Certain aspects of Bitcoin are similar to a User-Generated Brand.
The Bitcoin brand is to cryptocurrency what the Apple brand is to technology, McDonald’s is to burgers, Nike is to sneakers, and Coke is to cola.
“Whoa… Please hold the phone!” you state. “Bitcoin is not a brand.” It’s a form of money. Currency is not a brand!”
That is, after all, a traditional way of looking at it. And Bitcoin is far from conventional.
Consider this: blockchain is a technology. On the blockchain, coins are an asset. Bitcoin is a brand that brings its distinct value proposition to blockchain.
To be clear, Bitcoin is not your typical brand. It’s what I refer to as a User-Generated Brand (UGB). Bitcoin is shaped by a large ecosystem of foundation members, technologists, investors, miners, commentators, thought leaders, innovators, journalists, and others because it lacks a centralized brand owner or chief marketing officer. Nonetheless, as a UGB, the aggregate effect of its brand assets means something.
Are you still skeptical? Consider the following:
- The story of Bitcoin revolves around a movement to right the wrongs of centralized finance. And it has a founder who has gone on a hero’s journey to solve it (more on that in a moment).
- It has cult-like brand characteristics. When was the last time you saw someone wearing a t-shirt with a dollar or euro symbol on it? Or imagine 12,000 people congregating in a city like Miami to spend days talking about the evolution and future of a currency.
- It has a personality. The “” iconography is as common today as the thumbs-up emoji.
- It is synonymous with the classification. People sneeze into Kleenex rather than “facial tissues.” Previously, we “Xeroxed” pages to make copies. If you ask an outsider to name a cryptocurrency, they will say “Bitcoin.”
- It has a dominant market position. Being a first-mover and dominant player provides significant competitive advantages, not the least of which is high brand awareness and loyalty, which leads to powerful network effects.
- It has a distinct selling point. Notably, there is a limited supply of coins, which increases its appeal as a hedge against inflation while also introducing a new type of property.
Furthermore, some less obvious factors contribute to the Bitcoin brand’s allure:
Its founder is a pseudonym who vanished without a trace years ago. I would argue that Satoshi Nakamoto’s mystery only adds fuel to the narrative and mystique. As we in advertising like to say, it’s a good thing when people talk about our brand. On
- Such opposing viewpoints get people talking, and you know what they say: when people talk about our brand, it’s a good thing. Its founder is a pseudonym who vanished without a trace years ago. I would argue that Satoshi Nakamoto’s mystery only adds fuel to the narrative and mystique. As we in advertising like to say, it’s a good thing when people talk about our brand.
- Its founder is a pseudonym who vanished without a trace years ago. I would argue that Satoshi Nakamoto’s mystery only adds fuel to the narrative and mystique. As we in advertising like to say, it’s a good thing when people talk about our brand.
So you’ve decided to join us: Bitcoin is a trademark. A User-Generated Brand (UGB). The next question you may have is, “So what?” Consider the following:
The Agreement — At the end of the day, a great brand is a promise (a “contract”) that the sum total of what it stands for and how it behaves will provide confidence and comfort that if you put your faith in it (by purchasing, investing, advocating, and so on), you will be rewarded. For all of the reasons stated above, Bitcoin is in an enviable pole position, especially when it comes to wooing institutional investors and their allocation committees, who, if fully invested in, would represent a true tipping point in the race to bitcoin adoption. To move this forward, as a UGB, it is incumbent on the community’s most vocal believers to speak to the masses, not just amongst themselves (as they are prone to do), in ways that will elucidate that promise to them.
The Neighborhood — A great brand is fueled by the zeal of its most ardent supporters. In fact, passion is the fuel that ignites the fire of any brand. So, while Bitcoin, as a UGB, lacks a chief marketing officer, it does have a swarm of de facto marketing officers (many of whom read this magazine). They collectively believe that Bitcoin and its underlying technology are a true force for good in democratizing finance, and they have many forums where they can express that belief. It is critical for them to spread the word that the primary goal of Bitcoin is not to make money, but to make a difference. And, as with any movement, the rubber meets the road when its story can be told in simple and straightforward terms, using analogies that everyone understands.
The Contrarian vs. The Coattails — Regardless of their technical or functional relationship, project founders, foundations, and decentralized autonomous organizations of all sizes and shapes must decide whether to ride Bitcoin’s coattails or dismiss it as a fine but flawed product ripe for disruption. It will undoubtedly vary from case to case, but caution is advised: brands with the community, contract, passion, and purpose that Bitcoin possesses are formidable. While a small group of insurgents may rejoice at the prospect of dethroning the king, as previous hard forks have demonstrated, the majority of these contrarians’ efforts will be completely rejected by the Bitcoin community.
The Conventional Wisdom — Dominant brands are usually expected to behave in predictable ways. Indeed, it could be argued that it is the constraints of category conventions that confine them, allowing challengers to erode or overtake their position. So, is Bitcoin a traditional player in an unusual category? Hardly. Conventional behaviors develop over time, as does a sense of dominance, which is regarded as an impenetrable moat. This results in a risk-averse, defensive posture, as well as possible stagnation. However, Bitcoin is still in its early stages and is at the epicenter of a wave of innovation. “Rock on!” I say to the UGB community that is pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo.
To summarize, some consider traditional, centralized marketing in the Bitcoin space to be antithetical to the category. This must be understood, as with any radical shift in conventions and norms. However, even as a User-Generated Brand, Bitcoin marketing is undeniably influential in ways that will undoubtedly evolve over time. According to advertising legend Regis McKenna, “marketing is everything, and everything is marketing.”
While metrics like Reddit subscribers, social comments per hour, Twitter followers, website traffic, and community size currently dominate the discussion of brand health (and are closely watched by investors), there will undoubtedly be other, perhaps more influential metrics as the roles, bullhorns, and motivations of key voices — both centralized and decentralized — in the ecosystem evolve.
As it does, Bitcoin will undoubtedly be at the forefront of this evolution. Because it is a brand if it looks like a brand, acts like a brand, and functions like a brand. Because it is a UGB, you cannot expect the same rules that have governed branding and marketing for the past 25 years to apply.