This Is What’s Stopping Blockchain From Taking Over the World

September 13th 2018

To the idealists among us, the advent of cryptocurrencies is a lifelong dream starting to be realized. Over the last decade, advancements in cryptographic technology and distributed networking have offered an alternative to the anachronistic systems of old, replacing them with trustless mechanisms rooted in fairness and equality.

The result of these groundbreaking technological advances is that we are gaining access to tools to redistribute power more evenly across the world’s population in a way we could have only dreamed about in earlier time periods.

But like most disruptive shifts in the fabric of society, the era of blockchain brings with it much more than just new technology. Blockchain and cryptocurrency also affect closely guarded systems of power distribution and economic incentives, to name a few.

A paradigm shift this large needs support by the millions. Without the participation of people around the world, the next phase of technological evolution runs the risk of repeating the very same ills it was meant to fix.

Which is why, more than almost anything else, the blockchain industry is in dire need of communication strategies that help humans around the globe feel invested in the evolution of this technology.

Blockchain is a people-powered movement, and its success will require forward-thinking companies to design people-centered communication that inspires the general public to take part in the movement.

If we want decentralization to become reality, it will be necessary to engage everyday citizens in conversation, so they can discover for themselves why blockchain will matter to them.

Without better communication strategies — ones that use human psychological principles to create emotional connection with blockchain projects — it will become nearly impossible for this new technology to take flight, and for a truly decentralized future to be realized.

Until we see the emergence of powerful brands that communicate in a way that excites, enlivens, and inspires everyday people to join us in our cause, our chances of getting people to take a gamble on blockchain is dramatically reduced.

For those of us who are passionate about remaking the world as a fairer, more equitable place, that would be a disappointing turn of events. Never before have we seen an opportunity of this scale, and it is our responsibility to get the word out about why the work we are doing matters so much.

Blockchain is more than just technology — it’s a political revolution in disguise

In my last article, I discussed my view that cryptocurrencies are actually the proto-political movements of the coming decades, differentiated primarily by diverse ideas of ways that data should be governed in an ideal world.

As I see it, data is the most important emerging asset class of our time, and it is quickly becoming the battleground of the future. If we wish to observe the makings of the political debates of the coming decades, it is essential to pay attention to the war that is currently being fought over the retention, distribution, and governance of data.

To do so, though, requires a complete reconfiguration of how we conceptualize data’s effect on society, and in turn, the future of our increasingly globalized world.

And it also requires the tech-minded founders at the head of blockchain projects to recognize that they are doing far more than writing code and creating projects — they are launching movements.

With every new token comes a governance model and a method for data (and thereby, asset) management. Many people are quick to dismiss these elements, missing the fact that hiding inside each cryptocurrency is a sophisticated political philosophy.

As such, each blockchain project represents something far larger than most consumers currently realize. If blockchain founders fail to help people see that they are leading a movement for change that is political by nature, and ignore the need for people to philosophically connect with their ethos, then their product itself faces certain death as well.

Yet, far too often, this essential ingredient — the fostering of deeper human connection with the “why” of the project — falls by the wayside as founders become consumed with the technical details of their product.

I have seen this process happen time and again in my work as the head of Blockchain Branding, a boutique branding consultancy for blockchain projects, and it’s often painful to watch.

Well-meaning founders, paired with the brightest minds in blockchain, design brilliant systems to reconfigure the way our world works — but because they lack the tools to communicate and connect with others, the project withers on the vine.

It doesn’t have to be this way. And if we want blockchain and decentralization to become the status quo of the future, we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to get people on board with our missions.

We need to look for ways to communicate with everyday people about blockchain in a way that engages their hearts as well as their minds.

A new paradigm for changemakers

A big part of why so many blockchain companies are fumbling with their communication strategies has to do with the fact that, like many aspects of the cryptosphere, they are treading in uncharted territory without clear models to follow.

