How to market a blockchain project without Google, Facebook and Twitter and [add your favorite service here]
There we go. Facebook, then Google, now Twitter [updated: now Snap]. All major media platforms have banned any form of ads for crypto services. Why? because — so they claim — there is too much fraud and scam. I am not sure why they can’t police that as they do with any other vertical, infested by scammers too, but this is what we have to deal with. 80% of the advertising inventory is no longer available to crypto entrepreneurs, including to services that are compliant and fully regulated. This Ice age of crypto marketing is likely to be temporary, but that begs a question: Can you really market your service to new users when you lose access to the critical channel that is used by 100% of any decent online service?
Well let’s zoom out for a second: have you ever seen an ad for Bitcoin, Ethereum or Litecoin? me neither.
Let’s zoom out a little more: Did you ever see an ad for Google, Facebook or Twitter (in their early days at least)? me neither.
And there is a reason for that. Ads are not what make a great service. They are mere accelerators. If you rely on ads to get your product known or adopted, then it means something is wrong with what you have to offer.
Because it all starts with a product that makes sense to its users. I know it sounds obvious and boring but in a way the best marketing tool, is a product to meet your market. The reason Bitcoin and Ethereum has found some traction over the years is because, by design, their product brought something an audience wanted (without explicitly knowing it): in the case of bitcoin a decentralized p2p payment system and in the case of ethereum a platform to build censorship-resistant apps.
As a crypto-entrepreneur i am not over impressed or scared by the decision of Google or Facebook to ban crypto ads (actually as an ICO investor i actually appreciate it because any ICO using ads is automatically flagged out) It is just going to force us, service marker, network builders, to be sharper and better at providing something the market wants. It will force also entrepreneurs in thinking harder about ways to create organic growth within the networks they are building.
Now, you still need leverages to get the word out there and get your first users. Here is a list of vectors you can use to your benefit
- Crypto-communities: there are many out there. Reddit, Bitcoin talk, Medium, Quora, Slack, Telegram. Be active there: contribute without trolling is the rule. Do not rely on advisors or contractors to be your ambassador. If you can’t do the job, no one will. I know i am biased here (because i am an advisor) but Metacert Next is doing an incredible job in their Telegram community.
- Github: open sourcing your code is a great way to get other developers involved and bootstrapping the awareness of what your doing
- Facebook/Twitter: They banned ads, but not your voice. Be present, be vocal. If you are too shy to talk, get someone on your payroll to do it, ideally a co-founder. This is not an option. Create an account for your service. Being vocal and a thought leader in a nascent industry is very important. And being vocal does not mean only talking about your own service: contribute to the global conversation.
- SEO: Google has banned ads but not links. You can still get discovered by Google and if your crypto project is privacy-oriented (many crypto services are) optimize also for DuckDuck Go, a fantastic, private by design, search engine that has a vibrant user base
- ASO (app store optimization): This works if you have a mobile app. The state of mobile apps in crypto is deplorable for now but it does not mean your app does not stand a chance if you have one. I am always amazed how poorly optimized are most crypto mobile apps in the Apple and Google app store. Care about your app icon, screenshots, text, description, keyword, localization, .etc
- Airdrops: That works if your service has a token. If you missed the boat about what airdrops are, please check my post about it and use “accelerators” like earn.com to get some users to use your token. Here is a great example of an upcoming ICO, organizing an “airdrop” event. Super creative.
- Referrals: i am always amazed how little this is used in most crypto services that i tried. But enabling your existing users to invite new users and rewarding them for that works. Dropbox and Spotify grew in a crowded space thanks to that in their early days
- PR: let me just pause here and say it out loud and clear. DO NOT hire a PR agency in your early days. It is a total waste of money and time. If your founding team can’t a journalist or blogger interested, then your service does not deserve to be known. That being said, getting attention is really really hard. But totally rewarding when you break the wall. So obsess about building relations with bloggers and journalists early on before you need them. Get them exclusives when you feel this is the right moment. And plan for announcements ahead of time.
- Syndicated project (or crypto-rings): leverage other projects awareness by partnering with other crypto services and get discovered by new users. Airswap for example announced a syndicate of tokens for its new exchange
- Bounty Bugs: create rewards (even in crypto currency) for users helping you debug your service. It may attract bounty hunters but may have also the benefit of establishing your name in the industry
- Crypto-events: the industry does not lack events. Every day, somewhere in the world there are physical gatherings, meet ups and conferences — sometimes hackathons too. While it is impossible to be there, and while the cost of sponsoring those is crazy expensive most of the time, i would suggest to attend at least one a month. Ideally try to get yourself a speaker spot if you can. It’s really hard but if you manage you’ll stand out.
- Podcast sponsoring: There are some seriously good crypto podcasts out there. They all have sponsor spots. Ideally you prefer to be on the content part but this may be a shortcut to get there. Some of my favorite podcasts are Unchained/Unconfirmed, F11S, Epicenter and Coin Talk.
- Content/Amplification: writing (good) content is a fantastic marketing vector. It has great SEO, prescription power and impact. To be efficient you need to do it regularly. Medium is a great platform for this, but you can use any blogging service, or even try to be a guest writer in a large publication. You then have ways to amplify your content to relevant audience (using for example Outbrain). Steem can also be very useful, in particular because of its native presence in the crypto space.
- Ambassadors: i am not a huge fan of advisors in general, unless they are active ambassadors. If you can get known people to talk for you on a regular basis, either because they love your product, or are investors or just advisors then go for it. Getting prescription power in a sea of scams and noise is of fundamental importance
- ICO pre-sales groups/analysts: if you need your ICO to be “discovered” a good way is to approach pre-sales groups or analysts (like Picolo for eg). Getting reviewed (positively of course), will increase your exposure to a qualified audience.
All of the above are mere accelerators and amplifiers but they do not replace the fundamental value a good product or service can bring. The near future will reveal which of those has the power to grow in the absence of all major ad networks. Actually that may be a great thing if the next generation of web services good grow without the help of the existing incumbents. It’s too early to say but we’ll know soon enough
One thing is certain: you need to have in your team, the ability to do all of those things and need enough time to allocate for implementing them. Technical teams only won’t cut. So as you build your team and your plan make sure you hire the right skills from day 1.