In 2017, there was a boom in the ICO (Initial Coin Offering) industry. Over $5.6 billion was raised through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), with 435 successful ICO projects raising an average of $12.7 million. The ICO fundraising method, pioneered by Ethereum back in 2014, still falls considerably short of the $188.8 billion raised from more than 1,600 traditional Initial Public Offering (IPO) projects in 2017. Despite ICOs raising only about 2% of IPO proceeds worldwide, ICOs have become more popular than IPOs. In the first three months of 2018 alone, ICOs raised more money than the whole of 2017. The $13.7 billion mark was hit 5 months in and it is now at an estimated $21.7 billion.
However, not every ICO is a success. E.g. in 2017, the 10 largest ICOs accounted for more than 25% of the total amount of money raised, with only 48% of ICOs deemed successful. Competition is fierce. This while today there are over 2,094 cryptocurrencies in circulation spread across nearly 15,840 markets.
The difference between success and failure when it comes to an ICO/STO (Security Token Offering), more often than not, is in the marketing. Planning a winning strategy to market your ICO/STO project from the beginning is absolutely essential. It can be argued that a marketing strategy may be more important than the actual product itself. This is because while your product may change, the perception the public has of your team and project rarely survives a bad first impression.
Successful ICO/STO marketing campaigns utilize a number of different marketing channels, from the more conventional and recognized methodologies to the very latest advanced techniques used in marketing. As competition and budgets increase in the ICO/STO sphere, so does the need for innovative, out-of-the-box marketing strategies. If you want to create an ICO or STO that is successful, you will need a multi-faceted approach that maximizes limited resources and utilizes different conventional and non-conventional marketing channels.
Security Token Offering (STO) Stats
The year 2017 was the ‘Wild West’ of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) - it was easy to take an ICO to market and to obtain funding outside of traditional channels as offered by the legacy banking system. Unfortunately this opened the door to dubious players who have done tremendous harm to the market, prompting players such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to step in.
It is not that observable yet, but there is a move away from ICOs - primarily earmarked by utility token offerings - to Security Token Offerings (STOs) - exclusively earmarked by the offering of security tokens. Data suggests that by the year 2020 the market will be dominated by STOs to the tune of $10 trillion. It is important to take notice of this shift in the market - and to plan accordingly.
Utility vs Security Token
It is of utmost importance to market your token the correct way from the beginning. E.g. if your token is a security token, but you market it as an utility token - you stand the real risk of having your project closed down by the authorities or worse.
There are many ICOs, especially among the ones that launched last year, that didn’t do it right from the beginning and now they have a lot of explaining to do to both supporters and the authorities.
Spare yourself a lot of headaches by getting it right from day one. It is best to check with legal experts who specialize in this field first. Besides avoiding running into the trouble mentioned above and not having to re-do marketing content half way in, getting it right will show those who are interested in buying into your ICO/STO that you can be taken seriously.
The Pre-Launch Phase
Your marketing plan starts months before your ICO/STO launches. While your project is still in the planning stage, it’s important to become an active part of the crypto community, if you’re not already. Building connections will make it easier to promote your ICO/STO when it starts. This is your opportunity to glean information that can improve both the marketing strategy of your ICO/STO and your ICO/STO itself. By engaging the crypto community, you’ll learn what projects the community is most excited about and what marketing efforts really seem to engage them. Take notes about what does and does not work.
If your project will benefit people outside of the crypto community, spend some time networking with them as well. Gather ideas for what problems they have that the blockchain could solve, beyond what you already envisioned for your product.
An important side effect of this phase is that you’ll also be building mature accounts on social media and forums – we’ll get into the importance of that later.
The Cost: Your only investment for this stage should be your time.
Build a Killer Website and Creatives for Your ICO or STO
Your website is your shop’s window. If you walk past a shop with an untidy, cluttered, or sparse window display, it is likely that you are not going to enter. The same principle applies to your website. If you provide a slow, untidy, and unappealing website for your ICO/STO, then people will get turned off very quickly. Your website’s design, layout, content, and ease of navigation are all important. However, these aspects often do not get the attention they deserve.
