Into the Marketing Matrix
Some of the hot takes in my previous post included that the “unique dynamics of the blockchain technology industry actually make it perhaps easier to achieve organic success than anywhere else”, that said organic activity is in fact “the pinnacle of marketing”, and that there’s huge value in “building up a strong community” and promoting a project by “word of mouth and unofficial brand ambassadors”. Of course, these themes are backed up by the business management literature, so let’s take a deep dive and see why understanding organizational culture is a key step in resolving the inherent strategic tensions and achieving marketing success in the crypto world.
One of the main reasons that the human race has ended up dominating all life on planet earth is our mastery of teamwork, facilitated by strong intellect and interpersonal communication. When the efforts of multiple people can be organised and focused towards a common goal, incredibly powerful synergies can be unlocked — meaning that the combined output of a community can create something much bigger than the sum of the same people working individually.
This kind of synergistic teamwork is strongest when there is a powerful force that encourages and rewards alignment while simultaneously disincentivising disengagement. Historically this has been effected through a common tribe or nation, language, or religion. Any such identifiable way of behaving is what’s called a culture. Antiquity’s most impressive engineering projects, artistic triumphs, societal advancements, and successful military campaigns usually have one thing in common — being powered by and only possible thanks to a strong cultural force.
These days, strong cultures can be seen in sports teams and their fans, brands such as Apple and Marvel, social media platforms like Reddit, and games like World of Warcraft. The most powerful and pervasive cultures are those that are frictionless, not being restricted to any particular location or language, and without any strict membership requirements or barriers to entry. So far the discussion about cultures has been somewhat nebulous. Sure, a strong culture is easily identifiable, but is it possible to better define a culture’s individual components? And how does all of this relate to crypto anyway?
Well, creating a strong culture is critical to the success of any crypto project and one of the most important things a marketing team can do. It will in turn facilitate the development of a strong community which in turn supports effective organic marketing. Companies outside of the crypto world can only dream of having this power at their fingertips, it really is the holy grail of marketing, usually achieved by only the most dominant global brands. The combination of high impact and low cost marketing is unbeatable and can help to set up a virtuous cycle further reinforcing the project’s culture and community’s strength. A strong culture also has the benefit of helping a project to survive through periods of uncertainty — something that’s critical in the volatile world of crypto assets.
The idea of organizational culture dates back to the mid 20th century when Elliot Jacques published “The Changing Culture of a Factory”. However, it was Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede who publicized the concept within the world of management science. He identified four layers that make up a strong culture and arranged them in a diagram resembling an onion. Cultural aspects closer to the exterior of the onion are easier to create and can serve to jump start a culture’s growth. Meanwhile, deeper core concepts evolve and mature over time, and they provide the stickiness or true sense of core belonging. In between the outer and inner layers are factors that can be used to convert a culture’s potential energy into a powerful external force.
The easiest concept to identify in any culture is that of symbols: words, gestures, pictures, logos, flags, memes, and objects that carry a particular meaning and which are recognized by those who share the culture. Symbols are generally passive and are the easiest aspects for a crypto project to manufacture in order to initiate the growth of a culture. But while most individuals tend to subconsciously want to align with a culture, an artificially created culture can appear fake and forced, instead having a negative effect. A much better option then is to identify and foster the growth of nascent symbols that arise naturally, perhaps based on a project’s name, colours, branding, and the like.
The next layer down is heroes, figures that provide direction and a central point for people to rally around. The natural choice for a project’s heroes are its leaders, which is of course much easier if individuals are doxxed as people will naturally better relate to someone who they can hear and see. Of course, leadership status itself is not necessarily sufficient for the creation of strong cultural heroes. But simply being present in and engaging transparently with a community in a two-way manner can be powerful, especially in an industry that struggles with the concept of anonymity. Demonstrations of subject matter expertise, genuinely taking onboard feedback, and delivering results will further strengthen a hero’s presence and their ability to direct the power of a culture in a particular direction.
Third, rituals are a more active counterpart of symbols and are abundant in the world of crypto. Replying “nice” to the number 69, saying “gm” “up only” and “wagmi” to each other, airdropping tokens, liking each others’ social media posts, sharing alpha, the list goes on. Establishing rituals that are mutually beneficial to the members of a project and the project’s success is an obvious step here and perhaps the best way to convert a culture’s latent energy into an active power.
Finally, at its core, a strong culture is comprised of a set of shared values. These cannot be created artificially, but are likely to be based off what attracted investors to a particular project in the first place. In this way they can be cultivated so as to attract people who naturally align with the same values. Describing or discussing values can be difficult, and outsiders cannot easily observe them, only their manifestation in the way of the afore-mentioned practices of rituals, heroes, and symbols. For a blockchain project, shared values may be things like seeking to disrupt legacy finance, a focus on anonymity and decentralisation, transparency and openness, or seeking to educate and welcome new members. Simply put, a culture’s values are the driving force that determine “they way we do things around here”.
The global crypto community has perhaps one of the most pervasive, strongest, and most powerful cultures around. This then is fertile ground for the creation of a sub-culture within an individual project. Not only is the ease of creating a strong culture within a crypto project often taken for granted, but the powerful outcomes from doing so can be severely under-appreciated, and precious little effort put into this critical task. One trend that may be to blame is the nauseating flood of “wen marketing” within the industry as tourists looking for short term gains pressure projects into prematurely deploying obscene stacks of cash on short-term advertising efforts instead of first focusing on building up a genuine marketing foundation only upon which can targeted advertising spend have genuine long term sustainable benefits. Projects that foster a strong culture will set the stage for true community growth and marketing success, ensuring they can weather the industry’s lows and fully capitalise on its highs.
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