MuApp: The Brand-Customer Hotline

Published September 3-9, 2022


Micronbox and More

In a previous essay “Building the Hotline Right”, I wrote:

Until now, brands had no easy way to bring interactivity to their push messages. AMP in email changes this. With interactivity can now come incentives for actions that marketers wish to drive. Atomic Rewards via a pan-brand loyalty program focused on the customer’s time (rather than money) is the way forward. The same idea of micro-rewards can be extended to other push channels for an omnichannel hotline. In the future, a WhatsApp-like inbox exclusively for brands (what I have termed as Micronbox) can further improve the hotline experience. Taken together, AMP, Atomic Rewards, Omnichannel and Micronbox thus become the pillars for bridging the chasm and building the hotline.

The customer endpoint of the hotline is an inbox – the email or SMS clients on the mobile or desktop, or WhatsApp. That’s where the brand messages come. The hotline is about making the messages interactive and incentivised to enable not just content consumption and conversation but commerce … What is needed is a new kind of inbox for hotline-type engagement and interaction between brands and customers. This is the idea I call “Micronbox.” … The Micronbox completes the picture: a hotline is thus a 2-way connection between brands and customers, built using messages with AMP and Atomic Rewards, expanded to supporting omnichannel engagement. The micronbox becomes a repository of all these messages (microns) and conversations – just like WhatsApp today for our 1:1 and small group chats. Together, they can help drive brands to profitability by eliminating the AdWaste and enabling the 4 Rs of retention, repetition, referrals and reactivation.

If brands can build their hotlines right, especially with their Best customers, they will find that they no longer need to keep spending big bucks on wasteful and cash-guzzling new customer acquisition. That money freed up can power better relationships with existing customers – and help with the bottom line. Profits don’t come from newly acquired customers; they come from existing customers coming back for more and bringing along their friends. In a world where capital is no longer free and investors are demanding clear paths of (growing) profitably, the hotline can become the marketer’s best friend in delivering customer delight – it not only bridges the chasm between acquisition and retention but is also the crux of the profitable growth challenge CEOs and CMOs must solve for.

In “The MuCo Future”, I wrote: “In the new world of two-way engagement where customers are digital and can engage in myriad different ways with the brand, Loyalty 2.0 and MuCo provides for a deeper and better relationship – a true, long-lasting ‘friendship’ that transcends money. Web3 elevates MuCo to beyond the control of a single entity; it makes the community central. Brands (with their marketing managers) and customers can come together to create a better relationship without Big Tech as the intermediary. A trust platform based on Web3 principles and the blockchain can serve as the perfect foundation. Welcome to the Mu-niverse!”

In this series, I will build on the “Micronbox as Hotline” idea. I will explain how the Micronbox needs to become much more than an inbox for brand-customer engagement. It will need to become a Web3 wallet storing Mu (crypto tokens) and XRTs (eXtreme Retention Tokens), and a gateway to the µniverse (Muniverse, with the Mu  Marketplace and Exchange). The prize for getting this right is the $200 billion Adwaste which can be split between brands and customers, creating a win-win for both.


Problem and Solution

The problem that brands have is that many customers ignore their push messages leading to attention recession and data poverty. This leads to the relationship becoming inactive, which in turn forces brands to spend money on new customer acquisition via the Big Tech platforms. Reacquisition and wrong acquisition results in half of the brand spending being wasted causing a $200 billion hole. [See Martech 2.0 and Web3: Solving Advertising’s 50% Problem.]

The problem that customers have is that they are flooded with brand messages in their inboxes. Emails, SMSes, push notifications and now WhatsApp messages clutter the inbox creating a negative feedback loop: the more the messages from brands, the less the responsiveness of customers, which in turn pushes brands to send more messages. If only customers could signal to the brands what they wanted, they could end up with messages that are relevant, turning a “delete” mindset into “delight.”

