Taking Crypto Mainstream: Crossing the Chasm Using Starbucks’ Playbook

It is no secret that the crypto community is still trying to find use cases that bring blockchain and cryptocurrency into the mainstream. The technology has seen waves of adoption through the Initial Coin Offering (ICO) craze, the CryptoKitties era, and the growth of blockchain-based games and gambling applications. However, usage remains relatively small and confined to the early crypto adopters. According to crypto-tracking sites BitInfoCharts and DappRadar, there were 650k Bitcoin addresses (similar to individual accounts) active in the last 24 hours and fewer than 250k daily users across Ethereum, EOS, and Tron — the top blockchains powering applications.

Recent crypto announcements from mainstream heavy hitters like Facebook and J.P. Morgan have renewed the excitement for bringing crypto to the masses. As momentum builds, crypto is clearly facing the “crossing the chasm” moment that Geoffrey Moore described as technologies try to bridge from enthusiastic early adopters to the more pragmatic early majority. Crypto growth is undeniable — estimates place the number of crypto wallets at about 35M worldwide, up 50% from this time last year — but still a far cry from mainstream adoption. As crypto races toward the chasm, it needs a new approach to find its way into the waiting arms of the early majority on the other side.

Crossing the Chasm — Finding Crypto’s Early Majority

As is almost always the case, it is not the technology itself that attracts a mainstream audience but rather how it is communicated. The chasm is littered with amazing products and technologies that just could not connect with consumers. The early majority wants to see it in action, to talk with an expert about it, to read reviews and understand how it will help them. They need a story told in their own language that overcomes their suspicions and makes them curious.

In this communication game, crypto has some strikes against it. Blockchain technology and crypto applications can be applied to a wide range of use cases, but that enormous opportunity leads to confusion as hundreds of possible use cases drown out the signal and create paralysis from too many choices. In addition, real onboarding obstacles make it hard for mainstream audiences to try it for themselves. Each step in the process — creating a wallet, acquiring crypto, transferring funds, and using a crypto application — has a learning curve that needs to be overcome. Further, crypto has thus far been dominated by megaphones rather than customer service. Ask a simple question on Crypto Twitter, Reddit, or Facebook, or try to get help directly from a crypto exchange, and you will see firsthand how hard and frustrating it can be to find answers as a newcomer to the space.

This communication gap is the chasm that truly needs to be crossed, and one of the most successful brands in the world has provided a roadmap.

The Starbucks Playbook — Changing the Rules of the Game

The first Starbucks store opened in 1971. At that time, the coffee industry was experiencing a race to the bottom, focused largely on price and sacrificing quality through cheaper beans. The typical cup of coffee was terrible but the price was right. However, Starbucks saw an opportunity to reach the coffee lovers who wanted better coffee and were willing to pay for it. That approach to sell high-quality coffee to coffee aficionados spearheaded Starbucks’ market positioning and growth through the mid-1980s, at which point they were facing their own chasm and had to do something different to reach a mainstream audience.

At that time, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz visited Italy and saw how coffee culture there had evolved into small espresso bars being community centers, with baristas at the center of a community sharing a great experience over a great cup of coffee. This insight marked the pivotal turning point for Starbucks as we know it today. Schultz brought that experience back to the US and set out to make coffeeshops here the same social atmosphere that he saw in Italy.

With a focus on hiring baristas who loved coffee and training them to engage in conversation and connect with customers on a personal level, Starbucks was able to make the coffee experience fun and educational. Baristas were experts and loved to talk to customers about anything and everything coffee-related. And as consumers learned more about the process and how to evaluate coffee, their desire for high-quality coffee only increased, which played right into Starbucks’ long-standing “quality coffee” brand.

The coffee community that Starbucks created in each store formed the brand identity and unlocked the chasm-crossing growth that has led to more than 29,000 locations worldwide.

Starbucks-ing Crypto

Starbucks’ story represents an opportunity for a new approach to get communities more involved in crypto. Communities of various sizes and purposes already exist throughout the crypto universe — from small education-oriented meetups to investment-centric crypto syndicates to physical communities of like-minded crypto experts trying to change the world.

These communities already have their own “crypto baristas,” who explain and recommend and simply love to engage and talk about crypto. Right now, that discussion still largely happens among crypto enthusiasts, but these individuals embody the education, evangelism, and handholding necessary to bridge from the enthusiasts to the mainstream. These “crypto baristas” are well-positioned to create safe crypto places for the mainstream communities that they are already part of. These safe places could take any form — marketplaces, content sites, investment clubs, etc. — but as trusted community members, these “crypto baristas” have responsibility for tailoring the education, onboarding, and use case to the needs and engagement level of their mainstream communities. They articulate the community value of crypto while helping navigate the details. At scale, across thousands of communities, this represents a tremendous shift in how crypto is understood and adopted.

As we have seen with Starbucks, community can connect a mainstream audience, generating growth and huge value at the same time. Crypto is inherently defined by community, which can drive both value and values. It’s time to let the community lead the way in crossing the chasm.

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