Why Blockchain needs Marketing.
In this short essay we’re going to look at the fundamental floors of blockchain, what’s really holding it back, but from an angle most in the community aren’t even looking at.
Perhaps for a disdain for marketers, garnered through hackathons where they contribute nothing while the developers do everything, or their general lack of knowledge when it comes to anything blockchain. They think a nonce is a way to make fun of someone. A Merkle tree some type of forestry native to Germany. They say stuff like ‘Yo, we should totally put X on the blockchain, let’s do an ICO for it’.
Yet even so, this essay will attempt to argue that without marketers, blockchain will stay stifled in scale, with an incredibly uneducated community, low adoption rates and products no one really understands. We’ll look at the garbled mumbo-jumbo painted upon pretty ICO landing pages, littered in whitepapers and perpetuated at conferences. We’ll look at the lack of standardised knowledge around security and why that demonstrates and leads to poor adoption. Why even Vitalik himself could do with a decent PR team.
As arrogant as it may sound, it’s of hopes that this is seen as a ‘wake up call’ to the core foundations and developer teams, as well the main services built upon the blockchain.
And yes, I’m a marketer.
The Initial Idea Offering
For the casual observer it may very well seem that ICOs are huge marketing successes. Large raises in days, if not hours, if not minutes. Notice I use the phrase ‘marketing successes’ as it could very well turn out that the successes trend towards that magic 92–94% long term fail range when they don’t find product market fit.
Arguably, the marketing on this front is quite good, quite convincing. Sleek, presentable, aesthetically well thought out landing pages. Slick teams paired with perfect LinkedIns. But, is the marketing good for Blockchain as a whole?
A question to you as a reader, do you fully understand blockchain, it’s utility, it’s purpose, it’s limitations? What differentiates the multiple adopted chains from each other, such as Bitcoins and Ethereums. Do you think that over 95% of the people using coinbase right now do? How many have even read the aforementioned respective whitepapers?
It’s important to ask these questions because it could be said that, without a solid understanding for the underlying technology, how can one possibly understand the marginal gain in utility that startups such as Status, Tezos and Chronobank claim to provide?
Moreover, is the amount of jargon used understandable, accessible to the newcomers. ‘Self-amending cryptoledger’ may seem obvious to some, but tantamount to Icelandic to others. Many startups utilising ICOs meet at the crossroads of multiple disciplines, Macro-Economics, Governance, Advertising and so on. Not only that, they’re very niche and narrow within those topics, focusing on specific solutions to specific problems. Combining multiple mechanisms with elegantly presented mathematical proofs and formulas that somehow demonstrate a part of their solution.
To the innocent potential-investor who wandered their way into a technical whitepaper unwittingly expecting something they can actually digest, this can be scary. Your rebuttal to this is possibly, ‘but they’re still investing’. Maybe you go further and add that perhaps whitepapers have to use such language to actually let the end user know what they’re doing. They have to use such language as it’s important to demonstrate what is actually being coded. It’s an investment opportunity, it needs to be in-depth.
To this I say, no they don’t.
There’s many aspects to look at when critiquing ICOs, from the more nuanced such as what the Token actually represents, or ICO-sell structure, to the more fundamental such as what they actually plan to do with the money. At first that may seem more a case of arguing for solid business acumen, or something that might actually resemble a plan, perhaps, forbid, a Business Plan. But in the new and exciting investment vertical that is being offered, the goal posts are set differently. 5 pages of whitepaper, 2 being the contents and an intro on Ethereum, can still raise you millions.
For blockchain, this could end very badly.
The whole premise of this essay relies on the presumption that in order to further blockchains and their foundations, it needs widespread consumer adoption. It’s assumed that this will indirectly and directly affect things such as hashrates, coin & token adoption, Dapp usage etc… . Arguably one of the most important facets of adoption is education. How can we increase education to existing, new and potential adopters? Better marketing?
‘Real’ world marketing and PR has tackled this before. Many products that you may think of as everyday normal things to consume and use have actually been made acceptable by marketers. A sub-section of these products were likely created as an entirely new vertical. From a marketing point of view, this is incredibly hard. As you have to educate the end consumer on everything in this new vertical, making it okay to consume.
A good analogy that relates back to the above problem of ICOs is the marketing around Gore-Tex.
From Gore-Tex’s Wikipedia page; ‘Gore-Tex materials are typically based on thermo-mechanically expanded PTFE and other fluoropolymer products.’ , which describes the components and some of the manufacturing for Gore-Tex.
How does this relate to ICOs? Well, let’s take a look at how North Face market the use of Gore-Tex in their coats:
Take on any mission with a chance of showers with this new, ultra-soft, impossibly dry jacket engineered with Gore-Tex…www.thenorthface.com
The point here is that, simplifying isn’t ‘dumbing down’ and actually, simplifying is 100% necessary for a reasonably complex product to be understood. To be sold.
