Blockchain is a relatively young sphere. Until fairly recently, it remained a semi-closed geek club where the much-lauded decentralization and anonymity were reserved almost exclusively for those in the know. That was, to a large extent, thanks to the near-impenetrable product design & branding combined with a cryptic user experience (no pun intended) that permeated the sphere.
Today, things have objectively become a lot better: with the rapid growth of the sphere, we see a constant influx of brilliant product designers and UI/UX specialists are making blockchain startups shine and stand out not only within the sphere but also far beyond. However, there’s still much that needs to be learned, and today we’re going to break down what issues still live in blockchain branding and UX design, as well as how to address them.
First, let’s talk about what branding is.
As a business owner, you have your targets: to hit sales and attract new customers and investors, and whatever else propels you in your field. Your business is what it says in your reports.
As a brand, you have a mission — a duty to carry out in the name of your customers’ benefit. The ultimate goal of blockchain technologies is to enable permissionless transactions, as well as transparency and accessibility of records stored. But what exactly is a brand?
And here’s where most of today’s blockchain startups and brands fall short. It’s the question: who exactly are you branding to?
There are loads of different businesses tailored to serve the needs of other businesses. Their marketing exists within its own ‘supply chain’ and can ignore the end-user.
Blockchain is like the Internet – its purpose is to connect, and if you’re planning to brand a blockchain product, you need to make this connection your key marketing point. You’re branding directly to your customer, and it’s in your best interest to make your product as accessible as you can.
There are several core issues that keep blockchain and decentralized finance apart from the rest of the world, but they can be roughly summarized as follows:
Many blockchain startups, owing to their level of geekiness, simply fail to realize the importance of branding and treat it as something that comes last. This is by no means how the future looks, and you should always make your branding key.
Even those who do realize the importance of branding often tend to approach it without any competent advice, which is a really thin ice to tread on. Mind that the best brands you know outside the blockchain sphere all have dedicated branding and marketing departments. These are staffed by people who specialize in these fields and do nothing else – but that’s why they excel at what they do.
Blockchain developers are objectively very smart — many of them smarter than a large number of their non-blockchain counterparts. It’s fair to say that their brightness and technological insight is what enabled blockchain in the first place.
However, when it comes to UI, UX, and other aspects of branding, it’s these features that often serve as a stumbling block rather than a green light they should be. Many blockchain and crypto startups focus way too heavily on the technical side of things and provide brand descriptions, advertising, and customer interactions decipherable only by other blockchain devs. Think about where Coca-Cola would be if it were marketed to other coke manufacturers.
Branding should come from the place of what kind of experience the user will get rather than what kind of features can make this experience happen. That’s not to say that smart contracts aren’t important – quite the opposite. But keep in mind that smart contracts and decentralized apps they’re always there to serve a purpose.
As a blockchain developer, you should always keep in mind that the ultimate goal of your product is to help – but help what? That is the question that you and your brand alone have the answer to.
To answer it, you need to define the no. One thing that brings tangible value to the end-user. Your business may have several different applications, but there should always be a way to sum up, the essence of your brand in one sentence.
Next, you need to define your target audience. You can use relatable, IRL-like avatars and define what exactly your target audience values. You shouldn’t limit yourself to just one avatar, though, as there are different types of customers that will bring in different levels of long-term/short-term demand for your products.
However, for each type of customer, there should be an answer to one question:
What is it that they need and that your brand could give?
Even if you’re running a tech initiative targeting blockchain specialists – you should pin down exactly who your target user is.
Blockchain is a strictly technical field that’s meant to solve strictly human problems. However, when it comes to making blockchain accessible, many developers step on the same rake over and over again: they don’t make it look human.
If you look at the big tech, you’ll notice that even some of the most tech-focused brands have human faces and relatable stories revolving around their products — and that’s one of the reasons why big tech is big.
As Theodore Levitt said, “Kodak sells film, but they don’t advertise film; they advertise memories.”
One feature that makes crypto and blockchain so cryptic is the near-impenetrable UX design. If you throw a glance at some of the earliest crypto exchanges and services as an unprepared user, you’ll likely never want to do it again. This correlates with the points above: as blockchain is a tech-heavy sphere, most of the UX solutions in it are anything but approachable.
You’ve got all sorts of visual noise, clutter, and repetitiveness combined with a lack of visual hierarchy. Even some of the latest and the most widely-used crypto and blockchain projects have these issues, and that’s what keeps blockchain outside the home of the average mainstream user.
The future of blockchain branding lies in the accessibility of blockchain products. The only way to achieve that is to adapt the UI and UI to the average human being. Every winning piece of hardware ever (such as the iPhone, for instance) has been tailored to the way humans perceive and interact with the world, not vice versa.
The truth about branding is that at the stage of development, not many people (if anyone at all) outside your team can recognize the potential of your project and, therefore, can’t really relate to it and care enough as a result.
