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May 28, 2024

A Marketing Mantra for Founders

By Rachael Horwitz

The noise level in crypto can be . . . a lot, especially when we’re on the upswing of a cycle. Founders should only expect things to get louder online and onchain as an increasing number of projects compete for mindshare among developers and early adopters. Information is near-infinite; attention remains scarce. 

During my time in this space (leading comms at Coinbase and counseling Haun portfolio companies) I’ve watched promising projects get lost in the wash. Lately I've been sharing with founders a little phrase that I was taught in the early days of my comms career while at Google (~2005). If you’re building in crypto right now, consider as your mantra: Repetition doesn't spoil the prayer. 

This line comes from a book called How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg. Here’s how they describe what they mean by this phrase:

In most aspects of life, you need to say something about twenty times before it truly starts to sink in. Say it a few times, people are too busy to even notice. A few more times, they start to become aware of a vague buzzing in their ears. By the time you’ve repeated it fifteen to twenty times you may be completely sick of it, but that’s about the time that people are starting to get it.

For crypto, I think of this mantra as the key to brand building in the early days. Ours is a frenetic, memetic ecosystem and, while counterintuitive, our industry actually ends up rewarding messengers that are focused, repetitive, and disciplined (in addition to other virtues, namely transparency and authenticity). It makes sense when you think about it: what is a meme if not something posted over and over again? It's the repetition that gives it power.

So what does this look like in practice for crypto brands? 

First, write it down. This is step one. Define a core message—a clear and concise statement that captures who you are and what you do. This message should be rooted in what your project offers to your most important audience (devs? traders? other crypto projects?). You can and should consider other audiences because they're listening but communicate directly to the most important group you are building for. Your message should also express your team’s core values.

At Coinbase, we distilled our positioning into the phrase, "Trusted, safe, and easy to use." This message became a guiding principle for our marketing, content creation, media outreach, and even our approach to attracting top talent. In order to reach new people with this message and fast, we knew we needed to kinda meme it into existence. And so we did—we said it over and over and over again. To Twitter at the time (now X), to journalists, to politicians, to current employees and new employees. We layered those words into the product and we baked it into our culture documents and values. We built a strong foundation for the brand and since then the excellent marketing team there has layered onto that foundation a new set of messages including “update the system” as the company has matured and grown.

So yes, step two is repeating the prayer diligently. How does this manifest tactically? Take for example security. If “security” is at the forefront of your value proposition, weave that message into every possible facet of your outreach. Share content about the latest in security practices even if it doesn't apply specifically to your product experience. Chime in to online security conversations. Ensure the copy across your website (including your jobs page) highlights your commitment to security. Connect every new announcement to the higher goal of security. Be transparent, over-communicate, and invite your community on the journey with you.

"Repeating the prayer" also requires message discipline. This is step three. Don't get derailed by distractions or be tempted to engage in conversations that veer wildly off-course from your core values. I can’t tell you how many times founders ask me if they should weigh in on random rumors or topics (especially when a competitor is involved) and how almost always my answer is “I wouldn’t.” Too many messages and value propositions coming from a brand is dilutive. Staying focused, disciplined, and “on message” consistently for a very long time is compounding. It builds dividends.

Some founders I’ve worked with are hesitant to head down this path because they’re worried they’ll be perceived as overly promotional. But the same principle I've seen countless times working with founders or execs preparing for a live television interview or a speaking appearance applies here. Most people have an instinct to underplay their passion publicly. What feels like overselling to you is likely just reaching the baseline needed to resonate within the community and eventually among employees. When you think you're being loud, you're probably only at a 5 out of 10. 

I like to set time-related goals to test how things are going. Six months is a solid amount of time to start hearing your message come back to you. An exercise that might help: imagine yourself at the end of the year at a conference. You meet someone and they mention your project or product. What do you hope they say about what you’re building? Or what it's like to work with your team? Or what they're hearing about what it's like to work on your team? What are the specific words you hope they are using? That's your prayer. Repeat it consistently and connect everything you do back to that message.

Our industry is full of ideas, projects, and promises. Focused repetition is more powerful than a billboard or an ad and by the way, it’s free. That’s how, in the early days, you ensure that your message cuts through the noise.

Rachael Horwitz
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