The solution lies with adopting new ideas for a better brand-customer relationship. As I wrote in Profit-centric Marketing: Start with Email 2.0 and Loyalty 2.0:

I believe that email can and must become a marketer’s new best friend. Email is not what it once was – 1-way broadcast and semi-spam. Email is now ready in its new avatar: Email 2.0. This email can be interactive, informative, gamified, fun and exciting. It is email like customers and marketers have not seen or imagined. Email 2.0 is a way to convert the delete mindset into delight. It can become a powerful channel for getting customers to volunteer data about themselves. For this, Email 2.0 needs to be combined with Loyalty 2.0. Tokens for attention and data with a new spam-free inbox which delivers surprises and rewards can bring brands and customers closer in a win-win relationship.

With attention and data, marketers can then deliver omnichannel personalisation on their properties and differentiated 360-degree experiences for their Best customers (Martech 2.0) and slash acquisition costs via referrals and targeted new customer acquisition (Adtech 2.0).

This is the new world of marketing, reinvented for a digital world. The basics do not change. Marketing is about bringing customers back for more and ensuring they get their friends. What is different is the ‘how’ to get started – a new-look email format (what I call “microns”) and atomic rewards in the form of tokens for attention and data to nudge behaviour. These are the ideas that hold the key to building the pipe (hotline) with existing customers, and therein lies the secret of profit-centric marketing.

I wrote in Hotline: The Crux of the Brand-Customer Relationship: “Building the hotline with existing customers is the only way brands can get their attention and solve for data. It is one of two ways to bring customers back to the properties (app and website) – the second method being big spends on branding. The hotline is the trick marketers have missed in the two other obsessions – new customer acquisition and adding bells and whistles to the app and website. In hindsight, the idea of a hotline seems so obvious and yet it is ignored. Marketers seem to have resigned themselves to 80-90% of their emails and SMSes being ignored, and most of their push notifications being undelivered. This is where the opportunity for smart marketers. The coming downturn and push for self-sustainability and profitability offers an inflection point to change the foundation in the brand-customer relationship.”


Building Blocks

There are only two universal digital identities we have: our email address and mobile number. There are inboxes associated with both of them. Our email inbox is linked with a Gmail or Yahoo address. The inbox connected to the mobile number is either the SMS app or increasingly WhatsApp. The open identities are used by our friends, brands and spammers, with the result that we have a huge inflow of messages 24×7. Just navigating through our inboxes to find the useful stuff has become a chore. While Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection is trying to address the problem, it also prevents useful information going back to brands. Google and other inbox providers have sophisticated algorithms to filter spam, but can at times impact genuine emails. WhatsApp’s origins in person-to-person communications is now being expanded to include brand communications in its quest for monetization, with the result that some unwanted messages are now coming through. A better, unified inbox is the need of the hour.

The email address remains the best starting point. Sending emails is inexpensive as compared to SMS and WhatsApp messages. There is no intermediary like the telco or WhatsApp determining what message flows are genuine.

This new inbox needs to have built-in interactivity. AMP for Email is a very good step forward. But Apple’s mail client does not support it as yet. In developed countries where iPhones rule the roost, this could mean half the customers will be unable to experience the interactivity. In markets like India where Android and Gmail have a virtual monopoly, that number is under 15%.

Atomic Rewards in the form of micro-incentives for non-monetary transactions can help drive engagement. The gamification that comes in via loyalty points for attention and data can improve engagement rates.

These building blocks thus help give the contours of the new hotline: an app (inbox) which works with existing email addresses and mobile numbers, supports AMP to enable 2-way communication, and offers Mu (tokens) for marketer-determined actions. It works strictly on opt-in, with customers determining which brands have access to their inbox attention. The interface can resemble WhatsApp with brand names replacing those of family and friends.

There are two additional elements that are needed. Mu tokens will need a wallet for storage, and an exchange where they can be traded. As I wrote in “The MuCo Future”:

Think of MuCo as a Mu factory. It takes fiat currency as input and produces Mu. The Mu can then be distributed by the buyers (brands) to their customers – MuCo has no control over that process. MuCo maintains a centralised database which tracks the flow of Mu (from source to destination). End consumers have to come to MuCo to use the Mu – they begin by activating it by identifying themselves (email address, mobile number) to claim the Mu that has been given to them by brands. Thus, brands and consumers have “wallets” and transactions are stored in a database. This is almost identical to how current loyalty programs work.

