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What is blockchain marketing?

As is the case with many emerging fields, agreeing on a precise definition of blockchain marketing can be hard. The first example of blockchain marketing - Satoshi Nakamoto’s sharing of the Bitcoin whitepaper with a cryptography mailing list - occurred only a decade ago, before the term ‘blockchain marketing’ meant anything to anybody.

Since then, the blockchain and cryptocurrency industries have developed a huge amount, to the point where the term ‘blockchain marketing’ can justifiably refer to two distinct areas. The first is the use of blockchain technology within marketing, often referred to as blockchain marketing technology, and the second is the marketing of blockchain technology.

Both areas are now sizeable enough to warrant an explanation of their own and this guide aims to help you understand the difference between them, as well as the big underlying themes of both.

For anyone working for blockchain and cryptocurrency projects, it will also outline what the key parts of a good blockchain marketing strategy are and what a blockchain marketing team should look like, as well as take a quick look at the history of blockchain marketing.

Blockchain in marketing

Blockchain in marketing is the application of blockchain technology to solve the problems of the marketing industry. It’s fair to say that, as with some other industries, blockchain has become something of a buzzword within marketing. This is unfortunate but it would also be wrong to suggest that distributed ledger technology and the application of decentralised cryptocurrencies can be a solution to every marketing issue.

Therefore, to understand how and where blockchain can provide a viable solution to a marketing problem, it’s worth recapping what the main benefits of the technology are. In simple terms, a blockchain provides an immutable record of transactions and ownership that can be viewed and verified by all parties. Therefore, it is normally useful for solving issues of trust, transparency and traceability.

In the world of marketing, that has naturally lead to it being applied in two main areas, programmatic ad buying and CRM solutions.

Programmatic ad buying, while initially providing large advertisers with the promise of highly targeted yet automated ad placements, has become an area where fraud is a big problem. Companies are increasingly of the opinion that the ad placements they are paying for cannot be traced and verified in order to prove that a human being has actually viewed them.

Blockchain technology can improve this situation because a shared and immutable ledger, which records ad interactions between a network of parties in a way that can’t be manipulated by a single party, provides a new level of trust in advertising.

This is not just a theoretical benefit either, as news from two of the biggest brands in the world during 2018 has shown. In October, both Toyota and ABInBev revealed how their advertising strategies had been optimized in this way, and it seems safe to say that similar case studies from other big advertisers will be forthcoming.

Another area of marketing where blockchain is being used (although possibly to a lesser extent) is Customer Relationship Management or CRM. In this case, the suggested benefits centre on the fact that most popular CRMs solutions today host data in the cloud, which often results in it being stored in a highly centralised manner that might make it susceptible to being hacked. It is supposed that the decentralised nature of a blockchain network could provide a defence against such attacks. However, while this makes some sense, other questions about a shared ledger of sensitive data and the storage of large amounts of customer information on a blockchain remain.

No doubt many more examples of blockchain in marketing will emerge soon and, for anyone interested in keeping up with developments, the blockchain marketing technology landscape produced by Jeremy’ Epstein’s Never Stop Marketing is a useful asset.

Marketing for blockchain(s)

Unlike blockchain in marketing, which involves the use of blockchain technology to improve marketing tactics and techniques, marketing for blockchain covers the marketing of blockchain and cryptocurrency projects and companies.

Ever since Satoshi Nakamoto distributed the Bitcoin whitepaper via a cryptography mailing list, marketing has played its part in the industry. Of course, back then no-one was really thinking about marketing strategies or tactics for building brand awareness. However, it’s fair to assume that Satoshi wanted others adopt his technology then, just as so many marketers for new blockchain protocols and projects want others to adopt their technology today.

The marketing of blockchains and cryptocurrencies has always been something of a wild west landscape. This picture of a lawless, anything-goes environment was typified by the ICO marketing craze that took hold during 2017. Billions of dollars were raised across the world by a range of projects that relied on the skills of some very capable marketers to do so.

However, for every growth hacking marketing guru there were many more shitcoin shillers, who took advantage of the lack of regulation in the marketing of cryptocurrencies to spread unfounded hype. Whether this was the reason that the biggest online platforms in the world banned blockchain and cryptocurrency projects from advertising in 2018 isn’t entirely clear, but it seems safe to say it played its part.

Whatever the reason though, one aspect of marketing for blockchain that can’t be ignored is the fact that Facebook and Google ad strategies, which so many marketers rely on today, can’t play such a significant role for blockchain and cryptocurrency projects. Instead, the best projects have relied on community engagement through Reddit and Telegram groups, as well as thought leadership through long-form blockchain copywriting on platforms such as Medium.

