ICO marketing guide – updated

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.

Recorded by King Passive

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.”

Examples of popular and well-designed threads on Bitcointalk WAVES. Ultimate crypto-tokens blockchain platform  ZrCoin Commodity-backed blockchain Starta – Cross-Coin Venture capital on the blockchain

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.

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.”

Community marketing

Community ROI Calculator

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.

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.

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.

2. Bitcoin Talk Forum
Alternate cryptocurrencies and altcoins forum discussion.

3. CoinFund Slack Channel
Diverse discussions about token sales.

4. Commodity.com
A concise guide to cryptocurrencies (2020)

5. CryptoCompare
CryptoCompare is an interactive platform where you can discuss the latest Crypto trends and monitor all markets streaming in real time

6. CryptoSmile
Blog that posts commentary on several new ICOs.

7. CyberFund
Listings of Crowdsales, Assets and Funds.

8. ICO Countdown
Gives spotlight to new crypto projects with a focus on crowdfunding methodology. Also conducts due diligence to ascertain viability of these projects.

9. ICO List
Lists a variety of token sales.

10. ICOO
Services for launching ICOs.

11. ICO Rating
ICOrating specializes in evaluating companies with a planned ICO. ICOrating’s analysis is thorough and objective, reviewing companies as potential investment objects.

12. ICO Timeline
Partial list of ICO projects.

13. ICO Tracker
Lists ICOcrowdsales according to 5 factors: Whitepaper, Roadmap. Team, Escrow, ICO conditions.

14. Newbium
Cryptocurrency news and information.

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.

17. Reddit on ICO Crypto
Active & upcoming ICO/Crowdales. Building a due diligence community.

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.

Additional resources include Token InvestorGithub’s Ultimate ICO CalendarICO Bazaar and Week in Ethereum. Have I missed others that should be included? Please add what you have in the comments, or suggest it in the Google Sheet.

The key to successful target specific #growthhacking

Reading Oliver Blanchard’s useful book ‘Social Media ROI’ which I bought when I was working at Sony on marketing leading up to the James Bond movie ‘Skyfall’ I tweeted a quote from page 18 earlier today – which was rewarded with 18 Favourites:

But then that begs the question, what is the key to successful target specific #growthhacking from the expert’s point of view? And the answer is finding a metric you can measure early in a user’s lifecycle, according to Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz. Simply put the key to the growth hacking process is the early metric, which is also known as a leading indicator.

The extract below from their book ‘Lean Analytics’, explains in detail what that means for growth hacking.

Growth hacking
Most startups won’t survive on gradual growth alone. It’s just too slow. If you want to grow, you need an unfair advantage. You need to tweak the future. You need a hack.

Growth Hacking is an increasingly popular term for data-driven guerilla marketing. It relies on a deep understanding of how parts of the business are related, and how tweaks to one aspect of a customer’s experience impact others. It involves:

Finding a metric you can measure early in a user’s lifecycle (i.e. number of friends a user invites) through experimentation or, if you have the data, an analysis of what good users have in common.

Understanding how it’s correlated to a critical business goal (i.e. long-term engagement.)

Building predictions of that goal (i.e. how many engaged users you’ll have in 90 days) based on where the early metric is today.

Modifying the user experience today in order to improve the business goal tomorrow (i.e. suggesting people they might know), assuming today’s metric is causing a change in tomorrow’s goal.

The key to the growth hacking process is the early metric, which is also known as a leading indicator—something you know today that predicts tomorrow. While this seems relatively straightforward, finding a good leading indicator, and experimenting to determine how it affects the future of the company, is hard work. It’s also how many of today’s break-out entrepreneurs drove their growth.

Attacking the leading indicator
Academia.edu founder Richard Price shared stories from a recent Growth Hacking conference at which several veterans of successful startups shared their leading indicators.

Former Facebook growth team leader Chamath Palihapitiya said a user would become “engaged” later if they reached seven friends within ten days of creating an account. And Josh Elman, who worked at Twitter, said the company had a similar metric: When a new user follows a minimum number of people—and some of those follow back—the user is likely to become engaged. In fact, Twitter has two kinds of users: “active” ones who’ve visited at least once in the last month; and “core” ones who’ve visited 7 times in the last month.

Onetime Zynga GM Nabeel Hyatt, who ran a 40-million-player game, said they looked at first-day retention: if someone came back the day after they signed up for a game, they were likely to become an engaged user (and even one that paid for in-game purchases). Hyatt also underscored the importance of identifying one metric that matters, then optimizing it before moving on to the next one.

Dropbox’s ChenLi Wang said the chances someone becomes an engaged user increase significantly when they put at least one file in one folder on one of their devices.

LinkedIn’s Elliot Schmukler said the company tracks how many connections a user establishes in a certain number of days in order to estimate longer-term engagement.

