This is an opinion editorial by Maxx Mannheimer, a former commercial account manager with a background in training and industrial and organizational psychology.
It seems like every nonsensical blockchain project these days has a group of founders funneling huge amounts of money (or premined tokens) into social media marketing. They pay teenage influencers to pitch their scripts to millions of followers in hopes of pumping the market cap out of vaporware projects that never make it out of alpha. In the best of cases, their intentions are good and the execution is bad, but in many cases their intention is bad and their execution is flawless. The history of cryptocurrency rug pull operations speaks for itself.
Naturally, anyone new to digital assets won’t see this coming and may not even understand what happened even after their wallet dipped below sea level. As a result, the majority of new entrants to the space are overwhelmed, confused, or downright cheated when using exchanges that promote blatant scams. Some might say this is a natural progression for new cryptocurrency users who will have to learn on their own: “Just like we had to!” Do your own research (DYOR)!!!” This is exactly the kind of mentality that is going to slow down adoption and cause newcomers more pain than necessary.
This article is an extension of the same metaphor I offered in my first article, “Bitcoin Customer Service”. Bitcoin exists as an entirely new, decentralized organization. The community is simply acting on the incentives inherent in the protocol. There is no CEO or Board of Directors prioritizing the activities of the participants.
The Mises-esque ethos of bitcoin would dictate that hard technology and incentives are all that is needed for the success of the bitcoin network. Over a long enough period, I completely agree with this sentiment, but given what is at stake, I am currently disappointed with our progress. Although I have seen valiant attempts, I have been disappointed with the community’s ability to counter the negative and misleading narratives conveyed by many media outlets. As of this writing, it seems to me that these attempts are echoing in the Bitcoin bubble of blog posts and podcasts.
Let’s imagine that Bitcoin has a marketing department, or in a way closer to the decentralized nature of the network, many marketing departments. What could these marketing departments focus on? In my opinion, it would be wise to reach as wide an investor base as possible. The reasons for this are two-fold: adoption has a powerful network effect, and widespread adoption increases Bitcoin’s political defense. Much of the messaging around Bitcoin has ended up in a libertarian or tech-savvy sphere. It’s completely understandable, but how does everyone care? Realistically, there are many who are afraid of technology and many who disagree with libertarian ideas. Bitcoiners often just brush these people off or treat them as a lost cause. I’m not so quick to give up on individual adaptability and intelligence.
At the risk of sounding grandiose, for this illustration, I imagine myself as the vice president of marketing for Bitcoin. If I heard one of my executives say that we were going to ignore 50-70% of our addressable market because they didn’t understand the concept of the product, I would fire them on the spot. It’s a lose-lose attitude and at the heart of every value-driven marketing effort is the intent to educate the market about the product and what it’s good for. To write off potential customers for ideological or emotional reasons would be an undeniably defeatist approach.
If a teacher fails half of their students, it may indicate a very complex subject or an ineffective teacher. Sure, we know Bitcoin is a complex subject, but does that take the blame away from educators? Does that give us credit for giving up and blaming the media for misleading people? Many do not give up on this effort. They work to support the understanding of Bitcoin with metaphors, similes, allegories, and hard data. I wholeheartedly applaud these efforts.
What I don’t see, however, is a thoughtful marketing push into the public sphere beyond the Bitcoin filter bubble. There must be dozens of other niche communities that overlap Bitcoin-related interests. Examples may be in the energy industry, libertarian publications, organic farming, hunting magazines, video game review sites, or any entity working to reduce the size of government or the scope of military activity. These are low hanging fruit in my opinion. There are also harder paths that exist outside of the typical Bitcoin wheelhouse of freedom-loving and sovereign tech enthusiasts.
How could Bitcoin interest political progressives, environmentalists or activists? Is there a way to reach these communities without alienating them? I see Alex Gladstein making a bold effort, but I also know many Bitcoiners who are unwilling to offer an olive branch. This reluctance can only be rooted in a lack of humility or in the fear that the network will be controlled by a centralized force. Is this reluctance rational behavior or is it just short sighted? Most Bitcoiners know that once a person buys bitcoin, the learning process speeds up dramatically. Having skin in the game changes individual incentives in a way that benefits the network and humanity.
