jargon and a survival tool. TYB pushes the concept of community forward by laying “what’s in it for me?” on the line. Customers who opt in know what to expect in return, and that the more they put in, the more they’ll get out. At least that’s the high level theory in practice.

This is common among NFT drops. Brands like Gucci are rewarding top fans with their NFTs. To qualify to receive one, you have to have jumped through multiple hoops like joined the brand’s Discord server and followed past updates. NFTs then become a badge of belonging in an inner circle. That works for some brands with enough of a halo – and not to mention, it’s far from Gucci’s main business proposition.

Haney’s concept raises further questions. Can a platform manufacture it for brands looking for customer feedback? Do customers care enough about the typical brand to spend time on Try Your Best? And do brands – who pay to appear on the platform – want to outsource something as valuable as customer feedback and loyalty to an outside company? Haney used Glossier as an example of a brand that has drawn an engaged millennial and Gen Z audience, and Glossier’s strategy was defined by how much it included customers in its product development. Tokenization formalizes the arrangement.

The challenge will be for TYB to become a must-have for customers. Whether or not the perks will be remarkable enough to devote time to the app stands in the way. But regardless of whether Try Your Best takes off, one of the industry’s top performers is betting the next stage of her career on Web3. This time, there is much less of retail’s past to stand in her way (or the future’s).

By Web Smith with editing by Hilary Milnes

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