Until now, those of us who wish to create change on a global scale had relatively limited options to rally people around us in support.

We could participate in the political system, trying to get candidates elected whom we believed would represent our interests. However, that has proven time and again to be relatively ineffective.

Even if one is successful in electing the representative they desire, no matter how well meaning that person may be, government officials still have to contend with an ever-increasingly gridlocked political system where significant change is almost an impossibility. Stagnancy and status quo are baked into the system to such a degree that only relatively minute changes are possible.

Sensing this, many of the optimists and would-be thought leaders among us have turned instead to entrepreneurship, building VC-funded tech empires that promise to create the next big innovation to unseat the powers that be.

That is, until they realize that rather than disrupting the political and economic models responsible for a many of the ills our modern-day world, data-hungry tech companies have been forced to rely on similarly centralized and hegemonic power structures in order to survive.

Not only does this create a highly vulnerable, single-point-of-failure existence for these companies, it also means that, at their core, most of the tech solutions available today do little to rethink larger issues of governance, equality, and fairness in the world.

Though companies like Uber and Facebook may claim to be leading the charge people-powered revolutions, most of successful tech businesses of the last decade merely create slightly more efficient versions of the same fallible oligarchic models that they were designed to replace.

At the outset, these companies may be have been disruptive, but at the end of the day, their staying power has more to do with network effect than ideological fidelity. Their business models rely more on convenience, category leadership, and dopamine addiction than they do on cultivating dreams of a better world in the hearts of everyday people.

That approach may work in a world of centralized business entities, but going forward, decentralized projects will have to find different strategies in order to win.

Decentralized movements require the support of the people

Enter blockchain and cryptocurrencies. For the first time, these decentralized networks provide the technological means to distribute decision making democratically across the world’s population. Also for the first time, we are able to exchange value person to person, outside of the purview of centralized powers.

With these characteristics, blockchain and cryptocurrency have awakened brand-new tools for everyday people to participate in the making of the new world order.

Whereas before we were hamstrung by limited access to the true sources of power, we are now witnessing the burgeoning of an era in which every individual has the ability to throw their weight behind the technological models that best represent their ideals.

For those who aim to remake the world, this is the biggest opportunity we may ever face — as long as we learn how to harness it, and get the world to join us in the remaking of our core operating systems.

People-powered revolutions are useless without people who support them. The result is that most blockchain projects are only as powerful as the network effect they are able to create.

The task at hand, then, is for leaders of this emerging movement to step up and invest their time, energy, and resources into communication strategies that engage and connect with the people they’re trying to reach.

Companies who continue to struggle to explain the “why” behind their project to the public at large may quickly discover that their days are numbered.

The emergence of new decision-making tools

The lifeblood of any people-powered movement is participation. Unless a wide cross-section of people can be motivated to contribute their time, energy, money, and perspective to the remaking of the system, then it will be challenging for our new systems that emerge to truly represent the interests of the people.

This represents a huge shift. Machines increasingly run our daily lives and algorithms determine, by and large, how we see the world and what we understand to be happening on a global scale. But until now, the ability to determine which code governs our world was largely occurring inside the walled compounds of Silicon Valley.

As open source becomes a predominant method of distribution, and cryptocurrencies gain mainstream adoption, for the first time ever we are witnessing this debate over code moving from the private sphere to the public sphere.

At a glance and quick swipe of the finger, we now have access to thousands of different governance philosophies, all jockeying to offer us different models of distribution, access, and storage of data.

In this context, the advent of cryptocurrencies has lent us a new capability: The opportunity to put our support behind the ones we like best through purchasing their tokens.

In essence, cryptocurrencies allow us to vote on data governance models — which means, for the first time, we have a real say in what kind of world we’d like to see once the computers take over.

(OK, that may be a slightly dramatic statement, but one thing is certain — we are marching toward a world where computing is intricately tied to every aspect of our lives. As that happens, exactly which code runs these machines is becoming an issue of utmost importance.)