In many ways, your website should be the focal point of your ICO/STO marketing strategy. It is the first impression the community will have of your project and you cannot afford to get this wrong. Your website needs to be clear, concise, and easy to navigate. All the necessary information, such as information on how to invest in the ICO/STO, must be easily accessible, well presented, and sell the offering without making falsehoods or promises you will be unable to fulfil. Your website should also feature your team members and your ICO’s/STO’s whitepaper, which sets out a clear vision and timetable for the project. Within the website, there also needs to be a clear Call-to-Action (CTA) section that tempts investors to become whitelisted (‘an exclusive list’ of possible contributors) or take part in any pre-sale.
All graphics and creatives must follow the same methodology of being eye-catching and clear while not making promises that can’t be kept. When someone sees a banner for the first time, its content is the difference between a click-through and an ignore, success and failure. Products and websites can be changed, but the first impression from a banner or website cannot.
If possible, a short video on the website that explains your product and ICO/STO can be a valuable asset. A picture paints a thousand words, and a short, clear, and engaging video gives a better idea to potential investors as to what they can expect.
The Cost: The cost to build a website can fluctuate wildly, from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Skimping on cost for your website is a false economy. While you may not need to create the best website on the internet, there are certain expectations of what an ICO/STO website must have. These include a modern design, clear navigation, and informative content.
Publish on Blogs, Medium, and Steemit
While working on your website and creative materials, don’t forget the importance of the written word. Blogging is a valuable tool for establishing yourself in the cryptocurrency community. It’s up to you whether you have a blog on your project’s website, or if you prefer to submit guest articles to well-established crypto and tech blogs.
Medium is a great source of information for the crypto community. The Medium community is large, informed, and engaged. Publishing there, or even commenting on well-read blogs, is a step that cannot be ignored.
Steemit is also popular in the crypto-sphere, but it is not necessary to create unique content for it. Sharing short articles there can be a good way to spread the word about what your ICO/STO is about.
Both Medium and Steemit have functionality that allows users to “upvote” content, so it’s important that you create quality content that people will want to read and share with others. Articles for these platforms should share ideas or solutions, rather than just being a description of your ICO/STO.
If your team doesn’t include any strong writers, you may need to outsource this task to professional copywriters. Be sure to hire someone who understands cryptocurrency and the blockchain, or have them work closely with a member of your team who can check their work for technical accuracy.
The Cost: If you’re able to write your own blogs, this will not take anything from your marketing budget. Freelance copywriters may charge by the word, hour, or article. The more experienced and knowledgeable they are, the more they will cost. Beware of writers with surprisingly low rates, as they may have poor language skills or engage in plagiarism more often than not.
The Value of PR and Media Outreach
Once the website is complete, it’s time to begin your public relations outreach. The public needs to know about your ICO/STO and you have a number of options available to you to maximize your PR and media outreach. Press releases are a tried and tested method of getting your ICO’s/STO’s message out to the public. There are some top-tier websites that can publish your press release, but unless you have a relationship with these sites, you will more than likely have to pay a premium to get your press release published.
Articles published in the most popular of crypto media outlets are another great way of getting your ICO/STO in the public domain. There are some outlets that have no problems with publishing well-written content for free, but most of the top outlets charge a premium for publishing your article.
The Cost: You have two options for PR and media outreach when it comes to your ICO/STO. You can outsource to agencies and expect a handful of press releases and articles to be published on top-tier sites, all at a cost of around $50,000. The other option is to do this yourself, with enough motivation and time, the team can do it on their own without spending outrageous amounts of money on a PR company. It’s possible to achieve the same results an agency can generate, but on top of the large amounts of work involved, you can expect to pay between $10,000 – $20,000 and still not have the guarantee of success.
The Importance of Community and Social Media Management for ICOs and STOs
Social media management and cryptocurrency community management are very important to the success of an ICO/STO or STO. The crypto community is knowledgeable, vast, and expanding, and must be tapped into in order to achieve the results you want for your ICO/STO. Getting the trust of the community must be treated as a priority. How the ICO/STO is presented will determine the levels of trust within the community, and ultimately can be the deciding factor between success and failure for your ICO/STO project. There is a veritable wealth of online channels available for promoting ICOs/STOs, but a few of the best free ICO/STO marketing channels are as follows:
Facebook groups: There are any number of groups on Facebook that regularly discuss ICOs, STOs, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies.