Whitepapers could arguably be purely for the technical explanation. But as most readers may acknowledge, actually, whitepapers take on a different form and purpose in today’s landscape.
They’re actually a marketing material. They propose and market the potential investment one can make if one purchases a token, the token upon which has it’s value somehow derived from the concept and technology that the underlying company could provide in the future.
Whitepapers, not the website copy, landing pages and so on, are the marketing here. They’re the core value to ICOs.
For adoption, education and the increase of understanding, first and foremost we should be looking at how we’re marketing ICOs and the whitepapers used for them. Language, layout, readability, focus and so on. The whitepaper is the new website, in a sense. It conveys all meaning.
As Phil Knight said on the David Rubenstein show ‘We’re a marketing company and our product is is our most important marketing tool’, talking about Nike.
Fixing said whitepapers could include:
- ELI5 (Explain like I’m 5) on mathematical concepts
- Some standardised format to quickly examine their business strategy
- Where the funding is going
- How team’s tokens are escrowed and vested
- What bloody blockchain it’s even on, or are they creating their own?
- Why they need so much funding
- A walkthrough of the problem in the industry, in layman’s terms
- A walkthrough of why the solution is better than others
- Why the solution actually needs blockchain
Another way is actually letting the community have input on the whitepaper, the readability and so on. One great example of this are AIGang whose whitepaper you can see here has been made comment-able. Which for a V 0.1 is a fantastic way to not only get feedback on the idea itself, but how you present it.
‘But we’re still being funded’
Funding isn’t a measure of success, it’s only a short term measure of success for a small amount of people on the team of the ICO. The long term measure being if they can actually create and take to market a functioning product, then finding product-market fit.
Arguably, we’ll see the long term negative effects of this ‘bubble’ and it’ll be on the blockchain, not the ICO projects themselves. Projects like Bancor received heavy criticism at the whitepaper level (https://medium.com/@yobanjo/bancor-idea-wont-work-watch-out-69da951c52f4). Which in all honestly, I could never of seen. I’m not educated on these things. However, unlike many, I take my lack of education on a subject to be a stark indicator not to invest. The boom in coinbase users and ETH adopters, the noobies, see it as ea$y Lambo profits. They don’t understand the technological foundations, they don’t understand the protocol and it’s pitfalls and they especially don’t understand why their investment lost 10%+ in a matter of days.
This is a huge, looming problem.
Let’s zoom out. It’s a problem throughout the blockchain community. Newcomers just see the occasional mainstream article about the person who made millions doing Y by investing in X coin. Join a subreddit, becoming an echo in a chamber.
This isn’t sustainable.
Why Scams are representative of poor Marketing
TL;DR — Security.
At this point you may be getting frustrated at my interchanging of the words ‘Marketing’ and ‘Education’. The argument this essay presents is that in fact, for adoption, education via marketing is necessary. Much like the startup world, it’s centred around value content that attracts users by educating them in their niche. The saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ is not applicable to most verticals and is likely going to spell death for blockchain if we don’t do something about it.
The efforts of scammers thus far, during ICO processes and in general, through the dark-web and so on when it comes to crypto is shocking. They’ve actually gotten pretty sophisticated, I have to give them that. Whether it’s Slack bots or Man in the middle attacks, they’re still finding a way. Even simple Twitter DMs, duped MEW wallets.
Why is it that people are willing to put Tens of thousands into a Coinbase, yet have no idea about security or what seems like general common sense?
The answer is, there’s no reason for them to be. No one is openly educating on these topics, no major warnings, no nothing. To enter this community it seems like it’s been decided that you need a certain tech prowess in order to access it. If not? Well it’s GG for you.
A lot of people I talk to, at conferences, on twitter and in general seem to reply the same way ‘Well, that’s just stupidity on their part’.
It’s this kind of disdain that I mentioned in my opening paragraph which sums up the unwelcoming and harsh nature of crypto. Leading to poor adoption, or even worse, negative adoption. Where people not only move away after trying, but convince others to stay away.
Incredibly short but I hope carries some impact. This brief essay tries to demonstrate some of the problems with the blockchain community. It’s main aim is to convince you, the end user, to adopt my way of thinking. To understand that foundations such as Ethereum are and should be treated like a product, a business. Whether you like it or not, in order for more to adopt and understand, we need to educate more and become more welcoming.
Education in this respect will not be in the form of medium posts, such as this one, that only actually lives within the community. It needs to be on the frontier, where the end users are looking. The peripherals and the apps. Hardware wallets and exchanges. Medical records and Real estate. It’s not good enough to just say, well it’s squirrel backpacks, but it’s squirrel backpacks on the blockchain.
Currently the only major adopters seems to be big banks, insurance firms and payment processors. They’re doing it quietly and swiftly. These are the industries producing services that will have the first blockchain adopters, only, unknowingly. It’s this authors belief that this is pretty far away from what most expected and/or wanted from blockchain.
In order to change that, we need to change.