That is what’s called a Brand Gap: the distance between what you have to offer and how much people care about it (and why they should).
Your goal from the get-go should be to bridge this gap between your vision and the currently indifferent minds of your potential clients – the minds that will form the gut feeling, i.e. shape the future of your brand. It’s creating a unique virtual reality around your product.
Below, you’ll find some tips and ideas to keep in mind that will help your branding shape up in the best way possible.
Every visual solution should be back by the idea that expresses the essence of the brand or the unique feature of the product.
As said before, the world of blockchain is replete with new ideas, most of which are actually pretty cool. But how many blockchain initiatives can you name off the tip of your tongue? Probably it’s the ones you are an immediate user of, along with some of the most well-known ones.
One way to connect with your customer is to provide some valuable free content. Don’t be greedy with the “try the teaser, pay to actually use it” model. Try to find something really valuable that your brand can actually benefit from providing for free – and give it to the user.
Free content is something that’s always in high demand, and the more accurately your content hits the users’ needs (and the better the quality of the content) — the more likely they’ll form an emotional bond with your brand and recommend it to others.
Clearly formulate the ‘reasons to believe’ — key features, advantages and selling points of your products. Every customer gauges the value of a brand by two meters:
Defining both in advance will help you not only find and retain clients but also will generate a lot of word-of-mouth positive advertising among them.
Keep a consistent tone of voice and visual style. Inconsistent communication is like addressing your audience as ‘homies’ on one platform and ‘dear ladies and gentlemen on the other.
If you have several products, consider umbrella branding. This model implies one visual constant (part of the logo) and a number of derivative sub-logos made by varying names and brands. This way, you’ll both be recognized as one global brand, and also all the products within the global brand have distinct identities. An example of that is Apple (iPhone, iPad, iMac etc.) or Google.
Fonts give lots of hidden non-verbal cultural clues about the project and its character (serifs, contrast, bold or thin, static or dynamic, experimental or conservative). They can attract, and they can repel — you’d best be sure which it is in your case.
Now that you know what blockchain product design is about let’s talk about how to choose a blockchain design.
Before you use the services of a blockchain design agency, you need to establish what exactly you expect from your product design — whether you need to market your project to a wider audience or to a more specific group of users with blockchain expertise. Think through your future brand’s key values, user insights and unique features. The more detailed the initial task is, the more precise and measurable the result is going to be.
Have a run-down of your entire company infrastructure and identify what products and services you’re going to market. Also, you need to pin down what blockchain networks your project is going to span and have a clear understanding of how feasible the features you’re trying to implement will be on those networks. Your choice of blockchain design agency will ultimately boil down to how well you understand your own business processes.
Before venturing out into blockchain development, you need to have a clear vision of what the design agency can or cannot do.
Study the portfolio and the background of the team. Find out whether they have big, global clients or specialize in smaller-scale startups.
Pay attention to what users they target and, of course, whether or not they seem to have a good understanding of blockchain technology.
Check out the diversity and relevance of the design styles they use. Find out whether they find unique aesthetics for every project or just copy the current trends.
The partners will reveal a lot about the agency. Take note of any claims about big, industry-leading partnerships and validate them on the partners’ websites.
Also, pay attention to their expertise in blockchain development. As a rule, the longer a blockchain design agency has been around, the more tasks it can handle.
How a company communicates can also make it or break it for you. Go through their social media and study their public interactions and decide if you fund their tone professional enough. Also, you can inquire as to how the team communicates with its immediate clients — whether they can hold phone or video calls and if they’ll be available on call throughout the design process.
Find out more about the process of working on a project like yours.
Also, it’s important if you can have meetings with specialists (art directors, designers, programmers), not only managers. The more direct contact with the whole team, the better.
Find out what workflow is going to suit your project best: classical ‘waterfall’ r&d cycle or agile cycle with weekly milestones. Not every agency supports agile.
Blockchain technology is a very specific field that calls for a specific toolset. When choosing a design agency, pay attention to their software tools of choice, the programming languages they use and whether or not they offer scalable solutions to ensure the growth and adaptability of your blockchain project in the future.
Also, find out if they conduct user testing and monitor user flows before and after the product is deployed.
The use of machine learning will be a big plus — as the worldwide trends shift towards automation, you should be ready to take advantage of AI as well.
Ask the agency what KPI they suggest for the project. It’s hard to measure branding success, but it’s possible to meet and measure marketing objectives and metrics.
As said before, all business processes, including business development, branding and marketing, are best entrusted to dedicated teams with proven expertise in the respective fields.
Even if you think you have a good idea about what your branding is about, you should always get an extra pair of eyes to curate the web development of your project. You can trust ICODA with the full range of branding and product design measures. We’ve been in the game for years, and we can say with full confidence that we know what makes a blockchain project shine. We develop your brand strategy in close collaboration with you at all times, and we can pretty much guarantee you’ll like the result.
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