Furthering this shift is the fact that blockchain-based projects can crowdsource the financing of their operations from the get go, rather than having to win the support of ensconced Silicon Valley VC’s. This is dramatically changing the landscape of which companies see the light of day.

Rather than having to appeal to the powers that be to get off the ground, tokenized projects are able to take their appeals directly to the people themselves. If the engineers and businesspeople at the helm of such projects are able to convince everyday people of the value of their work, then they stand a far greater chance of having their data governance philosophies become widely adopted.

What this means for the companies and open-source projects producing this code and creating the tokens, however, is that they have a monumental task ahead of them: They need to convince the public that their tech specs are the ones that will help advance us to the world we dream of inhabiting.

This is no small feat — but it is something that can be accomplished with a communication strategy that focuses deeply on creating connection.

Blockchain’s success hinges on communication

For those individuals and companies who are creating blockchain projects, it has become more important than ever to communicate about their work in a way that excites and enlivens everyday people. This approach is critical to spur people to support the project in the long run, despite the rocky road toward widespread adoption of these new and disruptive models that is looming ahead.

I call this process branding. That term can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, though, so it’s worth clarifying what ‘branding’ really means.

In my view, branding is pursuing the most strategic, effective route possible to help people buy into the intrinsic value of the project. It involves fleshing out the tangled, complex web of ideas and moving parts that so often reside primarily in a founder’s head, so that the areas with the greatest potential for connection with the target audience can be identified and amplified.

The end result of good branding is a communication strategy that arms everyday people with an understanding of the project’s vision of a better world, and the passion to support the project along its journey.

Today, as the technological capacities offered by blockchain and cryptocurrency expand our view of what may become possible, these visions for global change are getting grander and grander.

Unfortunately, this often means that blockchain founders — who find themselves responsible for holding all the moving parts at once — get bogged down when trying to determine the most effective approach for grabbing people’s attention.

Fortunately, even with cutting-edge projects that are working to remake the world as we know it, it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel when it comes to human psychology and persuasion.

In my talk “Blockchain: Battle of the Brands,” I describe the process that I take clients through when we design their brand and content strategies. At its core, the process is simple and rooted in a number of psychological studies:

  1. Understand — People need to understand what you do and why it matters. Clear, simple language accomplishes this far more effectively than industry buzzwords. Don’t forgo clarity by loading up on obtuse or meaningless words in a mistaken attempt to look more legitimate. Confused people don’t invest, and the more work they have to do to understand your product, the less likely they are to pay attention.
  2. Believe — People need to believe that your product is needed, and that you have the resources and talents to make your grand vision into reality. They need to believe that the change you’re working to affect matters, and that the world will be a better place if you are successful with your project.
  3. Connect — People need to feel an emotional connection to your work. It’s not enough to appeal to them on intellect alone; they need to feel in their hearts that the work you’re doing is going to create a tangible difference in their day-to-day lives.

My investigation of the space over the last year has revealed that most of the emphasis within blockchain projects is on cultivating understanding of the technical aspects of how the product works.

However it is still exceedingly rare for projects to consider engaging hearts as well as minds — even though this component is the critical secret sauce to inspiring people to join the movement.

Over time, the brands that succeed in communicating on both an emotional and intellectual level will have the greatest chances for success. Time will tell which businesses these are.

In the meantime, however, those of us working to create a true people-powered revolution must keep our sights set on convincing those who matter most to join us on our quest: The people themselves, whose participation is required to create a truly decentralized future.

Erica Blair speaking at Tokenomx Conference, 2018

Erica Blair is founder of Blockchain Branding and Communications Director at Unification Foundation. Erica combines her extensive expertise as a branding consultant with a passion for sparking a decentralized revolution.

Erica speaks extensively about branding and storytelling for blockchain projects. Click here to watch her most recent public talks and inquire about booking for your event.

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