The ICO is a fundraising mechanism, where future cryptocurrency, is sold for current, liquid cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Waves and Ethereum. You receive bitcoins or another currency in exchange for your token. The project economics and integration of the token into the product should be described in detail on the website and in WhitePaper in advance. (Waves Platform: How to run an ICO)
I recently took part in the successful $14.2m cryptocurrency fundraising campaign for augmented reality device Lampix, better known as an ICO or Initial Crowd Offering. In case you hadn’t noticed ICO’s have recently overtaken IPOs as the new way for startups to raise funds, avoiding the regulatory obstacles of an IPO, and tapping into a new pool of investors.
After the ten-day crowdsale had finished, and the dust has settled, I realised there’s not a great deal of easily accessible guidance on how to run a marketing campaign for such a lucrative fundraising method. I’m not approaching this as an expert in ICO marketing, rather as a marketer with experience in the last year of supporting a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs for Welendus which raised £100K and marginally involved in the Crowdcube campaign for MBJ which raised over £700K.
Give yourself plenty of time MBJ’s advice, written directly after their campaign in preparing in advance for your crowdfunding, equally applies to an ICO ‘crowdsale’: “Think carefully about the amount of time that you will be able to dedicate to your campaign, whilst ensuring that your business continues to run smoothly. The last thing that you want is some bad press in the middle of a raise. “Whilst we only gave ourselves three weeks, depending on the number of resources you can dedicate, we suggest that you allow yourself at least one month (preferably two or three) to adequately prepare for a successful raise.”
Deciding the length of your ICO campaign Another time factor is the length of time for an ICO. For Lampix when this question came up in forums the answer from CEO George Popescu was simple as to why he’d chosen a campaign of ten days in length: “About why 10 days: because we believe that either people want to help this project or they do not. I don’t think it will change anything if we make it 1 year long.”
The only thing that matters in the typical ICO model is the first 24 hours and the final 24 hours. Because ICOs depend upon the ‘FOMO’ model to drive sales to crypto investors, it’s worth considering that those two periods are the only two those markets pay attention to, because there is always another ICO to watch, or some news catching attention. In between it’s worth reaching out to ppl who aren’t already ICO investors but are interested in your product or service due to their industry or technology connection.
Post in the right forums More specifically when it comes to ICO marketing, the advice from the Waves Platform is simply to get your ICO information in front of relevant niche communities, for example Bitcointalk (with reportedly more than 1m users) which suggests creation of a thread for your ICO on bitcointalk.org:
“It is impossible to establish a qualitative relationship with a key audience for the project, blockbuster enthusiasts, traders, investors, etc. without this activity.
“Administration of a thread on BitcoinTalk provides direct interaction with the target audience, enables to answer questions, dispel doubts, and introduce the audience to the developers.
“The announcement of the campaign on Bitcointalk is a must-have part of the program. You will receive many reviews — not all of them will be positive, but they will help you to improve your project.”
This advice to use Bitcointalk makes a lot of sense. It was certainly used to good effect by Lampix to announce their PIX token crowdsale on 25 July, well before the start of the crowdsale on 9 August. Their Bitcontalk post included detail on the following: (a) Main communication channels from Slack to Reddit (b) An explainer video about Lampix (c) About Lampix (d) The benefits of contributing to the Lampix data ecosystem (e) The device’s technical details (f) Members of the core team (g) The Lampix token, how it works (h) The token launch breakdown.
So now you have announced the intended ICO to early adopters via relevant forums, what about the wider world, from business journalists to investors in general? This list of ICO “marketing instruments” posted on Bitcointalk is a comprehensive starting point:
1. Classic PR – press releases, interviews, Q&A 2. Banner advertising – display ads for extensive reach 3. Influential marketing – connect with opinion leaders. 4. Social media – connect with audience & opinion leaders. 5. YouTube – statements from founders, project introduction. 6. Bounty campaigns – referrals ‘showtime’. 7. Placements in blogs – native advertising. 8. Viral media – videos or pictures. 9. Community marketing – you know, Bitcointalk. 10. Events – meetups, conferences etc.