User growth isn’t everything, however. You may be trying to hack other critical goals like revenue. Elman told us that early on Twitter focused their energy on increasing feed views because they knew their revenue would be tied to advertising—and that advertising could only happen when a user looked at their Twitter feed. Number of feed views was a leading indicator of revenue potential even before the company hit the Revenue Stage.

What makes a good leading indicator?
Good leading indicators have a few common characteristics:

Leading engagement indicators tend to relate to social engagement (links to friends), content creation (posts, shares, likes), or return frequency (days since last visit, time on site, pages per visit).

The leading indicator should be clearly tied to a part of the business model (such as users, daily traffic, viral spread, or revenue.) After all, it’s the business model that you’re trying to improve. You’re not just trying to increase number of friends per user—you’re trying to increase the number of loyal users.

The indicator should come early in the user’s lifecycle or conversion funnel. This is a simple numbers game: if you look at something that happens on a user’s first day, you’ll have data points for every user. But if you wait for users to visit several times, you’ll have fewer data points (since many of those users will have churned out already), which means the indicator will be less accurate.

It should also be an early extrapolation so you get a prediction sooner. Recall that Kevin Hillstrom says the best way to understand whether an e-commerce company is a “loyalty” or an “acquisition”-focused organization is to look at how many second purchases happen in the first 90 days. Rather than wait a year to understand what mode you’re in, you look at the first three months and extrapolate.

You find leading indicators by segmentation and cohort analysis. Looking at a group of users that stuck around, and another group that didn’t, you might see something they all have in common.

Correlation predicts tomorrow
If you’ve found a leading indicator that’s correlated with something, you can predict the future. That’s good. In the case of Solare, the Italian restaurant, the number of reservations at 5PM is a leading indicator of the total number of customers that dine on any given night—letting the team make last-minute staffing adjustments or order additional food.

UGC site reddit has been fairly public about its traffic and user engagement – after all, it derives revenue from advertising, and wants to convince advertisers it’s a good bet. About half of all visits to the site are logged-in users, but these users generate a disproportionate amount of site traffic. reddit’s engagement is good. “Almost everyone who makes an account comes back a month later,” says Jeremy Edberg. “It’s a couple of months before people stop coming back.”

Is there a leading indicator in reddit’s site traffic? The table compares logged-in users (those with accounts) to anonymous visitors by the number of pages they view in a visit.

Table: reddit’s page views for logged-in versus non-logged in users


Click for full-sized image of table of data.

This data suggests that loyal, enrolled users—those that return each day to the site and have an account—view a higher number of pages per visit. Is that high number of page views by a first-time visitor a leading indicator of enrollment?

Causality hacks the future
Correlation is nice. But if you’ve found a leading indicator that causes a change later on, that’s wonderful, because you know how to change the future. If a high number of page views on a first visit to reddit causes enrollment, what could reddit do to increase the number of page views, and therefore increase enrollment? This is how growth hackers think.

Consider what Circle of Friends’ founder Mike Greenfield did when he compared engaged to not-engaged users—and found out that many of the engaged users were moms. Whether or not someone was a mother was, for Mike, a market-focused leading indicator of that person’s future engagement. He could decide how many servers to buy in six months’ time based on how many moms signed up today. But what really mattered was this: he could target moms in his marketing, and change the engagement of his users dramatically.

Mike’s hack was market-related, but growth hacks come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe it’s a change in pricing, or a time-limited offer, or a form of personalization. The point is to experiment in a disciplined manner.

Product-focused growth hacks—what Chamath Palihapitiya calls “aha moments”— need to happen early in the user’s lifecycle in order to have an impact on the greatest number of possible users. That’s why social sites suggest friends for you almost immediately.

You can use promotions and experiments to try and identify a leading indicator, too. Music retailer Beatport ran a Cyber Monday promotion to maximize total purchases. A week before the holiday, they sent all their customers a 10% discount code. Those customers who purchased something with the code were then sent a second, personalized code for 20% off. If they used that code, they were sent a final, one-time-only, time-limited code for Cyber Monday that gave them 50% off their purchase. This approach increased purchase frequency, and encouraged customers to max out their shopping cart each time.

While we don’t have data on the effectiveness of the campaign itself, it’s clear that the company now has a wealth of information on who will respond best to a promotion and how discounts relate to purchase volume—and they’ve made their loyal customers feel loved as well.

Growth hacking combines many of the disciplines we’ve looked at in the book: finding a business model; identifying the most important metric for the stage you’re at; and constantly learning and optimizing that metric to create a better future for your organization.

Or for a concrete illustration simply see page 35 of the startup metrics slideshare below:

Lean startup metrics

It’s about startups “picking a single metric that they can literally bet the company on,” says Suhail Doshi, Co-Founder of Mixpanel. Click the video to jump to the 14 second quote, or check out Mixpanel for free to see how it can help figure out that all important specific metric for your business!