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ICOs & Marketing – The Essential Guide

Ever since the first token sale (dubbed an ICO) back in July, 2013, which was held by Mastercoin, this new type of fundraiser has become a fundamental part of the crypto industry. However, while back in the beginning of 2017 ICOs were successful almost always after being announced, even in some cases, where they were obvious scams, the landscape nowadays is completely different.

TL;DR

  • Marketing is an essential part of the success of every ICO.
  • Some marketing strategies work much better than others in the crypto industry and that is where you want to focus your resources.
  • Included is recent pricing from the most popular crypto news and ICO listing sites.
  • Each marketing approach comes with a few pointers and warnings that stem from our own experience of running an ICO.

Quick Intro

As the crypto industry quickly gained speed and popularity around the beginning of 2017, more and more startups began appearing on the scene. However, as the number of projects increased and increased, the demand for marketing skyrocketed. Nowadays, if a team want their project and ICO to be successful, they need one damn good marketing plan. Below are some very insightful ICO stats from 2017, courtesy of Coinschedule:

CoinSchedule ICO Stats 2017

And then, if we take a quick look at 2018, we can see just how much the competition has risen:

Coinschedule ICO Stats 2018

We are barely five months into 2018 and we are already close to double the amount raised when compared to 2017. Of course, these stats take into considerations only ICOs listed on Coinschedule however, the thing is that, most ICOs that are in any way decent, will get listed on Coinschedule anyway.

Now back to our point. Even if a blockchain-based project is extremely good, without strong marketing, not many people will notice its existence. Word of mouth might be a very good way of spreading the word about anything however, in the world of ICOs, hype seems to be the prevalent marketing strategy – we’ll get to that in a minute.

In a nutshell, if you are thinking about running your own ICO, token generation event (TGE) or whatever the case is, then you must have a solid marketing plan ready to roll out as soon as you announce your project.

In this article, we will outline the best marketing strategies that seem to be most effective in the context of the cryptocurrency industry. We ourselves held a TGE in mid-February 2018, so we have a lot of experience behind our backs and have learned quite a lot in terms of what works and what doesn’t in the context of ICO marketing.

ICO Marketing – What Works & What Doesn’t

We are going to list all of the marketing strategies (and more) that we employed when we were building up towards our ICO and afterwards, while it was running. We will rank the strategies based on effectiveness, starting with the best ones and ending with the least effective approaches.

Of course, you should understand that this list will reflect our own experience and that it might not be entirely accurate. However, it should be more than helpful to anyone who is just getting into the crypto world and has no idea how to bite a chunk out of the blockchain pie.

#1. Influencer Marketing (Hype)

In the world of ICOs, nothing compares to hype, not even close. So what constitutes hype? Well, that’s actually very easy. If a project has a strong team with a lot of experience behind their back (preferably with an already well-known product out there), and especially if there’s a world-famous person on the team (as a core team member or as an advisor), then the project has, out of the box, an enormous chance to hold a very successful ICO.

Why? That one is easy as well. It seems that in the crypto world, most people tend to overlook the significance of in-depth project research prior to jumping on the hype train. And can you blame them?

With all of the “success” stories of people becoming crypto millionaires just by participating in a few or several ICOs, everyone can clearly see the same thing happening again, but this time to them, and that is quite easy to cloud rational thinking.

When this is combined with the volatile nature of crypto markets and how when the market is in an uptrend, it is very easy for people to think that it will never stop (check hot-hand fallacy), one can see that jumping on the hype train is not the hardest thing to do.

And if a project is backed by a strong team and maybe one or a few famous people, then the ICO related to the project will quickly become popular and then, the rest will be taken care of by word of mouth as people spread the news about this “amazing” ICO backed by a famous person.

If you have noticed, we have yet to mention anywhere how the idea behind the project itself is valued in that equation and that’s because this is the thing that hype can very easily cause a community to ignore. Most people tend to do a very short overview of a project – slogan check, quick white paper scroll through, a few copy paste questions in the project’s Telegram group, etc – before being convinced that the project in question is the real deal.