… Making MuCo as a Web3 entity is important for multiple reasons: governance is not in the control of a single ‘centralised’ entity but is decentralised, which in turn should lead to an increase in trust in Mu; Mu creation is decided by rules and is either capped or the increase is pre-planned, which should then lead to appreciating in the value of Mu over time creating an alternative to simply spending it; and the creation of a Mu Exchange, which allows trading of Mu without a central intermediary determining the price. This is how most cryptocurrencies work. The creation of new Mu can still continue with the proceeds being used for Mu operations. Mu transactions and the ledger can be onchain thus enabling Mu to be traded on other exchanges also.

We thus have the makings of the MuApp: an inbox connected to the two public identities (email address and mobile number), support for AMP and Atomic Rewards (Mu), a wallet to hold Mu tokens, and a link to one or more exchanges for trading. It thus adopts the best ideas from Gmail, WhatsApp and crypto wallet apps like Coinbase and Metamask.


Crypto Wallets

Coinbase offers an explainer on crypto wallets:

Crypto wallets keep your private keys – the passwords that give you access to your cryptocurrencies – safe and accessible, allowing you to send and receive cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. They come in many forms, from hardware wallets like Ledger (which looks like a USB stick) to mobile apps like Coinbase Wallet, which makes using crypto as easy as shopping with a credit card online.

Unlike a normal wallet, which can hold actual cash, crypto wallets technically don’t store your crypto. Your holdings live on the blockchain, but can only be accessed using a private key. Your keys prove your ownership of your digital money and allow you to make transactions. If you lose your private keys, you lose access to your money. That’s why it’s important to keep your hardware wallet safe, or use a trusted wallet provider like Coinbase.

Coinbase differentiates between its app and wallet: “The main Coinbase app (or allows you to buy and sell crypto or exchange it for fiat currency and transfer it to a bank account. If you just want to invest in Bitcoin or another digital currency it’s all you need. The Coinbase app will securely manage the rights to your private keys. Coinbase Wallet is a separate app that allows you to store your private keys and to send, receive, and spend digital money; browse and use DeFi applications, and more.”

Business Insider has more:

A crypto wallet is a software program or physical device that allows you to store your crypto and allow for the sending and receiving of crypto transactions. A crypto wallet consists of two key pairs: private keys and public keys. A public key is derived from the private key and serves as the address used to send crypto to the wallet.

The important part of a wallet — and the part where new users often find themselves getting into trouble — is the private key. A private key is like the key to a safe deposit box. Anyone who has access to the private key of a wallet can take control of the balance held there.

But unlike a safe deposit box, crypto users who hold their own private keys and make transactions using non-custodial wallets (i.e., a wallet not hosted by an exchange or other third-party) become their own bank.

“It is similar to a bank account but the main difference is it is controlled by a key that only you control. You use this [private] key to initiate transactions, which is called ‘signing,'” says Joel Dietz, founder of Art Wallet and contributing developer to MetaMask.

Blockchain is a public ledger that stores data in what’s known as “blocks.” These are records of all transactions, the balances held at any given address, and who holds the key to those balances. Crypto isn’t stored “in” a wallet, per se. The coins exist on a blockchain and the wallet software allows you to interact with the balances held on that blockchain. The wallet itself stores addresses and allows their owners to move coins elsewhere while also letting others see the balance held at any given address. adds: “The term ‘wallet’ is actually somewhat of a misnomer as crypto wallets don’t really store cryptocurrency in the same way physical wallets hold cash. Instead, they read the public ledger to show you the balances in your addresses and also hold the private keys that enable you to make transactions … A wallet doesn’t actually hold your coins. Instead, it holds the key to your coins which are actually stored on public blockchain networks. In order to perform various transactions, you’ll need to verify your address via a private key that comes in a set of specific codes.”