Classic PR The challenge here is often that fundraisers want to have instant press coverage but it can be difficult if you don’t have any relationship with journalists already in place. One way round this is to use a paid-for press release service such as Newswire, which Lampix used, which also has the benefit of showing you who picked up the release to read it. That said just remember with press releases you are trying to sell a story to a busy journalist, so it helps to create a compelling angle in the first paragraph. With the less important detail further down the release.
To underline those points CNBC’s technology correspondent Arjun Karpul gave his advice at a Seedrs PR event on how to grab journalist’s attention earlier this year (and yes, that’s me tweeting away). In summary, Arjun said to keep it simple, tell the journalist why they should care about the story, and keep emails short (as they are time poor). But also to consider what it is that makes the founder’s ‘back story’ stand out, so don’t just focus on the power of the technology, think about the human story in attracting coverage!
Welendus founder Nadeem Siam – listening to Arjun’s PR advice AT SEEDRS with me
Wave Platform’s advice on timelines makes sense, that “the launch of the PR campaign should be scheduled at least 3 months before the launch of the ICO. In the context of tight deadlines for the ICO preparation (less than two months), it makes sense to cooperate with the mass media on commercial terms”.
But the timing also depends on a lot of factors from your budget for paid-for coverage, your relationship with journalists and top influencers (such as Robert Scoble for AR and VR innovation; check out his own excellent set of Twitter lists).to how much previous experience you have in gaining coverage. Startup founders understandably passionately believe that their startup is super exciting but from a journalist’s pov all they want a great story simply and clearly told, so try to give it to them ‘on a plate’.
Influencer marketing and using social media There is a ton of literature on the value of influencer marketing so I won’t go into too much detail. Suffice to say it’s worth mentioning that your best influencers are advisors to your ICO and their network of contacts. Any attempts to reach out to industry ‘influencers’ are likely to be more successful if there is an existing relationship. A great example from Lampix’s ICO was the influencer video from Jeremy Epstein, who specialises in blockchain marketing:
In terms of using social media, it’s worth spending time figuring out from your own network of advisors and supporters who has the most impact in terms of reach and engagement and making sure they, therefore, get the word out. Of course one avenue available to use is paid-for placement of adverts, whether it’s expert-level sponsored content in LinkedIn targeted at high worth investors, or a mass market approach using Facebook for example. Both platforms allow you to A/B test your ads text and imagery too, so there are plenty of options to explore to maximise your ROI.
But a word to the wise, having myself set up Sony’s first comprehensive social marketing dashboard for product marketing around movie blockbuster ‘Skyfall’, you need to decide how best to measure your social media campaigns in advance. For example, if you have a popup for investors to use to agree to your ICO terms, then ensure that is set up as an event in Google Analytics before the ICO starts. And set up goals in GA so you can compare the success of organic traffic from LinkedIn, Reddit, and blog articles to paid-for advertising on Facebook. That way as the ICO campaign progresses you can double-down on what works for maximum effect on investor take up.
YouTube As well as straightforward explainer videos which show off what your ICO product does it’s worth making sure you consider the impact of video coverage. Just like articles in the likes of Forbes or NASDAQ carry greater authority than on your own blog, then videos created by third parties are valuable collateral. For example, there was a great video by Bloomberg’s Augmented Reality (AR) Fellowship about the use of Lampix which nicely underlined its market potential. And also reach out to industry influencers and commentators who use YouTube, such as Blockchain Investors Community iTuber Lina K. Moon.
The Bounty campaign ‘Bounty campaign’ is an ICO term for activating your user base with incentives and driving referrals. As the advice from Wave says specifically for ICOs “this activity allows to motivate the users of your product for various promotional activities for your project in exchange for a reward in tokens”. In simple terms the bounty can be rewards in tokens for adding a custom signature on Bitcointalk, to include “social bounty, bounty for email subscription, as well as bounty for blog posts and media”.
