How to Market your Blockchain Project or ICO

Last year, initial coin offerings took off like a rocket. According to data from ICO Watch List, six different ICOs raised over $100 million each. Two broke the $200 million threshold. In total, ICOs raised over $4.3 billion in 2017, and 2018 is off to an extremely strong start. Many blockchain writers have noted the potential these offerings have. Some have gone so far as to suggest a Tesla ICO–though Tesla hasn’t made any indication they will actually do so. Others note that ICOs will professionalize as more experienced investors–like institutions–begin making moves in cryptocurrency markets (ICO Marketing).

The ICO landscape is becoming more competitive. This means that blockchain startups must work that much harder to secure investor capital. And, as with any other industry, the teams that sell will be the teams that win. Those that know how to market their ICOs properly will come out on top. Here is the definitive guide for how to market an ICO.

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Step #1 - Create a Well-Thought Platform that Solves the User’s Problems

This first step seems obvious, but it is often overlooked. ICO investors want a winning platform. They want functionality, utility, and the potential for success. They want a platform that disrupts traditional businesses, has the right target market, and has a strong proof of concept. If possible, teams should create a test version of the platform that users can demo for themselves. Nothing boosts investor confidence more than when a company has demonstrated their ability to achieve their development goals.

If a team cannot create a demo platform before or during the ICO, that is okay. They will need to focus their efforts on convincing investors that their platform is a viable business solution. This means teams must have a thorough knowledge of the competitive landscape and should study other blockchain companies. CoinSchedule is just one example of many websites that provide lists of upcoming, ongoing, and past ICOs. However, new projects must be careful not to copy other platforms. This is a surefire way to disappoint investors and face legal consequences. 

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Step #2 - Focus on Community Engagement

One of the fundamental principles in Dale Carnegie’s seminal work How to Win Friends and Influence People is that customers buy when they feel cared about. This is why he encourages his readers to use names, listen carefully, and ask questions. Salespeople, marketers, and business development professionals need to engage potential clients; they need to make an impression.

This is also true for ICO teams. One of the biggest mistakes ICO teams make is failing to identify the community they need to engage with. If such a community doesn’t exist, they need to build one. An essential part of this is understanding what platform their target market lives on and honing in on it. If the platform processes financial transactions, then the marketing campaign needs to focus on financial institutions, banks, and investment firms. If the project is a retail shopping application, then the team needs to focus on individuals who make online or in store purchases. Likewise service related platforms should focus their efforts on engaging service based businesses.

Once the target community has been established, teams need to do their best to reach these communities. This can come in many forms, but one foolproof way to make an impression is to attend blockchain and cryptocurrency events. By attending a conference–or sponsoring one–ICO teams can meet face to face with potential clients and pitch their ideas in a more personal way. Even more importantly, they show investors that they care about clients and the larger crypto community–they aren’t just trying to make a quick buck and bail. Augur, for example, went on a conference tour six months before their ICO and raised $5 million in their ICO.

It is important for blockchain teams to really focus on seeding conversations where the platform will be well-received. The goal is to provide true, tangible value to customers’ lives and businesses, which is what makes the research aspect outlined above so important. This is what differentiates ICOs that will have an impact versus self-promoters who are simply shilling an audience. The objective is to engage the community in a meaningful way in order to foster a mutually beneficial relationship. Teams should avoid false pretenses and must come across as genuine, not as an act, but because they sincerely want to help their customers.

When done correctly, community engagement sells itself. If an ICO team has formed a partnership with their target community, the community does the selling. Individuals who believe in the project will begin telling members of the community about it, and on and on the news will spread. Referral marketing is one of the best strategies around, and ICO teams need to take advantage of it. Investors should feel like they are a crucial part of the team… because they are.

Step #3 - Create a Strategic Marketing Plan… But Learn How to Adapt

This step falls in line with creating a community to engage with. An ICO’s marketing strategy should revolve around the community they seek to sell to. They must learn their target market inside and out and create a plan specifically tailored to that audience. Research suggests that a large majority of cryptocurrency and ICO investors are millennials. An even larger majority are those under 40 years old. It seems pretty apparent, but letter writing marketing campaigns aren’t going to generate a lot of interest.

What does a marketing team have to do to be successful?

  1. Identify with the target audience
  2. Learn their likes and dislikes
  3. Market accordingly

In today’s technologically advanced society, a website with SEO optimization is a must-have. A technical white paper that explains the ins and outs of the platform will demonstrate that the project is much more than a good idea, and can help win over more sophisticated investors.

In addition, a successful marketing plan will have a well thought out timeline and roadmap. It is not enough to throw out good ideas; teams must have a sounds structure to guide the marketing process. Teams should know the duration, time, and cost of their campaigns, in addition to start and end dates. This not only helps manage costs, it also keeps teams from losing important leads and opportunities due to disorganization.

Depending on the platform and target audience, team’s should consider a social media campaign. This means having a strong presence on reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even Snapchat. A campaign should include user posts as well as ads. There is, however, a fine line that must not be crossed. ICO social media campaigns–and marketing campaigns in general–shouldn’t be overbearing. No one wants to see the same advertisement ten times a day, and this is no less true for ICO marketing. Teams must make sure they don’t overdo it.

One of the best strategic moves in a marketing campaign is team interaction with the public. One of the first things investors look up is the company’s team. And while strong and convincing bios might do the trick, nothing beats personal interaction. Video interviews, AMA (ask me anything) sessions, and Q and A’s are great ways for leadership teams to reach out to prospective investors.