So how do you generate hype for your ICO? Well, quite simply, put together a strong team and get a famous person or two to back your project. We are not talking about famous people in the crypto world alone, but famous people in general. Examples would be Universa (backed by John McAfee), Centra (backed by Floyd Mayweather), Bitcoiin2Gen (backed by Steven Seagal), and many others, all of which raised a lot of money due to the hype generated by these celebrities, but were not in all cases what one would call good projects. Let’s just leave it at that.

However, when hype is combined with a project that is serious and one that will actually use the funds gathered to create what they sold during their ICO, and not just scam people out of their money, then hype is quite easily the most effective marketing approach in the context of ICOs.

#2. Media Outreach

When it comes to generating initial traction for your ICO and if you don’t have the marketing budget or the means to generate some good old hype, then news articles is by far the most effective way to expose your project to the blockchain world.

Whether it would be a project review, press release, or a review of your ICO, having presence in the top crypto news websites is an absolute must. Here’s a list of the websites (with pricing as of February, 2018) you most certainly want your project and ICO to be featured on:

  • Cointelegraph – $18k USD for a sponsored article and 0.8 BTC for a press release.
  • CoinDesk – last time we checked, they didn’t accept sponsored posts. However, if your project is of note, they might write an article if you pitch it irresistibly.
  • Bitcoinist – $1k USD for a sponsored article and $799 USD for a press release.
  • Forbes – various marketers offer placement on Forbes with the usual price being around $2 – $3k USD. However, keep in mind that if your project seems sketchy, you might not get featured.
  • NewsBTC – $1k USD for a sponsored post or press release.
  • CCN – $899 USD for a sponsored story and $249 USD for a press release.
  • Bitcoin.com – $2,499 USD for a press release.
  • BitcoinMagazine – $3.5k USD for a sponsored story.
  • Entrepreneur – similar to Forbes, you can find marketers offering you a spot on Entrepreneur. Cost is around $4 – $5k USD.

Of course, there are many more crypto news sites, but these are the most popular ones and the ones that bring amazing results – both in terms of traffic and conversion rates. Keep in mind that all of these websites accept payment in crypto, be it BTC or ETH. Some may even go for tokens if you are able to convince them that it is a good deal and in their interest.

We do recommend opting for the sponsored stories instead of the press releases as the sponsored stories get much better conversion rate and exposure due to their position on each of the websites once they are published.

Most will land on the homepage with a huge featured image and title, so expect a decent amount of traffic right away, especially from Cointelegraph and Bitcoin.com.

Additionally, you will also get to make your very own “As Seen On” section and then add it to your website, which will further boost your project’s credibility in the eyes of the community.

#3. ICO Listing Sites

Driving traffic to your project website is actually not that difficult in the crypto industry. That is of course, if you have a good marketing budget. ICO listing sites are one of the best ways to instantly start driving traffic to your website.

Here is a list of some of the best ICO listing sites at the time of writing:

  • ICO Drops – listing is free however, they carefully filter out the submitted projects, thus not all projects get listed. Once listed, they offer a number of premium packages, which will better promote your ICO on their website.
  • Coinschedule – basic listing costs 0.05 BTC. Then you have a few more advanced packages to choose from – Plus (0.3 BTC), Silver (0.6 BTC), and Gold (2.5 BTC). We strongly recommend the Gold package. It will keep your ICO at the top of Coinschedule for its entire duration so expect a decent amount of traffic from there. And for people with even larger marketing budgets, there’s the Platinum Listing package (7 BTC per month), which basically allows your ICO to takeover the Coinschedule website.
  • ICOAlert – listing is free and most projects do get listed without any issues. Then there are several promotional packages such as email newsletter feature ($3k USD), Featured ICO listing for 2 weeks ($3k USD) and a sponsored ICO report (again $3k USD).
  • ICObench – listing is free and then you have a few options, all of which can be found here. We do recommend the Premium Deluxe package (10 BTC), that is if you have the budget for it, or the Premium Spark package (2.1 BTC), if you are more conservative in your marketing approach.
  • TokenMarket – token listing is free and, as far as we know, they only offer partnerships for projects that have yet to begin work on their ICO. They will help you right from the beginning with everything, including promotion on their website once your ICO is up and running.
  • Top ICO List – listings costs 0.5 ETH and then there’s a Silver package for 2 more ETH.
  • ICO Watch List – basic listing is 0.1 ETH, but we do recommend at least the Bronze package (1 ETH). ICO Watch List drives a decent amount of traffic, at least in our experience. Use the Gold package (10 ETH) if you need extra boost, for instance, a few weeks before your ICO starts.
  • ICO Bazaar – listing is 0.05 BTC and then there’s a featured listing option for 0.55 BTC. This website is good, because they give an investment grade once your ICO is close to its start and this grade is something that you can market. They seem to be fairly objective in their valuation of projects.
  • Smith + Crown – listing is free. No premium packages as far as we are aware.
  • Coinhills – listing is free. Most of their media kit involves banner advertising and featuring your ICO for 7 days at the expense of $250 USD.
  • ICORating – basic listing is free. Then you have a few more advanced packages including a basic review of your website and an investment rating. Prices range from $3k USD for the lowest tier package to $15k for the highest tier package.
  • CryptoVest – basic listing is free. Then there are a few more advanced packages including Silver (0.13 BTC), Gold (0.3 BTC), and Gold Plus (0.6 BTC). The Gold Plus package is going to promote your ICO everywhere on the website, so it is not a bad option at all.

