• by William Mougayar
    Venture advisor, 4x entrepreneur, marketer & strategist. I live in Toronto, curate a lot, blog a bit, and help startups.

Bitcoin, Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies: The Disconnect Between Developers and Users

“Whoever tells the best story wins.”Annette Simmons

via shutterstock

via shutterstock

In the Bitcoin, Blockchain and Cryptocurrency space, there is a time shift disconnect between where developers and users are, in terms of understanding and adoption.

Generally, when looking at how markets grow around users, there are typically 4 successive phases of evolution: Awareness, Education, Usage, and Loyalty.

Today, developers are definitely ahead of end-users. They are already learning and using Bitcoin and Blockchain technologies, whereas the majority of end-users are still in the awareness stage. And when you look at the cryptocurrency related ecosystem that’s forming with the variety of startups, projects, protocols, platforms and services, the lion share of activity is going to developers.

It is no wonder the majority of market messages are of technical nature, as that mirrors the levels of activity around Bitcoin technologies.

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This situation is a reality check that points to the fact that engineers must try harder to explain what they are doing, because most end-users don’t like to try hard to understand something new. If it is not well explained to them, they may not see the realm of possibilities being imagined for them, and they will move on to another thing that is easier to understand.

We need more intersects of understandings between engineers and end-users: more cryptocurrency engineers that can talk to end-users (via marketers or directly), and more people that understand what the technology does.

Bitcoin’s Marketing Problem

Yes, Bitcoin itself has generated a strong narrative, but other Cryptocurrency related projects and companies also need to have a strong narrative, just like startups do. Most startups struggle initially to find a strong narrative about them that appeals to the mind of people, but when they do, the Power of Pull happens for them, and their mindshare and market demand shoot up.

Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency movement has a marketing problem. The complete story isn’t being told the way the market needs to hear it in order to widely adopt it.

Developers understand Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Users don’t (yet).

Bitcoin suffers from the fortune cookie principle, outlined by Bernadette Jiwa.

“People don’t buy fortune cookies because they taste better than every other cookie on the shelf. They buy them for the delight they deliver at the end of a meal. Marketers spend most of their time selling the cookie, when what they should be doing is finding a way to create a better fortune. Of course your job is to bake a good cookie, the very best that you can, but you must also spend time figuring out how to tell a great story.”

For developers, Bitcoin has meaning. They have found the fortune story at the end of eating the cookie. For the general public of users, Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies don’t have a lot a meaning (yet), because they are being sold the cookie.

Engineers typically want to solve a technical problem. But if solving the technical problem doesn’t result in solving an end-user problem, users will wonder: “was that a solution looking for a problem?… because I don’t see this problem.”

The end-user mindset just wants a simple solution to work. The end-user doesn’t care who created it or who dreamt it.

Business stakeholders are also part of this equation, because they know how much problems are costing them, and they welcome the solutions that address these problems.

My advice to companies involved in the Bitcoin space is they need to be aware of the following three audiences when communicating their product or company messages to the market: developers, business stakeholders and end-users. All three segments must be addressed in the language they each understand. Business stakeholders are important because they typically have the budgets, economic and influential power to hire Bitcoin/cryptocurrency developers and marketers as needed, in order to expand or create their own solutions and opportunities.

Since developers are in the driver’s seat, they need to work with marketers and business stakeholders to better articulate and communicate what they are working on.

If there was an interesting emerging job today, it would be that of a “cryptocurrency marketer”. That person needs to be an experienced marketer that doesn’t understand anything about Bitcoin, the Blockchain or Cryptocurrencies. Incidentally, that was my starting position in the middle of 2013 when I decided to begin a deep dive into this segment.

  • awaldstein

    Nicely done.

    I look at this a bit differently.

    Marketing to a technically sophisticated b2b customer through a developer network is a very different animal than to a consumer market.

    Sure you need to understand what you are about and the value to the customer and the business case–to some degree.

