How Can Blockchain Go Mainstream?

Photo by Rostislav Uzunov from Pexels

There’s little doubt that blockchain is one of the most innovative and valuable new digital technologies. It offers the opportunity for greater personal control of our personal data, perhaps enabling us to determine what we want to sell to companies and what we don’t want revealed. Blockchain could also, through contract applications, better secure real-estate, not just in one’s country of residence, but in other countries we may buy real-estate. It can also be used to mitigate corruption in foreign aid where only around $0.20 out of every dollar actually gets used for the intended purpose. Then there’s the opportunity of decentralized apps and likely thousands more applications. Yet here we are, over a decade since blockchain hit the world and we’ve yet to see any super-apps or huge breakthrough applications.

Usually, around a decade after launch into the market, a technology starts going mainstream. Blockchain was first launched at scale in 2008. But now, nearly 13 years later, most large enterprises are still experimenting with it. I talk with a few CIO’s and CEO’s in the rune of every week and I often bring up blockchain to get insight into their thinking. Almost every CEO thinks blockchain is cryptocurrency (it is not) and most CIO’s and CDO’s just don’t have the resources and cycles beyond their current priorities to even consider it and many say they don’t understand it.

As I wrote before, one of blockchain’s biggest problems is cryptocurrency. If you’re in the blockchain world, you know the difference, but 99% of the consumer market and business world, blockchain is tied to cryptocurrencies and right now, crypto is largely seen as the wild west and speculative at best. In business, blockchain is wallowing in the trough of disillusionment, as if stuck in a lake of digital molasses. What’s going on?

I believe there are two issues at play here.

  1. The Cryptocurrency Anvil: It’s as if blockchain just can’t shrug off the iron anvil of crypto hanging heavy around its neck, weighing it down.
  2. Digerati Who Don’t Get Marketing: Most all blockchain startups and companies further along have been founded by digerati (technically advanced software engineers and coders who live and breathe the digital world), who are absolutely brilliant minds and vsee the value propositions and opportunities. They are not, however, any good at marketing. Sorry to be blunt, but I’ve seen this too many times and having been a marketer and launched many digital products over the past two decades, it is obvious.

I’m not going to address the crypto anvil around blockchain’s neck, I did that in a prevuous article. Here, I’m going to focus on the marketing aspect. This is what’s needed to bring blockchain to the world. Better marketing. No, not just advertising. But how it is presented to the world. Here’s what I think these blockchain companies should do.

  1. Stop saying blockchain everywhere. Just. Stop. There’s leading edge and then there’s bleeding edge. Most large organisations aren’t interested in bleeding edge. They see the risks and rarely have the time or budget. At most, they’ll experiement. Screaming blockchain isn’t helping you, it’s hurting. If you’re trying to reach a D2C (Direct to Consumer) market and you’re touting that your solution is blockchain right out of the gate, you’re going to turn consumers away. They will be suspicious of blockchain as consumers see it as the same as cryptocurrency. Stop broadcasting blockchain. If you’re a startup and you legitemately want to raise capital, disrupt a market and make a fortune, stop putting blockchain at the forefront. Talk about the job you’re doing and the problem you’re solving. Unless you’re ego needs to be satisifed. In which case you’re not building a business, you’re building somethign you think is cool, but no one else does. That’s okay, just don’t expect to make major profits. if any.
  2. Focus on the Value Proposition: As with not shouting blockchain from the mountain tops, focus on the value proposition. Be sure you’ve done you’re UX strategy and research, do not assume as you will be wrong. Showcase, thrugh case studies and maybe some cool videos, what job your product is doing the problem being solved. Be sure your product is not a solution looking for a problem.
  3. Stop saying blockchain everywhere. See number one.
  4. Focus on the market, do the research. Yes, blockchain is cool. Very cool. 99% of the consumer and business market doesn’t underdtand it so they don’t care. Once you’ve really done the research, as in actually talking to prospective customers and getting their feedback, doing some digital research (netnography) and ddeveloping a UX strategy, don’t put the technology (blockchain) first, demonstrate how you solve the problem.
  5. Hire some good marketers. Not graphic designers and definitely not public relations professionals. PR folks are very good at what they do, but PR is NOT marketing. It’s like asking an electrician to install the plumbing in your house. Good marketers will know how to properly build and bring a brand to market. They’ll do the research, shape the brand proposition, find the right channels to drive awareness and help build the funnel to create awareness, attract the right buyer and convert them into a paid customer. When you have paying customers, you have a business. Before that, you have a nice idea and nothing else.

The most important thing to wrap ones head around as a founder and believer in blockchain is to understand that 99.9% of the market does not understand what blockchain is and think’s it’s Bitcoin or Ethereum or some other cryptocurrency. That’s consumer perception. If you think you can educate the mass market to show them the difference, I hope you have a a few billion dollars already in the bank. Most first-mover technology companies fail because they have to spend a lot of money educating a market. And/or fighting to change legislation and regulation, such as Uber and Airbnb. Oracle was the second mover in the market for databases in the late 90’s into the early 2000’s. Do you remember the name of the database company that was the first mover? Right. It was a much better product too. Read Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore.

Blockchain is a game changer technology, as important as the internet and the technology that enabled the World Wide Web. More important than social media. And as societally valuable. But blockchain is often conflated with cryptocurrency and is poorly marketed. In over 25 years of launching multiple digital products around the world, I’ve yet to see a software engineer or computer scientist hit the mass market who hasn’t let marketers do their job and tried to do it themselves.

Blockchain will succeed when it can shrug off the iron anvil necklace of crypto and deliver a better, packaged marketing solution. Businesses and consumers aren’t buying blockchain, they’re buying a solution to a real problem.

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