How marketing for blockchain develops from here is difficult to say but, with some of the biggest names in the industry having strong opinions on the subject, it will be an interesting area to watch. In 2018, Vitalik Buterin said he believes that opportunities for 1000-times growth are finished as the strategy of marketing a cryptocurrency to get widespread adoption is at a dead-end. He also called out some large, multinational tech firms’ very public interest in blockchain technology as nothing more than marketing hype.

While some may dismiss marketing’s role in blockchain though, it’s worth remembering that Erik Voorhees, CEO of Shapeshift (who also successfully exited from his previous venture Satoshi Dice) started his career in the industry as a marketer.

Ten (important or frivolous) events in the history of blockchain marketing

As a relatively new field, there haven’t been a huge number of milestones in the history of blockchain marketing. However, here are a few that every marketer should know about:

October 2008 - Satoshi Nakamoto publishes the Bitcoin whitepaper

On 31 October 2008, the software developer known by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto shared his idea for a new decentralised, digital cash system with a mailing list of cryptography enthusiasts. It was the first example of blockchain marketing, as he introduced the new distributed ledger technology to the world and encouraged others to start using it to exchange value trustlessly.

May 2010 - The first recorded purchase of goods using Bitcoin

Up to this point, Bitcoin and the blockchain that underpinned it had been the preserve of a small contingent of technology enthusiasts who had been mining, sending and receiving the new cryptocurrency as part of an intellectual exercise. With the successful purchase of two pizzas from Papa Johns for a total of 10,000 Bitcoin, blockchain marketing had its first case study of the technology’s use as an exchange of value.

June 2011 - Wikileaks accept Bitcoin 2011

When the US government really began clamping down on its ability to raise money from donors through established payment channels, Wikileaks turned to Bitcoin as a way of keeping funds rolling in. With the world watching, Bitcoin and blockchain technology first entered the consciousness of many around the world.

January 2012 - The Good Wife episode about Bitcoin

In an episode entitled “Bitcoin For Dummies”, which was part of the third season of this legal drama, Bitcoin’s opaque beginnings became part of the drama’s storyline. The episode revolved around the case of a lawyer defending the identity of his client - who was said to be the inventor of Bitcoin - against the efforts of the US Treasury Department. In doing so it, introduced many to the legal issues that continue to affect cryptocurrencies.

Late 2013 - Vitalik Buterin publishes Ethereum whitepaper

In 2013, Vitalik Buterin was a writer (and developer) contributing to the Bitcoin community through publications such as Bitcoin Magazine. At the end of that year, he proposed that Bitcoin required a scripting language for application development. When his proposal was not agreed upon by the network, he developed Ethereum as a separate blockchain protocol. Buterin is a significant figure within blockchain marketing not just because he is a key industry influencer but also because so much marketing in this industry is for projects that rely on the protocol he invented.

December 2016 - Digiday publishes blockchain marketing article

One of the first mainstream marketing and advertising publications to cover how blockchain could affect these industries was published by Digiday, which published an article on the topic in November 2016. Entitled “how blockchain might be useful in marketing and advertising”, the areas covered included ad-delivery verification and managing consumer data, which we have seen develop into key areas of blockchain marketing technology.

June 2017 - Bancor ICO raises $153 million in three hours

ICO marketing was a major trend that dominated blockchain marketing during 2016 and 2017, as the number of new blockchain projects looking to generate funds through token issuances ballooned. Examples of good and bad practice abounded at this time but one noteworthy case study was that of Bancor, which used a combination of content marketing and growth hacking to help raise $153 million in just three hours.

August 2017 - Celebrity endorsements of ICOs

Respected market commentators proclaimed that we had ‘reached peak ICO’ when a string of celebrities and social media influencers began promoting various ICOs in 2017. Floyd Mayweather and DJ Khalid are examples of celebrities that got involved, with both having now been fined by the SEC for not disclosing payments received for the promotions they made.

Q3 2017 - Blockchain marketing landscape published

Blockchain marketing technology, where blockchain technology is used to tackle issues in the marketing and advertising industries, was mapped into a landscape of niches by Jeremy Epstein’s Never Stop Marketing at the end of 2017. Since then, the company has updated the landscape on a regular basis, noting a 400% increase in size by the end of 2018.

October 2017 - Dilbert explains blockchain marketing

Blockchain marketing knew it had arrived as a force in its own right when it was the subject of Dilbert in October 2017. The satirical comic strip played on the relationship between technologists and marketers, caricaturing the complexity of the technology and the fact that so many find it difficult to explain in a way that people can understand.