Imagine a billboard in downtown Seattle that said “Defund The Military Industrial Complex” or “The End of Bank Bailouts”, with a QR code directing the viewer to educational materials. This is the type of marketing that will make people stop and think. In cases where the target audience is likely to be impulsively opposed to bitcoin, it may also be a good idea to direct people to a site that lists data and facts about fiat issues before the solution is revealed.
Imagine going to the JM Bullion website and seeing a banner ad with an image of gold bars on the left and a pile of scrap metal on the right. Above the left panel it says “Bitcoin” in Helvetica or Times New Roman, and on the right it says “Crypto” in Comic Sans. This is a simple visual representation to explain the point of view that Bitcoiners have on the market and communicates the reality of the situation quite effectively. Any post that reaches gold bugs or precious metals investors will report to it immediately. I have often found that talking to Bitcoin gold bugs is always a downhill effort.
Imagine driving on I-75 between Chattanooga, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia and you see a large orange billboard that says, “Trust the Federal Reserve and Wall Street? Do you have a plan B? or “Inflation got you down?”
This would reach a market that is completely unaddressed at present. There is a world of rural working class people with practical skills that have been continually abused by the dominant monetary system. These people may not have social media, but they may have hundreds of acres of farmland and generations of farming knowledge. In my assessment, the true value of the Bitcoin network is based on what can be accomplished with it. Having real value in bitcoin trading can be just as important as hash rate. Rural Americans often understand hard money better than armies of keyboard warriors on the Internet. How do we bridge this gap?
Using the US Postal Service website, I was able to get a quick estimate of $40,000 to send letters or $30,000 for postcards to 50,000 people. Marketing in this direction with eye-catching material has the potential to reach an audience and age group that is currently untouched. An orange envelope with the Bitcoin logo on the outside could be a nice touch. Now add “Inflation is theft”. It seems to me that the experience might be worth it.
One of the biggest advantages of the public blockchain is its constant availability for auditing. If a collective Bitcoin marketing fund were created, those who contribute could see their funds move. Images of physical payouts, click data and QR counts can be collected to assess the effectiveness of the marketing campaign in an investor report. It might even be possible to allow contributors a say in the marketing approach, but let’s be very careful not to post squeaky, embarrassing material.
There are sharp minds all over the world, working around the clock to sell absolute garbage products to the general public. They have a lot of market data and experience with advertising campaigns. Let’s not neglect the talents that exist on the market. Some Bitcoiners argue that the marketing industry is part of the fiat mess, but the chess pieces remain as they are. Let’s find a way to explain Bitcoin in terms that various populations can agree with and use all the tools at our disposal.
Civil rights: “Bitcoin doesn’t know the color of your skin.” Autonomy: “I don’t need to ask permission from a customer service representative or anyone else to move my bitcoin.” Environment: “Bitcoin replaces outdated systems that drive the production of products designed to fail.” Steal my ad ideas if you like them. I will have more.
We are quietly sitting on what amounts to the best product ever created.
Many of us know this firsthand because as soon as we figured it out, we bought as many bitcoins as we could afford. Some of us bought more than that. Bitcoin’s grassroots cascade of understanding is inevitable and it seems to be accelerating as more content is created, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help it with some strategic spending. As a decentralized asset, these advertisements do not need to direct potential users to a specific website or exchange and it does not matter who has set up the advertisements. They just introduce Bitcoin knowledge to the crowd and we all benefit from it.
How do we take this digital movement further into the physical world? Doesn’t the incentive structure inherent in holding bitcoins motivate this marketing behavior of large holders? Why don’t groups of Bitcoiners band together to hire marketing companies to educate the masses? What’s stopping us from creating a pooled fund to allocate capital to an experienced marketing team?
The answer, of course, is nothing. Nothing prevents us from doing it.
This is a guest post by Maxx Mannheimer. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.