How do we market crypto and the blockchain to consumers? Or do we?

I’ve been mulling over whether as we start to rollout blockchain-based and crypto-economic solutions to the broader market whether the platform itself will matter to the end user.

Whether the language around crypto and blockchain has already entered the mass market vernacular and how this will inform how we position these applications to consumers.

A couple of years ago when early discussions (for me mostly on Fred’s blog) around crypto were more nuanced, less emphatic though equally abstract, there was an early adopter community that believed beyond facts that this was a disruptive change agent for just about everything. And an opposite side that hadn’t really done the work as yet to think critically about the why or why not.

Common ground in these talks was that to the end user in most cases the blockchain was just super smart plumbing and that the ineffable benefits of decentralization would be invisible to the end user couched within an app. And by default, when companies got around to branding products for the marketplace, the platform would simply not be part of the customer connection.

We were just plain wrong.

Not in the power of crypto and the blockchain by any means. But in the accelerated acculturation of these terms into the consumer mindshare. Into mass market awareness if not understanding.

None of us could have foreseen the crazy ride of 2017 where everyone was talking about and trading Bitcoin, Eth and Alt coins. Where your Uber driver, wine shop owner and bar tender, and everyone in between, had heard of the blockchain regardless of the fact that the tiniest minority truly understood it any level.

This is fascinating from a pure social anthropology perspective where in a space of 18 months or so, the world became name-recognition aware of Bitcoin, Eth and blockchain with almost no mass market information leaders. With way more interest that knowledge. And even amongst the developer community itself, widely divergent opinions of what this is all about.

This unique situation where the terms have entered the common language regardless of clarity of definition, is highly informative to how we roll projects out that will touch true end users, not just developers or coin speculators.

How we communicate with customers, how we build perceptions around brands is based on the intersection of who we are and the why of our products with assumptions of what the market believes or is familiar with.

Think for a second about selling some sort of payment app or banking solution to the unbanked of the world, a target for a few of the early projects starting to touch the market.

Will the brands of whichever app the unbanked end up using to move money across country boundaries or store value be simply a bland Venmo type of utility?  Or will its source in the crypto world end up being informative to the brand itself and part of the reason in the customers mind why they choose it over another?

Or whether normal folks buying coins on platforms as dramatically distinct as Coinbase and MyEtherWallet  understand the different between them (one centralized, one decentralized) and how this impacts the cost, ease of use and security of either one of these solutions?

There is always the marketing argument that end users don’t care about anything but utility.

Invariably this proves untrue, a lazy rush to simplicity and accelerated category commoditization. I believe the very opposite will prove true in this case.

This is a wondrous and unique tangle of broad-based misinformation. Potentially the greatest storytelling and brand communications opportunity of an era.

Invariably building a brand, the core expression of who we are, defines the communications language to what the customer believes they are buying. It bridges that gap between reality and perception, us and them.  In tech solutions especially where change and iteration are constant, brand is the instrument (along with community) that engenders empathy and patience with solutions that are invariably not without issues early on.

The marketers reading this will debate the ageless whiteboard conundrum around how laborious it is to educate the world and raise the polemic around whether it is easier to create a new category or clarify or change the existent one.

We simply need to think differently.

This is not the 90s or early 2000s. We can’t simply avoid market awareness or put an E before Commerce, Digital before Communications or Online before whatever.

The power of this revolution is that it captures the imagination and amplifies the awe of what we can accomplish.

You can’t growth hack it into existence. You can’t buy the communities to support you. You can’t fake it.

Welcome to the next era of marketing and communications.

Where communications is the core of marketing and brand an essential element of community building and market success.

Who would have thought that the Satoshi whitepaper would not only change how we think about companies, commerce and communities for social good, but also the language and the dynamics of marketing itself?

If I sound inspired, I most certainly am. As should we all.

Whole Foods Amazon-style is starting to feel like a fail

Whole Foods from its outset was an aspirational and wonderful idea.

Premised on the vision that people would pay a premium for natural and organic products, largely local in origin within an environment where the brands themselves were front and center, connecting directly to the customers.

Happy, healthy shopping to 80s hits in an upscale supermarket Disneyland of sorts.

It succeeded wildly as a brand concept, as well as a successful launch pad for local brands, funding and all.

It failed solidly as a business model as the cost of product acquisition and distribution, the cost to local brands on top of the razor thin grocery model simply didn’t work at scale. Likewise, the Amazon acquisition.

As a customer and previously a vendor, I loved the Whole Foods brand and promise while fully cognizant of the economic foibles and problems inherent in the model itself. I loved it in spite of these issues as an idea that was important to work towards.