There are many more ICO listing sites, but these are the ones you most certainly need to be on. Lower quality ICO listing sites (no offence) will add your project themselves as they try to make a name for their website.

What’s important here is that, all of these ICO listing sites have some sort of premium packages (as you saw), which will better expose your project on their website. I strongly recommend to consider some of these packages, especially for the top ICO listing sites such as ICO Drops and Coinschedule, as they can be extremely effective in terms of traffic.

And since the people on these websites are almost certainly looking to invest in ICOs, you get a very high quality streamlined traffic that usually converts really well once they land on your website – that is of course, if your project website is optimized in both appearance and content.

#4. Conferences & Events

As your ICO closes in, you will most certainly start getting invitations to different kinds of blockchain conferences, offering you a stage to market your project and ICO.

But you need to be careful as some of these conferences are nothing more than a way to squeeze some money from startups, which don’t do their due diligence.

So what might end up happening is you going to a blockchain conference, which is marketed as amazing, but the reality might be completely different. For instance, instead of having an audience mostly consisting of potential investors, you might end up at a conference where everyone is trying to sell something – just like you.

Here are a few places to look for blockchain conferences and events:

In the end, conferences are a great way to find early investors in your project, but you need to be careful with the ones you choose to attend. Research each conference thoroughly before rushing over and buying some tickets.

A great thing about attending conferences is that it can really boosts the trust in your project by the community and, well, marketing your presence at a blockchain conference is always good for your ICO.

#5. Display Advertising

Nothing spells instant traffic as display advertising does. However, we want it known that we don’t have a lot of experience with display advertising in the crypto industry as we tried a few agencies who buy spots on popular sites and the campaigns were not very effective.

What seems to be very effective is a few specific banner spots, such as the top header full-width banner on CoinMarketCap and we also keep hearing good things about CoinTraffic. We didn’t manage to try their services as they were overbooked at the time when we wanted to do so.

Basically, with display advertising, you have two options – either go out on your own, make a list of the websites where you would like to purchase banner space and then contact the websites directly for a price quote, or, use a marketing agency, which already buys banner space on target sites that you are interested in.

In the latter case, we recommend doing proper research on the marketing agency you plan on using as in some cases, you might end up spending money and not getting any results at all.

For example, we found Crynet from the ICObench agencies page and we went on to contact them in order to run a test campaign. We saw that they were involved with quite a handful of ICO projects, which is why they ranked high on the ICObench agencies page, so we thought that they probably do a good job otherwise they wouldn’t be there.

But, just to be safe, we decided to first go with a 1 week test run. Needless to say, we weren’t happy at all with the campaign. There was quite literally zero communication once our campaign started and we expressed the need to tweak some parts of the campaign. A lot of the traffic came from mobile ads, which is something that we wanted to change as it obviously wasn’t converting at all.