    But when you are selling to an audience that is looking for solutions, as the systems designer at a currency exchange is through a developer network that is both tech and fintech smart, this process is very different and these ‘steps’ not as discrete.

    • Add to it that many of the early adopters developers are independent or part of small teams working some cool (but risky projects).

      I don’t think crypto/blockchain/Bitcoin stuff has reached mainstream IT departments yet, where adoption would be a bit more orderly.

      • awaldstein

        When I was early selling web performance and transactional monitoring my first and most important hire was sales.

        Marketing and positioning at the point of sale is strangly enough the domain of enterprise sales and consumer retail.

        Why don’t you go create an incubator in Toronto for fintech and blockchain?

        They have the capital and they have an enormous vested interest in staying close to new developments.

        I’m really quite serious that this is something for you to do.

        • Yup. Lots of learning by doing is going on. It will be interesting to see how it shapes up with Bitcoin.

        • i’m going to be raising a fund that will invest in bitcoin and other tech startups that I like.
          why limit it to toronto/fintech and why limit it to bitcoin only ;)

          it’s in the works ….

          • awaldstein

            Cool

            Have to say that I’m surprised.

            i’ve raised a fair bit of seed in the last few years and gliterati generalists with syndicates and specific focused seed funds I get. General in general are something I avoid as it shows little expertise to the entrepreneur.

            What do I know?

          • stay tuned :)

  • Ryan Bogardus

    As a marketer, I started in a similar position as you where I didn’t know anything (a little over a year ago). As a techno nerd, I too have taken a deep dive into blockchain. Along the way, I’ve explained blockchain to many people and have tried to hold on to concepts that have resonated with non-techies so I can keep my marketing hat on without diving too deep into the technology and losing people. Here are a few:

    Globalization of currency – Everybody understands globalization, so it’s a good base concept to frame the opportunity. Usually, people push back regarding the “laws” of finance and the “need” for a central bank and the assets they hold.

    No central bank: Feature, not flaw – I counter most arguments that revolve around the need for a central bank with examples of failing central banks and irresponsible governments. I compare the volatility of the central banks to the steady and reliable evolution of technology. I try to tell people that the goal of cryptocurrency it to make people feel safe if their government fails them. Of course this doesn’t drive urgency to adopt BTC immediately, but it hopefully makes them feel safer. This sometimes evokes conversation revolving around hackers and the NSA. It’s hard for people to wrap their heads around ‘cryptography for good’ and understand the incentives of engineers creating these decentralized systems.

    Currency is a placeholder for value, not valuable itself – This concept is usually reserved for finance people, but it gets to the heart of currency theory and why we use currency instead of commodities as the lubrication for economies. Currency is only perceived to have value when compared to other currencies in a FX landscape. In reality, it is a place holder for the value of the goods and services it’s traded for. This currency simply holds that value until traded for a good/service of equal value.

    As a marketer, I’ve learned that ‘trust’ is core to every brand. People trust Facebook and Twitter because those are just words and photos. Most people don’t care if they sell information to advertisers because the perceived benefit outweighs the perceived risk. People aren’t as trusting of the people handling their money. “FDIC-insured” still means something and people still like to check that box when selecting a financial institution. Engineers will say crypto-insurance is unnecessary, because they system is “perfect”. People have been conditioned to think otherwise because there are always people out there who are smarter than them in terms of technology. People don’t trust people who are smarter than them (especially if they create an alias like Satoshi Nakamoto). They expect those people to create backdoors to their systems so they can steal their money. Or they expect flaws in the system that even smarter people can exploit (card swipes at retail).

    I’d happily raise my hand to try to instill this trust and apply for a crypto-marketing position. It’s an uphill battle worth fighting, but deep pockets are needed because the trust of the masses regarding their money is not easily attained. I think a crypto-insurance product would be an interesting place to start.

    • Great comment. Thanks Ryan.
      Where are you located?

      • Ryan Bogardus

        NYC. Would love to chat sometime.

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