In a perfect world, startup companies would run successful fundraising campaigns without a hitch. Unfortunately, it’s common for things to go wrong in the fundraising process, and teams need to know how to respond properly. Whether it’s a scandal involving a team member, the departure of a key developer, or a security breach, teams must learn how to adapt. They must get comfortable managing publicity–good or bad. Every ICO team should have a written plan for how to respond to crises, whether PR related or otherwise. A very practical step that companies can take is hiring a blockchain PR firm. PR firms are trained to manage good and bad press, and the expert advice could come in handy. ICO Bench has a list of dozens of PR, ICO, and marketing companies that can help manage these efforts.

When considering a top tier PR firm, ICOs and blockchain teams need to keep this point in mind—as helpful as these firms can be, nothing replaces intentional community engagement. Communities that are 100 percent behind a blockchain project are an unstoppable marketing force to be reckoned with. In this sense, a PR firm will amplify the momentum created by a solid support community, but rarely is a firm the actual engine behind it.

In sum, what does a strategic marketing plan look like?

  • First, companies need to tailor their marketing strategy to their target audience. This involves studying the target market and learning what works and what doesn’t. A website and white paper are essential.
  • Second, the strategic marketing plan should include some sort of roadmap or master calendar. This will help the team stay focused on their objectives and stay true to the course. It will also help them manage marketing related costs.
  • Third, the strategic plan should include personal interactions between the leadership team and prospective investors. The more personal, the better.
  • Fourth, teams must learn to adapt to changes. They must learn to manage good and bad publicity, and outline a plan if things go wrong. Hiring a PR with blockchain experience can be a huge help.

Step #4 - Focus on the Platform’s Contributions–this Includes Regulatory Compliance

The key to securing and retaining investors is trust. Investors and clients want to trust that their hard earned money will be well spent and provide a respectable return. In order to create trust between ICO and investor, teams must be honest about their platforms. This means confessing mistakes, noting potential weaknesses, and listening to possible concerns. But it also means focusing on the platform’s contributions and benefits. Every blockchain platform has its weaknesses; most sensible investors realize this. What they want to know is how the platform, despite its flaws, can still make a difference and provide a good ROI. Marketing teams must provide this information to their prospects.

ICO teams need to focus on how their platform is a disruptor of current technology and how it differentiates itself from its peers. They want to know that it can provide anonymity and decentralization while not compromising security.

And speaking of security, a successful ICO marketing campaign will always discuss the platform’s security and compliance measures. All the evidence points to the fact that regulatory agencies like the SEC are going to increase the frequency of crackdowns. The biggest threat to an ICO is regulatory discipline. Forget about the PR nightmare these cause; the punitary measures are much worse. Therefore, it is crucial that ICO marketers focus on how the platform meets all applicable rules and regulations and how the ICO itself will securely handle and store investor assets. Though it’s not always possible, some type of return program (if the ICO fails to reach its goals) goes a long way. ICO teams need to focus on the platform’s benefits–and this most certainly includes its compliance and security record.

Step #5 - Study Successful ICOs and Implement their Successes

Lastly, ICO teams should listen to these wise words from Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” No ICO is perfect, and no ICO is going to get everything right on the first try. Prudent teams will study past ICOs to learn what it takes to achieve success. This doesn’t mean plagiarizing or stealing ideas; it means implementing time tested practices that make ICOs successful. Take the examples of EOS and NEO, two of the best ICOs to date:

Another successful ICO, NEO, executed their ICO campaign in a similar way to EOS. What stands out, however, is their effort to reach and engage their target community.

  • First, their platform was born to be a winner. Though it challenges Ethereum head on, the EOS team identified problems with the decentralized application marketplace, most notably the scalability issue. They then developed a plan to create a platform that would solve these issues.
  •  Second, the EOS team did an awesome job at engaging with the community. ICO Drops rated their ICO “Very High” on the Hype Rate scale, and EOS had a very active presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Medium. They also knew their audience, so they frequented sites like github and Steemit where blockchain fanatics hang out. Their website has a chat widget where they can communicate directly with their team. Their website is loaded with videos and invitations to investors and clients.
  • Third, the team developed a strategic marketing plan that includes conference visits and a lot of personal interactions. Their team is comprised of an all-star cast that made themselves available to the public, fostering the all-important trust factor between ICO and investor.
  • Fourth, the EOS team was consistent in their message with clients and potential investors. The ongoing focus on engagement helped prevent FUD and fostered trust between EOS team members and their community.

According to the Bitcoin Market Journal, EOS raised $185 million in their ICO. What components did their ICO campaign have?

  • For example, they broadcast several live videos of the team hanging out and traveling. This was so important to their campaign because it allowed investors to get to know the team on a personal level. They connected with their audience and formed relationships. This fostered trust, and trust let to an investment decision.
  • They were (and still are) very active on Twitter and reddit, demonstrating their commitment to connect with the audience. The team was also very active at conferences and frequently published electronic copies of their live presentations should investors around the world could take part.
  • Like the EOS team, NEO made it a point to stay in touch with clients and investors. By creating trust in this fashion, the team helped mitigate FUD attacks from competitors and naysayers and built trust in the relationships the made. Investors didn’t have to worry that they were going to get screwed out of their money because the NEO team really focused on around-the-clock community engagement

In the end, there is no magical formula for a successful marketing campaign. The reality is that some ICOs make it, and others don’t. Nevertheless, the steps outlined above will put ICO marketing teams a cut above the rest. Crowdcreate is one example of an agency that can help provide these key factors. In an environment as competitive as this one, blockchain projects and startups can use all the help they can get.