Impressions were as promised (even higher), but the quality of the traffic was very low. We requested a detailed report in the end and, after some abnormal time, we got a simple 6 column report, which didn’t show us much stats – only impressions, clicks, and CTR. We couldn’t even see how much of the traffic was mobile and how much was desktop.

And everyone knows that a fundamental part of the success of a display advertising campaign is adaptability i.e. the option to modify the campaign as the client expresses concerns.

Anyway, if you plan on going for a display advertising campaign, we strongly recommend doing your due diligence before engaging with an agency or a website where you want to advertise. Aim only for high traffic websites that would actually show you stats from their banner advertising campaigns including CTR.

Keep in mind that ICO listing sites also offer banner advertising so you might want to take a look at some of those as well. As for the creation of the banners themselves, most marketing agencies will offer to do them for you however, they might not be the best ones.

If you are keen on doing them yourself, there’s a great tool called Bannersnack, which you can use to generate your banners in all kinds of formats. In the end, display advertising can be extremely effective if done right, but if not, it will be almost a complete waste of marketing budget. So thread carefully.

#6. Having an MVP

Okay, that’s not exactly a marketing strategy per se, but it is still a very effective way of selling your project and generating hype for your ICO.

You will most certainly understand the importance of having a minimum viable product once your community starts growing and the questions about a working product start flooding your project’s Telegram group.

When that happens, you better be prepared to show something. I highly recommend having an MVP ready before you even announce your project.

People really like to see that the team has already done some work beforehand and well, it’s quite different when you can show your potential investors what they will be investing in – even if it’s just a short display of your product.

We did that as we showcased TokenGen, the first component of the Fabric Token ecosystem, and it did work pretty well. Later, we even released a live demo of the tool and that was even more effective.

#7. Telegram Marketing

Telegram seems to be the most popular chat client in the blockchain industry. Naturally, there are countless Telegram groups and channels that constantly promote ICOs to their members.

Additionally, when you are building the community for your project, Telegram is the place where people will be most active and making a good impression there is vital to the success of your ICO.

Now, Telegram is great for quick traffic generation if you are able to find a good Telegram marketing service, which will spread your message to as many groups and channels as possible.

The neat trick with Telegram marketing is to look for services which will pin your message in the target groups/channels and notify all members. This drives a lot of instant traffic to the pinned message and subsequently to the link(s) contained within it.

With Telegram, you have a few options:

  • Find the groups yourself and spread the word about your project. You can leverage the power of websites such as Telegram Crypto Groups in order to find popular Telegram groups/channels related to crypto.
  • Contact Telegram group/channel owners directly to request a mention as with the above method, your posts might not get through due to spam prevention bots.
  • Use the services of someone or an agency that offers Telegram marketing. The latter usually have accounts in place in most popular crypto groups/channels and will spread your message to all or a subset of them in exchange for a fee.

If you are going with the latter two options, be wary of scammers as there are legions of them in the crypto industry, especially on Telegram. Always ask proof of ownership i.e. ask the person to prove to you that they own the Telegram group/channel before you make payment.

#8. Reddit & 4chan Marketing

Reddit and 4chan are the Queen and King of traffic generation outside of crypto, but their 20-something male-centric audience really hits the sweet spot when it comes to attracting the average cryptocurrency user.

The /r/cryptocurrency subreddit exploded in popularity in 2017, and despite being active since 2013, 96% of its subscribers first followed the sub after 2017 – a huge indicator of an impressive percentage of active subscribers.

The “people online” tracker on the side rarely drops below 5,000, meaning that an attractively-written article (one with front-page potential) could bring up to hundreds of thousands of impressions in a single day. /r/ethtrader also receives significant traffic.

Despite the pretence for grassroot interest in particular cryptocurrencies, the information that full-time posters frequent these websites shouldn’t surprise you, and you shouldn’t expect to receive the same type of user appreciation for your project that some of the subreddit’s favourites receive.

We obviously do not recommend paying for full-time influencers, since it can hurt your reputation in the corporate world outside of crypto, massively hindering the adoption of your project in the future.

However, the occasional engaging and creative self-promotional post does not break forum rules (only “excessive” advertising is forbidden), and it can still be well-received while bringing decent traffic to your website.

