Jeremy Epstein is the CEO of Never Stop Marketing, a strategic marketing and consulting firm that focuses exclusively on helping blockchain-based technologies bring solutions to market faster and with less risk.
In this CoinDesk 2016 in Review special feature, Epstein discusses the challengers marketers - and the broader blockchain technology community - continue to face when attempting to win new enthusiasts with their messaging.
If you are reading this, there's a good chance you are living in a "blockchain bubble".
You're tech savvy, an early adopter and a forward thinker. Odds are, you know a lot of people like yourself.
And, by now, you've realized that most people - at least when it comes to technology - aren't like you.
So, if you are building a blockchain-based protocol, product or solution... or you just want the industry to thrive, this article is for you.
After 20 years working as a marketer helping disruptive technologies come to the mainstream, I like to say: "We're all in marketing, it's just that some of us know it."
I can also tell you the following:
- One of the biggest challenges that marketers have is recognizing and admitting that most people aren't like them
- Any marketer who says, "Well, I would (or wouldn't) do that," isn't a good marketer
- Marketing is about understanding and empathizing with how other people, unlike you, think.
The blockchain industry (if we can call it that) is moving into its eighth year. The passionate believers, the curious, crypto-anarchists and libertarians have all pretty much shown up. Now, we have to get the rest of the world interested and excited.
The good news is that many industry leaders are starting to recognize this.
The recent e-book, "Blockchains in the Mainstream: When Will Everyone Else Know?" offers thoughts from people such as Roger Ver, Jeff Garzik, Erik Voorhees, Primavera De Filippi and 28 others about the obstacles they see to this process.
The challenge for blockchain-based solutions is familiar. As Geoffrey Moore demonstrated in his seminal work, "Crossing the Chasm," the types of customers who spur the very early adoption of a technology are vastly different than those who help push it into the mainstream.
Or, as my friend John used to opine, "What got us here, won't get us there."
You and I know that a blockchain-centric world is, as Kevin Kelly might say, "inevitable". But that doesn't mean everyone else does, and it doesn't mean it will happen as soon as we all want it to.
It's a paradigm shift
In most marketing, you're saying, "Here's why my product is better."
"Toyota is better than Honda because..."
"Apple is better than Microsoft because..."
"Citibank is better than Chase because..."
In our world, however, we're saying, "your phone is better than Citibank or Chase or anyone else" - to which most people are going to say, "What?!"
They are naturally going to be resistant because the solution we are offering (at least, initially) is so radically outside their comfort zone.
And, unlike you, most people don't enjoy being removed from their comfort zones.
Let people stay in their comfort zone
What's true about relationships is true about marketing your product or platform: it's a heck of a lot easier to change yourself than to change others.
Legendary marketer Seth Godin wrote, that when it comes to a person's worldview, "People don't believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them. They always believe what they tell themselves."
To help take your blockchain vision to the mainstream, you'll want to align your story with the story that people are already telling themselves.
Figuring your customer's self story out and then telling yours to align to that - now that is a skill. (For an example, see how Colgate tells a story quickly, effectively, and visually here).
What needs to change for blockchain
The next phase of adoption is going to come from people who aren't enthusiasts or driven by ideology. It's going to come from people who can clearly understand the WIIFM (what's in it for me?).
1. Engineering sexiness is cool, but no one else really cares
If you can't answer the question of what the other person gets out of your product or vision quickly and easily without 20 steps of effort, you may have a challenge.
So, what is your customer's worldview and how does your product fit into that vision?
2. Total marketing clarity
Which brings us to clarity. You'll notice that I wrote "clearly understand" above.
You and I know that decentralized systems are going to make the world a safer, more censorship-resistant, more private, more friction-free, more efficient place - but that's because we've spent the time reading white papers and figuring out Merkle trees.
Everyone else lives in an "attention economy", where they are constantly being bombarded by messages (whether it is 5,000 or more or less per day doesn't really matter). So, if you're not able to explain your idea in eight seconds, you're fighting an uphill battle.
But it all starts with your objective. Once you understand your target customer, you need to settle on what you want to do. Not 20 things, not 10 things.
Then, that objective (ie: "be the premier search engine in the world") becomes the rallying cry for everything you do, including (and, perhaps, most importantly) how you build your product or protocol.
3. Marketing discipline
I often compare marketing to a wedding cake.
Most people see the icing and decoration on a cake and are impressed. That's the equivalent to the flashy ad of the slick images.
Great marketers know that you can't have a successful campaign without a solid foundation of daily rigor and execution. Instead, the great ones "never stop marketing" and focus on being able to just consistently, day-in and day-out bake a solid cake that will not collapse.
If they do that, they know the marketing cake will look beautiful. If they cannot do that, they know that no amount of icing or decorations will make it look good. It will just be a huge pile of mess...like most marketing out there.
To put it simply, focus on your objective, build a plan to achieve it, and don't deviate.
What can you do today?
When I engage with potential clients, one of the things we do first is go through a 'marketing discovery questionnaire'. You are welcome to give it a look and answer the questions.
Here are some of them:
- Audience/customers: Based on what you know, why do your customers/users 'buy'? (Keep in mind that 'buy' doesn't necessarily mean money. People pay with attention and time, as well).
- Competitive differentiation: In the mind of your customers (not your own mind), what other companies do what you do?
- Messaging: From your customer's perspective, what is the story they tell themselves about the benefit they get from using your product?
- Brand: Does every employee, partner or investor understand what your brand stands for?
- Awareness: How would you characterize your market awareness now?
- Perception: How does the market perceive you now?
This is just part of it, but you get the gist.
The next step, of course, is: "Where do you want to be in 12 or 24 months?" After you've gone through the process of clarifying what you stand for and more, you can build the vision and the plan to get there.
It's not easy, but it is critical and non-negotiable for those committed to winning.
I despise predictions for the upcoming year. Most of them are just link bait, with no accountability.
That's why this isn't a prediction, it's a statement of fact.
In 2017, there will be an emerging group of blockchain-centric companies that:
- Put Marketing (that's with a capital 'M') at the center of their business
- Put the customer first and the customer experience first
- Will be able to clearly articulate their value proposition
- Have a messaging platform and clear brand purpose
- Craft a crystal-clear marketing strategy statement
- And, they will execute like crazy people.
And they will start separating themselves from those who can't get out of their engineering heads.
I love the tech behind blockchains and decentralized systems as much as anyone. It's wicked cool, and I get lit up when I talk about it. But, I'm not the market. Neither are you.
Remembering that will be key to your success - and the success of the entire blockchain industry overall-in 2017-and beyond.
Have an opinion on blockchain in 2016? A prediction for 2017? Email email@example.com to learn how you can contribute to our series.
Bubble image via Shutterstock