Reddit: There are many channels that are very popular with the crypto community. A high level of exposure can be achieved through the creation of subreddits or simply by commenting on existing threads. Many crypto subreddits require a minimum account age and karma, so be sure to become active well before you launch your ICO/STO.
Telegram: This is a social media channel that should never be ignored. Telegram is very much the next generation of community building and messaging. It has been warmly embraced by the crypto and blockchain communities.
Quora Discussions: Quora is proving to be a less valuable channel for the coverage of ICOs/STOs than others. That being said, posting in regularly updated threads can help to gain exposure.
Keep in mind that content here must be from the perspective of the CEO and the profile must be that of the CEO - not the company. Failure to comply with this will lead to serious restrictions by Quora.
LinkedIn Groups: There are a number of LinkedIn groups with members running into the tens of thousands. Joining these groups and being active in them may help you connect to other industry leaders. This is best done by the CEO or someone in house.
YouTube: A YouTube channel allows you to host promotional and informative videos about your ICO/STO.
Instagram: Depending on the focus of your ICO/STO, Instagram can also be useful if you use images/videos to promote your ICO/STO. It can be a relevant platform if you are focused on fashion, photography, travel, lifestyle, or if you have a great in house creatives department that can create viral memes.
Specialized Forums: Popular specialized forums, such as https://bitcointalk.org/, are widely read by the crypto community and are,a great source of exposure for your ICO/STO. Like Reddit, some of these forums have account age and activity requirements, hence the importance of building your presence in the community during the pre-launch phase.
Although you will likely have a team dedicated to social media, it’s also highly beneficial for at least one major member of your team – founder, CEO, president, or lead programmer – to have active participation in your social media outreach strategy. Mature social media accounts that feature your project help build confidence in your ICO/STO. Likewise, maintaining an active and engaging presence on the channels and forums dedicated to your project can help fans feel a deeper connection to the project.
The Cost: Working on forums and social media channels is labor intensive. This can be done in-house, but you’ll still need to budget at least $5,000 to find knowledgeable managers who can administer a successful social media management (SMM) and community building strategy. Outsourcing to an agency will ensure the level of expertise needed to optimize the all-important community and social media channels, but at a cost of around $50,000 or more.
Using PPC to Get Results
2018 is definitely proving to be more of a challenge than 2017, with regards to paid advertising. Bans on ICO/STO advertising, for Google, Facebook, and Twitter narrow the field on where your ICO/STO can be advertised. The bans are a reflection of the volatility and high risk of ICO/STO investment and make utilizing PPC difficult but not impossible. Specialized crypto networks, such as CoinTraffic, provide targeted traffic, while banner ads should be considered on relevant blogs, forums, news publications, or other online platforms that have readers interested in the digital currency and blockchain sphere.
Addendum: Since October 2018, regulated cryptocurrency exchanges will be allowed to advertise on Google in the United States and Japan. It remains to be seen whether this acceptance of some crypto ads will result in a lift of the ICO ad ban.
The Cost: As ICO/STO advertising becomes more and more restricted, the need for alternative platforms becomes greater. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns are a good source of targeted traffic, and when performed correctly, can be cost effective despite the high costs of advertising. Specialized crypto networks have become expensive due to the PPC opportunities available, but there are often packaged deals offered which include banner placement and content publication opportunities. Hiring an agency to expertly manage all of your PPC needs can cost between $50,000 – $250,000 for media alone. An additional management fee of between 10% – 20% should be added to this cost as well.
Create a Winning SEO Strategy
In the immediacy of marketing ICOs and STOs, search engine optimization (SEO) gets wrongly overlooked. As more and more restrictions are applied to advertising ICOs/STOs, SEO becomes increasingly important. There are two SEO strategies that should be formulated. The first is an on-page strategy, making sure that your website is optimized for SEO in sync with a well-researched keyword and content generation strategy. Then there is the off-page strategy which should encompass intelligent and organic link building, online reputation management, and branding.
SEO should be the foundation for your ICO/STO marketing strategy. Too often, ICO/STO marketing strategies neglect SEO and it is to their peril. SEO optimization, both on-page and off-page, will ensure that there is exposure to your ICO/STO long after the launch. Where there is no SEO strategy or optimization, it is an indication that the ICO/STO only has a short-term focus. This may scare away the savvier investors. Too many ICOs/STOs focus on just the short-term capital generation of the ICO/STO, i.e. the launch, but for your ICO/STO project to be a long-term success, the marketing strategy must include an SEO-optimized website and an off-page link building plan with online reputation management. When performed correctly, without potentially damaging short-cuts, SEO can provide a simple, cost-effective, and long-term strategy to ensure continued visibility and viability of your ICO/STO project.