Content quality and average poster maturity aside, 4chan’s /biz/ board is also more than capable of pumping up your traffic stats.

Once again, however, if corporate adoption is a goal of yours (as it is in our case) – you probably don’t want a Google search for your product to bring up a link to this particular website. For projects such as ours, we recommend avoiding 4chan entirely.

But if in your case public image is not important, a one-minute experiment with the website might be worth a try – the website’s culture dictates that low effort posting is the norm so putting in time and effort in your posts might be counterproductive anyway.

#9. Video Marketing

YouTube is a great place to promote your project and ICO. There are tons of channels that will offer reviews, but you need to be really careful here.

First of all, you need to check each channel for yourself and get a better understanding of the quality of videos it produces, the average number of views on each video, etc.

What you should be looking for is YouTube channels with a decent amount of subscribers and a relatively long history of making videos.

If similar videos to the one you want made look professional, then you probably should engage with the owner and ask for a quote on price.

And just like anywhere else in crypto, there are a lot of scammers on YouTube as well. So always ask for a proof of ownership i.e. ask the person to change the About section of the YouTube channel for a second or something like that.

Popular YouTube channels related to crypto include:

Many of these channels have a cult-like following, so if you get your project reviewed or even just mentioned on some of these, it can be extremely effective. It will generate a lot of hype around your project and, as we already mentioned, nothing beats hype in the world of ICOs.

#10. Email Marketing

Most, if not all, websites mentioned in the media outreach and ICO listing sites segments have their own mailing lists and do offer services, which allow your to promote your project in a featured newsletter.

We do recommend purchasing a few of those, again, on the larger crypto news websites. Some have mailing lists consisting of more than 50k emails, so featuring your project in a newsletter can bring you quite the exposure.

Usually, it will be required of you to provide the HTML for the email they will send, so having an email marketing software such as MailChimp prepared, will do you a good job. You will need an EMS anyway as you want to capture the emails of your website visitors.

Later, as your mailing list grows and grows, you can inform your community in a professional manner via newsletters and announcement emails. But that’s a topic for another day.

It is important to note that, some websites will not allow you to send an email featuring your project only, but will either include other projects or will allow banner advertising inside the newsletter itself.

Needless to say, those email blasts tend to be less effective as many people check emails on their phone and images are usually set to not load by default on mobile.

#11. Facebook & Twitter Marketing

While there are many Facebook groups focused primarily on spreading news about ICOs, in our experience, it is not very effective in terms of traffic to focus a lot on Facebook marketing.

These groups tend to have a lot of messages per day and the engagement with new posts is not that high, unless the post is pinned of course. Some group owners will offer that as a services, but be careful not to pay for a pinned post in a group where most of the followers are fake.

Watch out for number of likes and comments on the latest posts and compare those to the total number of group members. If something seems out of order, don’t bother engaging any further with the group. Popular crypto Facebook groups include:

And since Facebook recently banned ads related to ICOs, you pretty much have one more option in terms of Facebook marketing and that is to politely ask your community to share project news on their personal profiles as well as other Facebook groups that you might have overlooked.

As for Twitter, well, they have also banned ads related to ICOs. However, you could still generate some activity by using relevant hashtags and by posting regularly.

Additionally, getting mentioned by influencers on Twitter tends to really skyrocket your own account’s followers and subsequent activity. But, that falls more into the category of influencer marketing so we won’t delve into the details in this segment.

Now, it is important to mention here that, despite the ban on ICO-related ads by both Facebook and Twitter, you can still advertise your project on both sites. You just need to be careful how you structure your ads and what content is included in the copy.

In the end, the main goal of Facebook and Twitter marketing will be to increase your following on both of those social media platforms, as the size of the community of a project really tends to be an important metric in the minds of your potential investors.

#12. Bounty Program

If you don’t really have any resources prior to your ICO and you haven’t yet ran a pre-sale to gather some funds to boost your pre-ICO marketing budget, then a bounty program is absolutely essential.

It will help create that initial boost in awareness for your project as the Bitcointalk forum has quite a substantial amount of monthly traffic.

What you need to keep in mind is that, most people on Bitcointalk and especially the ones engaging with bounty programs are going to be there mainly for the tokens that you will offer them in return for the work they do. Only a small fraction might become actually interested in your project.