With the Amazon acquisition, I was optimistic. Hopeful that Amazon would figure out how to reinvent the paradigm while keeping the vision intact.

I’ve been carefully watching the changes at the store level.

First obscure, low-volume products quickly moved off the shelves often available at lower prices through online next-day Prime delivery through Amazon. Smart change.

Then the newly installed Amazon inventory system wreaked havoc on the shelves of my local store with out of stock SKUs and  less and less product choice. Surprising and counter intuitive from a company like Amazon.

And most telling, the massively growing Whole Foods 365 brand moving cross categories from paper towels to sundries, to cold press juices, t0 frozen ‘responsibly farmed shrimp’ then to dairy.

It’s the expansion of the 365 brand bolstered by the capital from Amazon that had the most promise even though it meant the sacrifice of local artisanal brands. They could in theory produce some things more naturally, more cost effective at scale and push the savings back to the customer.

Step back for a moment to their brand promise to put this in context.

Organic and fair-trade products to customers at market prices with respect for the growers while not forsaking the health benefits of its products to its customers. That’s the core who they are.

I’ll admit that without upending the grocery supply chain and crop production completely, it’s really challenging to scale natural production to feed a national chain, at price points that drive corporate peofits and lower prices to the customer.

I’ve blogged on my hope (here and here) that through efficiencies such as owning the arcane high-cost distribution systems and by scaling organic production through ownership of the crops, they could accomplish this.

All possible with reserves of capital and logistical expertise, which Amazon has in spades.

Enter the recent launch of the 365 industrialized egg line from Whole Foods.

This is possibly the first whisper of the end of the old Whole Foods brand promise, as this product and positioning is little more than an industrialized farming product wrapped in the company’s brand. Something out of a Shoprite, nothing like what Whole Foods has done prior. Not organic, nor free range. Nowhere on their own scale of organic or humane production of animal goods.

This line is being sold loudly as the house brand and I think indicative that capitalizing natural food sources to cut costs is simply not working and no longer the company strategy. Otherwise why the shift?

This truly odd launch under the 365 brand is an indicator that all is not rosy in the Whole Foods plan for brand integrity, healthy food and profits alike.

I’m just sorely disappointed in Whole Foods lack of imagination and for loosing sight of the end game from a brand promise point of view.

There are many companies trying to change the game in our food supply. Rethinking hyper local distribution to cut out the massive chains. Vertical farming in warehouses. Marketplaces to increase supply, simplify access and cut costs at every stage in the supply chain.

If with Amazon’s limitless capital, supernatural logistics and propensity for playing the long-game, they can’t figure out how to bring more natural food, fostering consumer health and awareness to more people at lower costs—well–someone else will have to.

I believe that if you have the imagination and the vision. A brand and a community. The technological will. And a long-term patient strategy and capital, you indeed can reimagine and revitalize the food supply chain. And profit enormously from it.

You can scale organic agriculture and humane farming for the health of the customers. You remove the multiple steps of distribution and pour the profits back to the company and customers where they belong. And you can fund new methods of farming to feed a changed world with increased and different demands.

I am a big believer in Amazon and the history of their acquisitions prior to Amazon, made me think they would be patient, flexible and imaginative enough to reimagine this.

Today they are not.

And there is no model that is not a fail unless all–including corporate profit, third-party vendor margins and us as health conscious consumers–win together.

Food (literally) for thought.

Thoughts I’m taking into 2018

The best habits often become traditions and create value through the very act of doing them year after year.

This is certainly true for the yearly wrap up post that I’ve been writing since 2009.

This year feels different in some telling ways as usually it’s technology that has shaped my year as that’s the pulse of my life to a large degree and my livelihood. And certainly, the tech shifts this past year have been profound.

But today, the important things are more personal, more internal. More about me and how I manage myself in the face of change rather than change itself.

And more about my relations to my communities of interest and friends and how I can contribute to them more significantly.

These are the five most important takeaways from 2017.

Coming to grips with the State of the Union

Too much of my time this past year has been spent reacting to politics. Wasting so much time being reactive emotionally and angry.

I’ve found a more peaceful and productive way to deal with this.

Not with the status quo certainly but with an acknowledgement of core beliefs that drive my decisions of what is worth my time and where tolerance is warranted.

The first is ‘No end can ever be used as a justification for an unethical means’. And second, ‘those without a moral compass have no place in my world’.

I’m simple done with people who don’t operate within these core tenants. I see nothing lost by cutting ties with aberrant philosophies and apologists that mouth them.

Diversity of thought does not include the morally and ethically bereft. There is nothing to learn from them.

Compartmentalizing my personal focus

Without prioritizing my physical health, my mental balance and personal productivity, nothing else truly matters. Without them, I’m less use to myself or those who matter or depend on me.