The Cost: SEO is the one part of the ICO/STO marketing strategy that the use of an outsourced agency is always recommended. It’s possible to formulate a strategy yourself through other marketing channels, but SEO requires experience and expertise. You also have to remember that SEO is an ongoing process, with a minimum of three months needed to start achieving the desired results. Budget a minimum of $4,500 monthly for three months with a reputable agency to form an effective SEO strategy.
Optimizing Your ICO/STO Through Email Marketing
Email marketing can form an effective part of your ICO/STO strategy but can prove to be a costly approach both financially and in your ICO’s/STO’s reputation. You should not send marketing emails to individuals without first obtaining their consent. There’s a limited exception for your own previous customers called the ‘soft opt-in’, but sending unsolicited ‘spam’ emails could damage your company’s reputation, the ability to send further emails, and incur a financial penalty.
A good long-term solution is to build your own email list, but this takes time. For many ICOs and STOs this is simply not possible. While taking shortcuts in email marketing may bring in quick results, there exists the clear potential to cause more long-term harm than good. Agencies provide a solution, as they have their own email lists with people that have ‘opted-in’. It is also possible to perform some sort of email marketing on a smaller scale by yourself. In all cases, it is important to build your own email marketing list in order to optimize your interest base.
The cost: Outsourced agencies can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 to carry out opted-in email marketing. Strong lead capture with clear opt-ins over a period of time can give you a healthy list to market to. If done by yourself, this can cost between $500 – $1,000 on a monthly basis.
How a Bounty Program Can Boost Your ICO/STO
A bounty program is one marketing channel that is proving to be an effective part of any ICO/STO marketing strategy. Structured as an incentive-based rewards methodology, bounty programs provide compensation and incentives that can be used to attract investors and other stakeholders to your ICO/STO. Many ICO/STO marketing campaigns operate some form of bounty program, with offers available throughout the duration of the ICO/STO. Bounty programs can be good in some cases, but not all. You need to carefully review and make a decision about it on a case by case basis. If you decide to do a bounty program, you should start as soon as possible and end near the pre-sale.
Airdropping has become another popular method for attracting attention to your ICO/STO. While the concept of distributing free tokens has been implemented in many ICOs/STOs, there needs to be a clear and planned strategy in place in order for airdropping programs to be successful. If an ICO/STO begins airdropping too much and giving away too many tokens, it will raise concerns for some investors. When something is too good to be true, it normally isn’t true. Carefully consider the pros and cons of an airdrop.
Formulating a successful bounty program requires balance and know-how. If the right offers are provided, airdropping can be a superb way of generating interest and garnering investment. Offer too little, or no rewards at all, and you run the risk of not optimizing your campaigns. Offer too much and there is a good chance that some investors will view the ICO/STO as a scam or not a worthwhile investment.
The timing of airdrops should coincide with when you want to draw the most attention to your ICO/STO. Generally, the two most advantageous times for airdrops are before the pre-sale or between the pre-sale and main sale.
The Cost: Companies exist to oversee the bounty program from start to finish, and cost around $3,000 – $7,000. It is recommended that any ICO/STO should set aside between 0.5 – 1.0% of their tokens specifically for bounty programs, depending upon the project’s individual needs.
Getting your ICO or STO on specific sites which list ICOs/STOs are great for ICO/STO coverage and exposure. There are some free sites which you can get listed on, but the best and most popular ICO/STO listing sites will charge a premium. Note that even if a site doesn’t specifically mention STOs, they likely include security tokens on their list as well.
The Cost: An outsourced agency can provide the best and most comprehensive coverage for around $20,000. The cost of an effective in-house ICO/STO listing strategy is normally within the $5,000-$10,000 range, plus any costs to manually administer.