That being said, here’s how I would rank the bounty campaigns themselves in terms of efficiency:

  1. Signature – can provide decent amount of traffic if you manage to get enough people to participate.
  2. Airdrop – can provide the initial boost of community numbers increase, which are needed to take your project off the ground.
  3. Twitter – provides a decent increase to the following you have on Twitter and to the exposure your tweets get.
  4. Reddit – boosts the people subscribed to your subreddit and increases the activity in the same. However, don’t expect quality posts.
  5. Facebook – a lot of low quality shares and posts alongside an increase to your Facebook following.
  6. Translation – can be effective, especially if you target specific countries, but beware the Google translations and bad translated thread management.
  7. Blog/media – a lot of extremely low quality (copy paste on most occasions) blog posts on Medium, Steemit, and low quality project reviews on YouTube. The flipside is that, you might get the occasional gem where you get a mention in a post on a website/blog with a decent amount of traffic.

One thing to note here is the double-edge that is the airdrop campaign. You need to be very careful with the airdrop, especially if you include your own Telegram group in it, as airdrops tend to go out of control if shared on a few Telegram groups and channels mainly focused on, well, airdrops.

Once that happens, expect enormous amounts of traffic pour into your Telegram. While that may seem awesome at first glance, what you will most probably get is a lot of spam comments such as “when airdrop”, “when bounty”, “when ICO”, etc, which might scare away some of the real investors and supporters of your project.

So use the airdrop campaign wisely and make sure to have some Telegram bot in place, which will help deal with the spam – links, pictures, etc.

From the rest of the campaigns, excluding the signature campaign, expect a lot of low quality work. But then again, the bounty program’s focus is not on quality, but on creating that initial byte-sized community, which you can then build on as marketing gets stronger and stronger.

The signature campaign seems to be the most effective bounty campaign in terms of traffic as it really helps spread the word about your project around the entire Bitcointalk forum.

Make sure to have really good and eye-catching signature codes prepared for participants and make sure to allocate a nice amount of tokens to the signature campaign so that more and more people could join as your bounty program gains popularity.

Quick Guidelines

So. How do you exactly proceed with the marketing of your blockchain project and ICO? Well, the truth is that, the answer to that question will strongly depend on your marketing budget.

If it is a deep well, then the answer is quite obvious. Purchase premium packages on all of the most popular ICO listing sites, get news coverage on all of the most popular crypto news sites, attend popular blockchain conferences, etc. And of course, try and put together a solid team, and then reach out to a few or several influencers with a request to get on board or simply endorse your project.

Once that ball is rolling, your community will grow immensely and from then on out, you need to simply build upon that with great announcements. An important note to make here is that, the opening of your ICO is the single best time and most probably the time when you will raise the most funds.

Competition at that time tends to be very high and if you have done a good job marketing your project and the ICO event itself, your community will be ready and waiting once you give them the green light. So, we highly recommend focusing most of your ICO marketing efforts prior to the grand opening.

And if you don’t have the biggest of marketing budgets, then you certainly need to start off with a decent bounty program with a lucrative airdrop and then build from there. You also most certainly need to add a pre-sale period to your token fundraiser as those pre-ICO funds will help you market the project much better before the crowdsale begins.

In both cases, you want to be on as many ICO listing and crypto news sites as you can. But, in the more conservative case, you want to really limit your spending on premium packages only to the most effective outlets. High traffic websites tend to be far more effective, but don’t count out quality.

Smaller websites that have a well-designed website and good quality of content can still bring a decent level of credibility to your project. And of course, it is much cheaper to purchase a story on such websites.

In a nutshell, the more you market your project and ICO, the more your community will grow and the more people will participate once the crowdsale begins. Of course, having an outstanding project idea usually helps out a lot.

Summary

So there you have it. Now you should have a decent understanding of how marketing is conducted in the blockchain world. It’s not that easy and it’s not cheap at all.

But, in the end, if you do it right, the funds you gather in your ICO will not only cover for the money spent on marketing, but will also be more than enough to begin work on that amazing project idea that you just sold to the crypto community.

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