Since its inception in 2009, cryptocurrency has become both a cultural and a financial phenomenon. As the news headlines tout its ever-growing exchange values and disruptive potential, investors and banking experts have entered a frenzy. And yet, although digital money is on the minds of many people, there is still a lack of understanding of what it is and what it can do among mainstream consumers.
Indeed, cryptocurrency is a discontinuous or disruptive innovation, and its adoption requires significant changes in consumer behavior and the supporting business infrastructure. To be successful and move closer to the point of mass adoption, cryptocurrency as a commodity must create a ripple effect and build momentum for it to become a de facto norm. This process is called the technology adoption lifecycle and the media plays a critical role in it. The crypto industry needs a marketing model that can effectively communicate its continuous changes and innovations.
In his 1991 book Cross the chasm, Geoffrey Moore explains that every disruptive technology must go through five stages of adoption: in the first stage, innovators tinker with new technologies; in the second, the first users discover it; in the third and fourth stages, an “early majority” and a “late majority” – the two largest groups – come on board; and in the final phase, the “latecomers” arrive.
The adoption process is what Moore calls “the chasm.” The gulf separates the early adopters from the early majority because the demands of these two groups are often very different. Unable to gain a foothold in the mainstream, new technologies will fall into the abyss and perish. Anyone who’s ever studied Silicon Valley culture has probably seen a version of Moore’s diagram dozens of times. If this seems more relevant now than before, it’s because it explains the adoption of cryptocurrency so well.
The recipe for mass adoption
How do new technologies cross the chasm? According to Moore, they must connect with the early majority. These early consumers are hungry for information about the new technology: how it works and how it can change people’s lives. Most importantly, they need a story told in their own language to overcome their skepticism.
Without a compelling story, the new technology is unlikely to reach the early majority of adopters. This is where media professionals come in. They are the ones who weave this story and educate the public. According to Moore, they play a bigger role in the industry than many people realize.
Crossing the crypto chasm
In the early 2010s, the revolutionary potential of cryptocurrency was understood by a core group of cryptocurrency and crypto enthusiasts. But for the vast majority, it was an enigma – if it was known at all.
That started to change in 2015 when crypto pioneers and technologists developed alternative crypto assets, such as Ether (ETH). Between 2017 and 2020, digital money was collected by the first users. And by 2020, cryptocurrency had reached a critical juncture: it was on the road to the so-called ‘Big Scary Chasm’.
The first chasm he crossed dates back to 2017. Full of promise, he transformed the first users into enthusiasts and enthusiasts into visionaries. The new technology could no longer be ruled out: it seemed to herald a great leap forward, a future with a radically different economy. And like a killer app that’s taking the world by storm, it went public on a large scale – with an initial coin offering.
In 2020, major institutions, such as PayPal, Square, MicroStrategy, and JPMorgan, spearheaded the cryptocurrency bull run, while retail investors – who have found it easier than ever to buy Bitcoin (BTC) – have fueled the momentum. But to continue its ascent and move from early majority to late majority, cryptocurrency has yet to demonstrate its viability on a large scale.
Related: Will PayPal’s crypto integration bring crypto to the masses? Expert response
According to Moore, for a new technology to enter the mainstream, it must find a beachhead. Crypto has certainly found its own: consumers looking to make fast and inexpensive cross-border transactions without third-party intervention. In fact, many of these consumers live in countries with economic and political instability, which is why Bitcoin is booming in places, such as Argentina, Iran, Turkey, and Nigeria.
Looks like crypto is on track to be adopted? However, there are still risks. Sales-driven companies that tap the entire crypto market, but lack customer and product focus, can easily fall out of the dreaded abyss.
Breaking through the mainstream
So what’s the recipe for mass adoption? New customers need to know why and how they should buy in the crypto market – which is why at this stage of the market it is crucial to have a solid communications strategy in place.
Vigorous marketing campaigns show us the value and importance of new products. In the case of cryptocurrency, the media needs to take a three-pronged approach: explaining digital money in terms anyone can understand, getting influential thought leaders to support it, and familiarizing customers with the competition, mainly banks, the Federal Reserve and stocks – those intending to crush the cryptocurrency.
Additionally, if crypto as a commodity is to acquire pragmatic customers, those who are at the forefront of the technology adoption lifecycle, it must take into account that those customers want to buy from a market leader with a solid reputation. This is why establishing thought leadership is key to any communications strategy.
Still not sure if the crypto industry should focus on communications? Well, the process has already started and it will probably snowball from here, gathering momentum as new opportunities to invest in cryptocurrency emerge.
In the coming months, we expect to see big developments in the industry, such as big banks launching crypto custodial services, brokers opening up access to crypto products, new retailers accepting digital cash and large institutions that launch applications on public blockchains.
But perhaps the most significant change will be in the way we talk about cryptocurrency, where the conversation will shift to. Why should I invest? at Why are we not already invested?
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move comes with risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed herein are the sole ones of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of TBEN.
Anastasia Golovina is a communications specialist with extensive experience in crypto projects. She has managed communication for various crypto startups in US and Europe, such as Ledger, Celsius Network, Algorand, MEW, Bitfury, Waves and others. His specialties include media relations, crisis communication and community management.