In the face of increasing distraction, these are my core blocks of time I give to myself each and every day.

Carving out time for exercise and nutrition, meditation and cognizance of my inner space, and daily productivity is at the top of my everyday list. There are few emergencies that disrupt these buckets of focus and self-improvement.

This is also somehow about the micro/macro dichotomy as well.

The micro—that which I personally do and can control–is a far more productive focus for me to have impact on the broader macro elements of my world. Working on me is my best shot at making a difference to the greater world at large.

Embracing crypto as a fuel for imagining the impossible

I took the plunge into crypto thoroughly this year though the bug hit a few years earlier.

The profit of trading coins aside. The craziness of ICOs aside. The rejiggering of capital markets aside. Those are not why this inspires me so.

It’s more personal.

There is a giddy optimism innate to the gestalt of crypto economics that the impossible is indeed doable. When you open the potential for personal empowerment as a manner of economizing change in a new market economy.

I also harbor a growing excitement that this reimagining of the world will include lionizing the arts and literacy along with the technological and economic shift.

I’m all in on this.

We need fuel to do the impossible and this is working for me.

Coming to grips with our individual market relevance

We all need to deal with our professional relevance regardless of where we are in life.

The hyper accelerated rate of change in the tech world in some ways levels the playing field.

Relevance is something that each of us is challenged to bring to the market each and every day. We are challenged not to be special team experts as much as fitting our true expertise into the context of the shifting paradigms that we all work on.

The contextual relevance of what we contribute is the new acid test.

If everything is in flux except the very nature of our value to each new circumstance, this in actuality democratizes value itself as contextual.

We are just getting started

On one hand, the utterly unimaginable is now a near-term possibility.

Autonomous and flying cars. AI systems self-learning algorithms. Global markets economizing themselves on the blockchain. The actuality that each individual could own and control their own identity and data.

This is sci-fi stuff of less than a decade ago.

On the other hand, it is clear to me that we are just barely scratching the surface and that everything today is prep for the real work ahead.

AI honestly is in its very early infancy, more about computing power than intelligence.

The understanding of the science of our bodies is at the very best case, primitive with the most serious diseases that plague the world, uncured for centuries.

Even nutrition, for all its advances over the last decade, is just starting to be recognized as science.

We are not at the end, we are simply just getting started.

This breeds humility. And opportunity. And possibility. And optimism.

I wish all of my community a great New Year and a terrific start to 2018!

I’m raising a glass to change and opportunity for all of us.

Can we tokenize behavior?

Crypto as an onramp for reimagining our world and reinvigorating our excitement for change is my single most important takeaway from this past year.

It takes you down deep rabbit holes of learning. Stimulates unfettered imagining. And somehow instills a sense that anything is possible.

Some of what crypto promises seems obvious, or at least possible from a market perspective.

Like the inevitability of collective micro-ownership of commodities like real estate, art, storage, even energy. These feel natural to the innate structure of the blockchain itself and more important, the possibilities of crypto economic market evolution.

Social behavior though is something else altogether.

The idea that you can incentivize human behavior, tokenize social communities is something we want badly to be true, yet the hardest to truly visualize.

As we built the current social infrastructures over the last decade, we learned that they platformed existent, often latent behaviors. Giving grease to the niche, the local and the obscure, making them global as communities and memes by their very ease of access and use. Broadening connections cross people and shared beliefs everywhere.

We also learned that bolting on social to existent platforms and compensating groups for activities like viewing videos, invariably didn’t work at all.

There is a grounded naturalness inherent in behavioral socialization that simply couldn’t be stimulated no matter how well programmed or marketed.

There are undeniable reasons why we want to believe that the social nets can be rethought within a crypto economic framework.

Blockchain technology as a platform for change simply inspires the possibility of this. And consequently, a large number of the hundreds of white papered ICOs are premised on the inevitability of socially-incentivized networks.

There is obviously as well a techno-cultural backlash against the status quo where the Facebook model monopolizes attention, repurposes personal data, driving corporate profit under the legacy belief that without advertising, there is no way to support the internet.

We collectively want this reimagined.

We want to believe that Facebook can be challenged. We want social democracy along with the financial decentralized possibilities that the very economy and secure identity potential of crypto, in abstract appears to promise us.

This is a tough one to calibrate with reality as both historically and experientially this is counterintuitive to the facts. Certain analog behavioral truths remain sacrosanct regardless of platform dynamics.

Reading scads of ICO white papers which assume this is reality simply because it could be is not enough.

But there’s a kicker here.

We need to step back and rethink how true innovation happens.