Events and conferences centered around the crypto and blockchain industry are being held globally every week. Attending, sponsoring, and even hosting crypto events are great ways of networking and communicating your ICO/STO to interested parties. Events and conferences provide the perfect opportunity for face-to-face communication. The costs and benefits of attending or hosting events will come through trial and error. In our experience over the recent months, most events are a waste of time and money. There are still a handful of really great events that you should factor into your ICO/STO marketing strategy, but don’t expect to gain a lot of investors at these events. A clear, well-presented message and product at a great event should increase chances of stakeholder investment and is good for brand building overall. If you do decide to attend some events we suggest to gauge interest and create meetups focused on your ICO/STO parallel to these events.
In addition, these events should be attended by whoever you’ve chosen to serve as the “face” of your project, whether it’s the CEO, president, lead programmer, or marketing director. They should be well-spoken, sociable, and knowledgeable about your project as well as the blockchain in general.
The Cost: Can vary widely, depending on whether you are a paid speaker or a paying attendee. If you will be setting up a booth, you’ll have to factor in those fees as well as the cost of having several people to staff the booth, and any promotional items you’ll have available. Finally, travel costs will need to be taken into account (unless you’re participating in a virtual event).
Post ICO/STO Marketing
The ICO or STO is over and you may think that the time has finally arrived to put your head down and focus on finishing the project. While you have finished meeting your soft cap and/or hard cap, you have not finished marketing. It’s vital to maintain an active social media presence in the post ICO/STO marketing phase, as well.
Your investors will have questions about the project’s progress. Quiet social media channels and unanswered messages can lead to rumors of an exit scam.
Additionally, it’s important to keep engagement up so that when you do have a finished product or other exciting news, your posts get seen. Social media algorithms rely heavily on engagement rates, so keep people talking while you’re working to ensure you don’t lose the benefits of all the hard marketing work you did during the ICO/STO.
During the post-ICO/STO phase, it’s important to send out regular updates about the development process. Investors want to know when they’ll be able to use your product, and when the coin will be listed on exchanges so that they can buy more, or sell some of their initial investment. Weekly updates go a long way to maintaining confidence in your project.
This time is also a valuable opportunity to educate users about how your platform or app will work. As you develop alpha and beta versions, you can invite your audience to test them, provide feedback, and help you hone your user tutorials. You spent a lot of time and money gaining this audience in the pre-sale and ICO/STO phase. Don’t let yourself lose their engagement and trust.
The Cost: You can ease back a bit on the frenzy of social media marketing, which means your post ICO/STO marketing costs will likely be less than they were during the pre-sale and ICO/STO phases. The smart choice is to plan and negotiate for post ICO/STO marketing as part of your initial contract with an ICO/STO marketing agency, so that there are no surprises about costs. This will also allow you to continue working with the same team rather than worrying that they’ll move on to a new project.
5 Quick Tips for a Better ICO or STO
1. Have an Engaging Story to Tell
You have a product and now you need to tell the world about it. Make your ICO/STO story interesting, engaging, and understandable in a way that will inspire people to buy into your vision and invest in your mission.
2. Have a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
It is important to have a minimum viable product (MVP) in place. This shows people interested in buying into your ICO/STO that you have more to offer than merely the promise of a product.
3. Know Your Audience
Despite the increasing global popularity of ICOs and STOs, a successful ICO/STO marketing strategy still needs to be focused on the right market segments to produce the best and most cost-effective results.
Put simply, if your offer isn’t transparent, it could act as a repellent towards potential investors. People want to know exactly what they are buying into, as well as know the people behind the product. A lack of transparency will reduce interest and negatively affect the amount of money you are able to raise.
Compliance is an area that is becoming increasingly important for ICOs and STOs in 2018 and beyond. Rules and regulations are being put in place which will need to be adhered to. Although still considered to be a grey area in many countries, implementing a compliance process -- as per the SEC guidelines -- from the very beginning can only help your long-term ICO/STO strategy.
Get the Attention Your ICO/STO Deserves
More companies are using ICOs/STOs instead of traditional funding routes, and more money is being raised via ICOs and STOs. Competition is increasing and so are the restrictions and regulations surrounding marketing ICOs/STOs. You need your token to stand out and be seen by the right people in the right manner. Remember, you only have one chance for a first impression.
All of the most successful and best ICOs/STOs, without exception, enlisted the services of ICO/STO marketing professionals. The experience and expertise these firms bring will reduce costly mistakes and allow you to reach the audience you are targeting. Moreover, the right ICO/STO marketing agency will help you formulate a marketing strategy that will get the attention of the crypto community at large.