Jared Polites is a marketing advisor and venture partner at BlockTeam Ventures, an early-stage VC firm focused on blockchain projects. Over the past 18 months, Jared has actively worked and invested in over 50 ICOs, with a heavy focus on marketing and PR in the space.
As we enter Q4 in the crypto markets, the ICO space has vastly changed since the boom of 2017 and early 2018. With this change has come new regulation, exchanges, ICO formats, and marketing strategies. In fact, it is largely reported that hundreds, if not thousands, of ICOs have bit the dust in recent months. While critical, Jared remains optimistic and continues to explain more about the changes he has seen in the market and offered some advice for live and upcoming ICOs.
How has the ICO industry changed since earlier this year?
It has completely morphed. We started with oversubscribed, hyped ICOs that were being fueled by pools and syndicates. Then came the crypto funds to take the dominant lead. As this shift occurred, the retail market slowly dried up. Then the Asia wave hit. All projects started running to Asia like a reverse gold rush to scout “easier money” from wealthy Asian investors. Right now, we see a fragile market where funding is tough to come by. Institutional investors that were promised to arrive have not yet arrived.
Ok, enough of the gloom and doom. I promise I have some positivity in me. I would say now money has become smarter in the sense that products, teams, roadmaps, and communities are examined to the core. Equity offerings are now more common as well. People want to have skin in the game without being overexposed to volatile crypto markets. This is what we are seeing.
Do you expect this to change?
The good news is that I don’t think ICOs are going anywhere. Sure, security tokens could change the landscape but this mechanism of alternative fundraising is here to stay. For it to work, you need to gain back the public’s trust. Remember, ICOs are crowdfunding by nature and the industry has lost sight of that as the retail market suffered some tough losses over the first three quarters.
What does this mean for marketers?
I can’t emphasize this enough: it is go time. It is time to build a real brand and a real business. Think of your brand identity, customers, product market fit, and use cases. Switch the mentality from “who will invest” to “who will use the product”. This means the community is still at the core, but things like airdrops and bounties are no longer as effective. They are drawing in people who could care less about a project and are in it for free tokens. They are not engaged. This is why you see hollow groups on Telegram with 60,000 people without any engagement.
Marketers need to go back to the tech world where the concept of the first 1,000 users is so key. Find 1,000 engaged users or community members and you have yourself a great foundation. In practical terms, for blockchain founders, this means start your Telegram group growth by inviting literally everyone in your network. Tell all teammates and advisors to do the same. You should have a few hundred with this approach right at the start.
For listing sites, rating sites, and other ICO-specific marketing, make sure to scrutinize the ROI. If listings are free, then all it takes is time, and I would recommend doing them. Ask for traffic figures. Don’t feel the FOMO that a ton of projects felt earlier in the year. Do you think a big fund will go on page 3 of Google and see what your rating is on a third-tier rating site? Highly unlikely.
So should ICOs still hire marketing agencies?
Absolutely, in my opinion, unless a company already has a well-built-out internal team with ICO experience. There are still several nuances and a constant barrage of pitfalls to avoid when marketing in this space. Having that experience is critical, especially as things change so quickly. Having a solid basis of noticing trends and how to react to rapid changes is very important. I would recommend leveraging an agency that has a long-term perspective and understands the value of brand building. Find someone with experience in traditional industries coupled with recent blockchain experience. This would be the most effective combination.
To this point, it is important to realize the days of bootstrapping low-budget ICOs are also nearly gone. Running an ICO takes time, capital, and persistence. Make sure to be ready for solid marketing opportunities, agency support, etc. as you ramp up your ICO. The one caveat to this is when and if the retail market comes back. If that happens, then your audience goes back a more easily accessible crowd that can be tapped into using creative marketing techniques.
What about ICO Bench and other industry benchmarks?
I think, at its core, ICO Bench is a user-friendly aggregator that has done a good job of centralizing information. If I were a project lead, I would not get too caught up with the number of reviews or what your rating is. There are way more important things to worry about. Keep in mind all of these kinds of sites still have paid options that will expedite a company’s perception. This has brought some heat to ICO Bench from people within the community.
You started off in PR. What has changed in PR?
Not much, really. The fundamentals are still there. If anything, the industry is way more crowded, so I always advise founders not to get too stressed over minute details in an article. What you should be after initially is social proof from getting solid press coverage. Readers and traffic should be down on the list of PR expectations, unless you are Crypto Kitties and have a viral campaign at your fingertips.
I always use this example, but think of it like this: if you come across an article in Forbes on your phone that mentions a few companies, what would you do? Most of the time, skim the article, maybe click a company hyperlink if it really catches your eye. Then, you land on a company’s page and their main call to action is download a whitepaper, contribute money, or register your email. No way most people would do the first two on mobile, so that leaves one successful option in the funnel.
Lastly, be smart about who you work with in PR. There are way more bad agencies out there than good. I have agencies that outsource to me, without their clients knowing work is being outsourced. Some of the biggest PR agencies in the industry do this. What is really funny is when a potential client passes on me and then goes with an agency that outsources right back to me. This has happened a few times, and the irony makes me laugh every time.
Any final thoughts or advice?
Be humble, learn, adapt, and admit there are no such things as experts in this space – only people with experience that is specialized and valuable. Blockchain marketing expert is an oxymoron in my eyes, but I do admit the experience I have had does give me a unique advantage, and that is the value I try to provide clients.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.