Crypto Exchanges writes: “Cryptocurrency exchanges are online platforms used to buy and sell cryptocurrency. These platforms are intermediaries between the buyer and seller, allowing users to trade cryptocurrencies using fiat money or altcoins … A centralized crypto exchange is the most common type of exchange platform and uses a third party to help conduct transactions. Users trust this third party to offer them security, monitoring, and help them find trading partners. Some investors find this concept misleading since cryptocurrencies are considered decentralized with no need for a central authority … Unlike centralized cryptocurrency exchanges, there isn’t a middleman for decentralized exchanges — instead, they use blockchain technology or distributed ledgers. In this less common type of exchange, the currency isn’t held by a third party, and transactions are done peer-to-peer using smart contracts.”

Binance, FTX, Coinbase, Gemini and are examples of crypto exchanges.

Wikipedia has more: “A cryptocurrency exchange, or a digital currency exchange (DCE), is a business that allows customers to trade cryptocurrencies or digital currencies for other assets, such as conventional fiat money or other digital currencies. Exchanges may accept credit card payments, wire transfers or other forms of payment in exchange for digital currencies or cryptocurrencies. A cryptocurrency exchange can be a market maker that typically takes the bid–ask spreads as a transaction commission for its service or, as a matching platform, simply charges fees … The exchanges can send cryptocurrency to a user’s personal cryptocurrency wallet. Some can convert digital currency balances into anonymous prepaid cards which can be used to withdraw funds from ATMs worldwide while other digital currencies are backed by real-world commodities such as gold. The creators of digital currencies are often independent of the digital currency exchange that facilitate trading in the currency. In one type of system, digital currency providers (DCP) are businesses that keep and administer accounts for their customers, but generally do not issue digital currency to those customers directly. Customers buy or sell digital currency from digital currency exchanges, who transfer the digital currency into or out of the customer’s DCP account.”

Corporate Finance Institute adds: “Cryptocurrency exchanges are platforms that facilitate the trading of cryptocurrencies for other assets, including digital and fiat currencies. In effect, cryptocurrency exchanges act as an intermediary between a buyer and a seller and make money through commissions and transaction fees. On common cryptocurrency exchanges, $100 can be exchanged for bitcoin of equivalent value, and vice-versa. Similarly, bitcoin worth $100 can be exchanged for Ethereum of equivalent value. The same concept can be applied to different assets based on what is offered by the exchange.”

Taken together, the wallet, an exchange and a “currency” make for a trading system. This is very similar to the stock market. One sets up an account (“wallet”) with a brokerage, which interfaces with an exchange, enabling users to trade stocks.

These are the ideas that we can build on to create the Mu ecosystem, with the MuApp serving as the gateway.


Email Reimagined

By making the MuApp double as an email client, it enables continuity. Most websites use email addresses as their handle, while apps use the mobile number. MuApp should be able to use the IMAP protocol to access existing email boxes on Gmail and Yahoo with a user’s credentials and pick out the “microns” (emails with Mu). This way, there is no change in user behaviour except using a new app for earning and burning Mu. Brand marketing emails don’t need a reply; with AMP, all interactivity could be done inside the email itself. A similar approach could be taken with incoming messages in the SMS inbox. Thus, the MuApp becomes a unified inbox of all brand emails and SMSes. Consumers can continue to use their existing email IDs and mobile numbers on websites and apps, and not have to worry about creating new credentials. (Over time, a MuCo ID or wallet address could become the unifying identity, enabling changes in email addresses and mobile numbers.)

Emails have a lot of scope for innovation. The only change that has happened in the past 10-15 years has been the shift from text to HTML. While AMP can enable the creation of interactive emails, the opportunity for transformation is in the email footer. Most footers just have an “unsubscribe” option. Since it is at the bottom of an email, any changes made to the footer do not interfere with the brand message. What if we could rethink the email footer the way newspapers do comics pages? For many, the comics are the only reason to open the newspaper! But in navigating to the comics pages, they also browse through the rest of the newspaper and the ads.

