Bitcoin makes everyone their own bank. Bitcoin can stop wars. Bitcoin is the solution to scams. Bitcoin will prevent fraud. Bitcoin is a superior product to other blockchain-based currencies. Bitcoin is a currency. Bitcoin is an asset. Drop all these statements in a hat and pull one out; you can find voices in the bitcoin community that will support your statement and explain why it should convince others to use bitcoin. So which tag line will spur mainstream adoption, and convince the Average Joe to stop using his dollars at the grocery store? The community around bitcoin can’t seem to agree, and no one has the position to make the decision. Decentralized marketing, it turns out, can be very challenging.
The community surrounding bitcoin has faced an abundance of challenging events, navigating scams, government regulation, personnel disputes, and volatility. The price, though, is at its strongest point to date both in value and stability. Many exchanges have sorted out government requirements, including unclear decisions in China and the U.S. which could have torpedoed major segments of the bitcoin economy. Unfortunately, bitcoin continues to be dogged by accusations of unfair competition and lack of accountability. The ongoing ASICboost fiasco, which may be profiting a small group of miners to the detriment of all others, and the Bitfinex semi-exit scam, which saw user’s assets shaved of value, are still in the news. In fact, the many positives of bitcoin are being drowned out by the negative narratives that dominate the community and the coverage it receives.
This is partly due to how easy a target bitcoin has become. Beginning with the fundamentals of bitcoin as pseudo-anonymous and digital, bitcoin has become a go-to means of exchange for illicit substances. Dark net marketplaces were quick to adopt bitcoin deeming it superior to fiat currencies for their purposes. This has become an easy attack vector for critics in the media, and in general. Additionally, the politically charged community has very specific views of government and the role of government, which provides a ready attack surface for critics who label bitcoin and bitcoin believers as radical and nonsensical. The role of critics has become polarizing, thanks to very specific censorship by moderators on several sites, and differing views on bitcoin development. An ongoing irony, the bitcoin community so determined to free themselves of government rules has accepted censorship to further their own goals. The role of miners in determining bitcoin’s future has also drawn flak, as Chinese groups have come to dominate this part of the bitcoin ecosystem, leading to conclusions that bitcoin isn’t nearly as decentralized as the community claims. Lastly, the development team is a vague collection of professionals and semi-professionals with often contradictory goals and methods, as well as confusing personal agendas. These flaws are not fatal, though cumulatively they may prove to be if nothing is done to help. What bitcoin needs now is a clear, consistent message.
The lack of development leadership is understandable in a group dedicated to decentralized governance. Does this necessarily extend to marketing, though? Longtime advocate and divisive figure Roger Ver has certainly pushed his narrative for the future of bitcoin, including the lofty goal of stopping wars. He is compromised by his criminal status and role in the Mt. Gox debacle, meaning he should not be the public face of bitcoin. Someone, though, needs to be. Bitcoin’s positives need to be pushed to the fore of the conversation to achieve broader acceptance. What problems does bitcoin solve? Was bitcoin created for criminals? Why should someone want to use bitcoin? Why is bitcoin volatile? Many videos exist to explain the technical merits and personal reasons for use, but the messaging is inconsistent. Decentralized leaders have different views, and this is evident in the materials created for public consumption. While bitcoin may be a technical marvel, without better marketing it will remain a poorly understood and niche creation. Potential is realized through superior execution, and bitcoin is thus far lacking consensus that will enable clear and concise marketing.
It should be a secondary concern, marketing, for the technical wizards working on bitcoin. Right now, however, it isn’t on the radar as bitcoin believers come to grasps with forks of all varieties, scams, division, and censorship. Though unappreciated by technical crowds, the soft skills of selling and marketing will make the difference for bitcoin as it reaches out for mainstream adoption. Valuing the technology means enabling the processes that define that value for others. Bitcoin needs a dedicated group with clear messaging to sell bitcoin as a positive invention with every day potential. Who will step up to the plate to sweep away the current mess?
Image credit – Public domain image by Web-dev-chris (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)