January 2018 - Crypto and blockchain advertising banned

After much criticism of ICO advertising (and, perhaps, some sense that blockchain technology might threaten their existing business models) the leading online advertising platforms, Google and Facebook, banned cryptocurrency advertising. Towards the end of the year, these blanket bans were rolled back to some degree, although blockchain and cryptocurrency projects are still restricted in their use of the platforms.

The key elements of a blockchain marketing strategy

Project goals

Not aligning your marketing strategy with your project’s strategy is the biggest mistake you can make and will set you on a course of ineffective marketing from day one. Of course marketing is about more than just sales or increasing revenue but, if these are the goals of your project, you must have a strategy that clearly lays out how marketing will help to achieve these aims.

Audience understanding

Who are you really trying to communicate and engage with, and why? You need to go beyond simple demographic descriptions of ‘developers’, ‘traders’ or ‘supply chain managers’ and understand the day-to-day activities of your audience so you can help them. Mapping out the micro-moments of needs and desires that they experience will provide you with the opportunity to truly engage them.

Content production

Once you know who your audience is and what the triggers are that might lead them to your project, you need to double down on proving that you have the answers to their questions. Content, whether it is short-form, reactive snippets that pique interest or long-form copywriting that spells out your proposition, is the fuel that should fire every step of your sales funnel.

Community engagement

In the emerging industry that is blockchain and cryptocurrencies, so much is about nurturing a community of advocates by demonstrating you are in it for the long run. Many people dismiss this industry as a fad or a buzzword but by engaging with your community, you can develop the case studies and data that will convince others to jump on your bandwagon.

Data analysis

If you’re producing content and engaging with a community in order to achieve your project goals, you will be generating a lot of data. However, all of this activity will be worthless if you’re not measuring it, relating it to your strategy and assessing whether it is helping to achieve your targets.

Testing and optimisation

One of the best things about working in blockchain marketing is the fact that it is an emerging field where new ideas can be tested. The people involved in these industries do not use the platforms or communication channels that many marketers are used to, so you should always be testing new ways to build brand awareness. If you get it right and can optimise a particular strategy, the potential rewards are enormous.

Members of an effective blockchain marketing team

By identifying the five most important positions within your blockchain marketing team early on, you can build strong foundations for an effective expansion in the future. Getting this wrong will result in inefficiencies as you scale and could lead to an unnecessary reliance on one channel.

When building out a blockchain marketing team from scratch, you should aim to build a team in the following order.

Marketing lead

That’s you. You are an all rounder, with experience of implementing strategies, building teams and achieving meaningful business targets. To begin with you’re going to be responsible for everything, so you need to have a cool head, be able to prioritise actions and get things done quickly. You’ll also need to be able to communicate any plans or strategies to senior team members and investors, so they can understand how marketing is helping the company to achieve its business goals. You need to quickly and clearly breakdown exactly what your prospective customers want and why they will choose your solution. It’s your responsibility to translate the business’s aims into marketing strategies and tactics that deliver results as soon as possible.

Growth marketer

You’ve realised that time is of the essence and that the company is looking for you to deliver meaningful results as soon as possible. Therefore your first hire should be someone who understands this and has the skills and experience to complement you. Your growth marketer should have skills across a range of areas. This makes sense because, as the company grows, you will want them to take over your role, as you also become more senior.

Community manager

If you’re strategy is working and your growth marketer is succeeding, you’ll quickly start to develop a community of investors, developers, partners or prospects that need to be nurtured and can’t be forgotten about. Your community manager should be responsible for doing exactly that, helping to answer questions, distribute updates, understand needs and generally ensure that people feel there is value in being part of your project.

Copywriter

As your community grows and your project’s goals develop beyond gathering momentum or proving that an idea works, a copywriter will help you to build the foundations of a lasting brand. Beyond the awareness content that a community manager can handle, an experienced blockchain copywriter should be responsible for the long-form, thought leadership content that your brand needs to convince people of its reliability and market leading position.

Designer

If you’re managing to produce regular content and seeing the positive effect it has, you’ll want to do more rich and varied content too. You can rely on agencies for this or choose to have a design lead with experience across different media, who helps to shape and control the long-term direction of your brand. It is essential to look for someone with the ability to create fast, reactive content for urgent marketing and PR opportunities, as well as the skills to build a brand identity over the long term.

Adding to your team

Messaging, which is implemented through content marketing, and optimisation, which relies on data science, should be the core tenets of your marketing strategy. Therefore your next few hires could include event managers and videographers, who are responsible for producing bigger and better content, or data scientists and advertising specialists, who are responsible for optimisation and automation. Whoever you hire next, make sure they are clearly aligned to your overriding strategy, tactics and KPIs.

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