The email footer can be reconstructed as having three parts: a brand section, a MuCo section, and AMP ads. Each section can have one or more AMPlets. All actions in the AMPlets are done in-place; there are no clickthroughs out from the emails.

Brand footer: This can be used by the brand to engage with customers. Examples of AMPlets: rating (feedback on the brand or email content), chat, cart, search, preference collection, and so on. By combining with pan-brand Atomic Rewards, customers can earn Mu tokens for their actions. A “µ.[MuCount]” in the subject of the email can signal that this is an email with rewards (a micron).

MuCo footer: This can give opportunities to burn Mu. A Mu Shop can provide options for how to use the Mu. AMPlets with content subscriptions for news, stock quotes, weather, health tips, quotes, casual games, puzzles and even comics and cartoons can make the MuCo footer very attractive and a “must-see”.

AMP ads: Most ads we see on websites and apps are banner ads entailing a click. How can these be reimagined if we eliminate the click and instead bring in interactivity and engagement within the ad? Since the identity of the email recipient is unique, ads can be targeted and serve as lead generation vehicles. Additional form-fill data can be captured right in the email itself. Brands would benefit financially from ad actions which could also help defray the Mu costs.

Thus, the plan vanilla email with marketing offers can come alive: interesting, interactive and incentivised; a sort of “Living Email.”


Mu Wallet and Exchange

The MuApp will also need support for a wallet and interfacing to an exchange. The wallet section would track the inflow and outflow of Mu tokens. Tokens would be earned not just via actions in the email but also in SMS, push notifications and WhatsApp. Later, the earning could be extended to actions done on the website and in the app. (For example, a brand could incentivise opening an app for three days in a row to create habits. Customers could also earn Mu for referrals and reviews.)

An exchange is where the trading of Mu can take place. MuCo itself could auction Mu on a regular basis, and consumers could sell Mu to each other or brands. As demand rises, there could be an appreciation in the value of Mu. A marketplace may also be needed for brands to sell “priceless experiences” to customers, thus increasing their haul of Mu for rewarding customers.

Here are more details from my earlier essay on “The Mu Future”:

Think of MuCo as a Mu factory. It takes fiat currency as input and produces Mu. The Mu can then be distributed by the buyers (brands) to their customers – MuCo has no control over that process. MuCo maintains a centralised database which tracks the flow of Mu (from source to destination). End consumers have to come to MuCo to use the Mu – they begin by activating it by identifying themselves (email address, mobile number) to claim the Mu that has been given to them by brands. Thus, brands and consumers have “wallets” and transactions are stored in a database. This is almost identical to how current loyalty programs work.

Consumers will then want to redeem Mu. For this, MuCo will need to run a market of offerings from brands. This can work in two ways: either MuCo ‘buys’ the products from brands and ‘sells’ it to customers (like a Mu Shop) or brands can themselves sell directly to customers (in a Mu Marketplace). In the latter scenario, brands get Mu in return for their ‘experience’ offerings.

This is quite straightforward. MuCo derives its revenues selling Mu. With enough Mu out there, brands will find it to their benefit to create offerings for consumers. Mu works across brands – that is its true utility.

MuApp’s wallet can also hold XRTs. As I wrote earlier: “The XRT (eXtreme Retention Token), which opens a gateway to differentiated experiences for the Best Customers … The XRT can be thought of as an NFT which opens a world of privileged experiences for the Best Customers – so they can keep coming back for more and bring their friends, thus maximising their category spend with the brand.”


So, that’s the MuApp: an inbox for brand messages linked to a customer’s email address and mobile number, a wallet to store Mu tokens and XRTs, and an interface to the Mu marketplace and exchange. The MuApp enables the easy flow of Mu between brands and customers, thus enabling the monetisation of attention and data. It integrates Email 2.0 and Loyalty 2.0. It is the hotline that creates a win-win by enabling brands to cut their Adwaste by building better relationships with their existing customers, who can in turn become promoters to assist with better new customer acquisition, providing a Big Tech bypass and an entry point to the µniverse.