If you submerge yourself in the library of everything being written about crypto, you get the sense that we are recreating our transportation, financial, security, credit, marketing and other industries in a better, albeit decentralized fashion. Replumbing with better pipes.

This is the wrong way in.

Crypto envisioning at its best smacks of how the creative community approaches the arts. Where we consciously let ourselves suspend disbelief and in that meditative space of emotional connections, find natural truths and emotions in completely unfamiliar realities and couplings of peoples and ideas.

This idea is emblemized in what my friend Hue Rhodes spoke to me as a game-theory driven world where our emotional nature gets rewired along with the quest for new intellectual possibilities. Where as he put it, this is an audition for human behavioral evolution where we, as actors, perform in uniquely non-obvious ways.

I wonder whether my questions of whether we can tokenize social behavior or communities is the right one.

Why bother to recreate Facebook on a new platform? Why start with efficiency as the first foot forward?

If you look at some of the early but functioning experiments like Steem.it or the prescient writings of Nick Szabo, you realize that thinking differently is not an option, it’s what is required.

Think not of how to replumb or rewire the world, but how to create the environment where interactions can be different, social, within a new economic order.

The creative palate of the crypto economies and communities, may just be the economies themselves and the behaviors that are incubated and normal within them.

Maybe a more useful way to rethink a world without a media model driving social communities and tokenized behavior is not something as primitive as compensation for emotive responses. But a dynamics perhaps where exchange is rethought, value is rejiggered, and socialization finds a different expression where the ‘them’ becomes the ‘us’ and brand ownership and consumer intent are driven by a different script.

Since the beginning of time, artists and humanitarians have created stages and codes of beliefs to act out social experiments to evolve culture past its own restrictions.

In a sense, crypto economies are part of this trend but with the powerful and unique twist of economizing them in collective ways.

That’s a dream I think worth waking up to

Not the mundane presupposition of making emotions transactional, but a contextual shift to make emotions and community dynamics more natural within an economy that supports the individual first, not last.

Food for thought moving into the new year.

The Headspace app

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been searching for a paced way to bring guided meditation into my life for years.

I always had excuses for why I didn’t do it.

Too spiritual. Smacks of too much religiosity.  Too communal and not enough about me.

Then I tried Headspace on a recommendation 22 days ago.

While only just getting started, I’m quite blown away at the possibilities and all in to give this a real shot.

Each and every day I’m finding a value that deeply transcends the 10-minute session I start my day with.

I’ve been cognizant for a long time that compartmentalizing focus is the key to success in the hyper-distracted state of my life and work. It’s an ancient practice actually to carve out short blocks of very focused time on a daily basis to make the remaining hours more productive.

Up to now, the blocks of daily focus have been writing before dawn, exercising while listening to podcasts on topics of learning, and recently, committing to reading offline, giving myself over to someone else’s story or ideas.

Guided meditation was the missing link.

Something that was all about the wellness of me personally was lacking. And while I’m a newbie with Headspace, this feels just right with demonstrable value from every session.

Every morning in hotel rooms when I travel, on my writing chair with samthecat on my lap when home, and always with QC35s on my ears, this is the first thing I do post an expresso.

It starts by letting the voice of founder Andy Puddicombe into my head to kick it off.

The first few days of only 2 minutes sessions were really a struggle, not to focus, but to let myself be guided in that focus. Yet almost a month in, I’m ready to move up to 15 minute sessions.

There are three pieces of this activity that intrigue me.

First–There are very specific and tangible tools that you become more adept at every day. 

It reminds of skiing or strength training as every little bit better you get, the more powerful the experience becomes and the greater the drive to come back and learn more.

Second–This is all about me.

The genius of Headspace is understanding that it is not about their journey, it’s about yours. They let you discover that a softening of your focus, that the act of riding your breath like a wave, and giving yourself over to movements of awareness and its connection to your body, is not otherworldly, it is worldly in the most personal sense possible.

And lastly–That this daily session impacts your day in real ways.

Like a doorway that you step in and step out a bit differently.

I thank wellness guru Lianna Sugarman for the referral to Headspace and am paying it forward to my community.

It’s a free download, though I jumped to upgrade to a subscription almost immediately.

The company was founded in 2012 by Rich Pierson and Andy Puddicombe, who is the voice of the app. He was formally trained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk but the true magic behind Headspace is his simple secularization of what he studied.

There are some 14 million or so users, 17,568 using it right at this moment as I push Publish on this post, but the most important user honestly is me.

Those who know me personally may find this surprising. If that curiosity provides enough motivation to try it for yourself that’s a good thing.

For me this daily exercise simply works and is making a tangible difference. I’m in for the long haul.