In the case of Lampix this bounty took the form of a signature and avatar campaign, backed up by a set of rules to ensure the quality of the bounty campaign contributors made at least 25 posts per week, for posts to be constructive and on topic, and containing 75 characters minimum.
Viral media? The idea your ICO campaign will automatically go viral isn’t really the way to approach it. If you want to get a community of supporters to get excited and to share that you need to give them a reason to. In the case of Lampix they ran early on a competition on Facebook, which linked to a competition run on the Gleam growth platform to win a Lampix device. It gained over 10.5K entries, and did a great job to ignite interest in the ICO before the launch proper.
To run a follow-up post-ICO competition on Gleam for investors also has its merits especially in the period between purchase and distribution of tokens. The practical issue is identifying individual token purchases, however. For that reason, I particularly like the Civic ICO in which investors had to register using the Civic app. As Civic’s CEO Vinny Lingham explains in his introduction to token sales, it’s about “eating your own dogfood” thanks to the nature of the Civics app:
“The core of Civic’s technology is the ability to create unique digital ID’s using mobile devices. We employed this technology in our token sale and required every person in the crowdsale to download and register using the Civic app. This ensured that we did not have the same person making multiples purchases.
“This model worked for us and others, like ZRX and now Doc.ai will be using Civic to ensure broader distribution of tokens.”
I know from my previous experience in online community consultancy including setting up a community from scratch for the international accountancy organisation the ICAEW, that the opportunity for community marketing depends on a few factors. One of the usual issues is whether your chosen community allows for commercial marketing. Contact the community manager to find that out before posting, otherwise you could find yourself banned! And it’s possible, as I’ve found with owners of AR related LinkedIn Groups, that they also run Facebook pages and have access to email lists which they are willing to share with you in return for payment.
If it’s relevant consider using the Product Hunt community as another neat channel to get the word out and connect with a community of influencers. Be careful again not to spam them with your posting though. For example, when I added Lampix to Product Hunt as a ‘Hunter’ Ben Tossell, the Community Lead for Product Hunt asked me in the comments section: “Not so sure why this is hosting an ICO? Why are tokens being sold for a product like this?”
Finally, for internal and investor communications Lampix used Slack to great effect. It’s especially good where your advocates and evangelists can answer newbie questions about your ICO. But also plan on how you are going to cover activity outside of office hours as it will be active 24/7. And make sure wherever possible questions about the structure of the ICO, and the post-campaign distribution are consistently answered, updating your FAQ if required to aid clarification.
Events The success of ICO marketing isn’t down to the campaign period, it’s also related to the slow process of getting the word out about your blockchain related product or service in the months leading up to it. Events are obviously a great way to do this but like all marketing is a balance between cost and return. One way to balance out where there is not an obvious commercial return is taking part in competitions where you gain visibility and gain credibility. As a great example see this video for Lampix at TechCrunch Disrupt 2016.
Resources Finally, for a list of ICO monitoring platforms plus other key resources (republished with permission below) take a look at William Mougayar’s Ultimate List of ICO Resources.ordered alphabetically.
1. Ambisafe With Ambisafe you can issue any type of asset on the blockchain in minutes, and add it to cryptocurrency exchanges worldwide.
15. PrivateMarket PrivateMarket Technologies enable a new generation of wealth managers to access, analyse and seamlessly execute primary and secondary market transactions online.
16. TokenMarket TokenMarket is a marketplace for tokens, digital assets and blockchain based investing. Research and invest in tokenized assets. Launch a crowdsale for your project and give backers a tradeable digital asset.
18. Smith + Crown Maintains a curated list of ongoing and upcoming cryptocurrency ICOs (initial coin offerings), token sales, and crowdsales. Every project is evaluated for listing along multiple criteria, but in general, they list ICOs that should raise the equivalent of $30,000 or are unique in some way. Provides summaries and commentary for select ICOs. Listing or research is not considered an endorsement.