K-Pop band BTS were No 1 in the UK and US music charts in April 2019. Justin Sun's TRON was ranked No 11 in blockchain at the time. So, what can Crypto learn from Korea's most successful K-Pop export and from blockchain's most brazen self-publicist?
Crypto commentator Suppoman believes other projects can learn from Justin Sun's marketing approach. In his video of 13 Feb 2019 'Why my Top 5 Alts Died', Suppoman makes an empassioned plea for crypto startups to "blow their own trumpets" more.
You need a face
"On YouTube, personality wins a lot" says Suppoman. "You've got to be slightly narcissistic. You've got to have a personality that people gravitate towards. Successful leaders have all of these qualities. Look at Steve Jobs - he was arrogant, but he was brilliant... people really gravitate to that confidence."
The sometimes plastic-surgery-enhanced flowerboys of K-pop certainly provide a face of foppish perfection. A BTS fan confirms that "They've got the moves, their voices are magic and they pretty much make a statement with every album they release. But most importantly, they are CUTE."
Have a story
We've seen the power of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's story of her transition from waitress to congresswoman. The stars of BTS also share their story. One has a father who is a farmer. One was discovered getting off a bus. Two were 'underground' rappers and another was a street dancer. One studied contemporary dance. Another joined BTS at the tender age of 15.
Interesting backstories matter so, if you don't have one, you'd better have the imagination to come up with one. Storytelling is how we make things memorable. It creates free 'word of mouth'. BTS fans love to theorise how each new video 'reveals' more of their story. This keeps the promotional ball rolling.
Justin Sun also knows the power of storytelling. He takes every opportunity to spin a story to his advantage, so much so we now look forward to his next artful spin or dodge.
This mendacious behaviour, like the flip flopping amnesia of politicians (see Trump on Wikileaks) has become a form of spectator sport. Who else would hint at a partnership with one of the biggest football clubs in the world on the basis of an email received aimed at potential advertisers and sponsors?
Be seen to be successful
Suppoman says: "This is what I mean by the difference between perception and reality ... Justin Sun is really being seen to be successful."
A lot of self-improvement books talk about 'acting as if' in order to realise your full potential. This explains the appearance of CZ of Binance on the front cover of Forbes magazine with that 'billionnaire' strapline. Probably not there yet, but who cares?
We've probably all seen similar. I recall responding to an advert for 'Management Trainees'. At the interview my interviewer pointed out of the window to a black Porsche and said "That is paid for". The work was on a commission-only basis with training on the job :-).
The visible signs of success, the promise of rags to riches, is a tactic sales people expose us to all the time, and lack of regulation makes all manner of pretence possible in crypto to ramp up this effect. Suppoman observes that TRON and others are using market makers to artificially stimulate demand for their token."Volume is health." says Suppoman. "If you've got good volume, it means the money is coming in."
There is no question that there is a risk here of being proverbially caught with your pants down. The disastrous Fyre Festival is a gripping lesson in why you shouldn't over-egg the pudding. Instead of the expected luxury lodges and gourmet food, ticket holders arrived to FEMA tents and sandwiches. If you are a pretender, you'd better be sure you can actually pull it off on stage when someone gives you a chance to shine :-).
So, projects need to think about better ways to build public confidence. Creating real demand and delivering a good match for their promise would be the best. With the high price of concert tickets and merchandise, there is no way that K-pop's BTS are pretenders. Their team has done what it takes.
Create a marketing machine
Crypto projects need to market themselves, says Suppoman: "They need to create that marketing machine themselves", but they also need to be "obsessed with making sure their product is actually used."
Suppoman points to TRON - "They're on top of the vital stats that count". You can see growth in the number of transactions, number of DApps, the amount of use the DApps are getting and the amount of developer activity on GitHub.
As for BTS, their social media metrics are a screaming success. Their videos are frequently trending on YouTube. Each of their tweets attracts 250,000+ retweets. Their concert tickets are sold out well in advance. Their music sales are amongst the highest on the planet. And fans still feel like they know these young men. They have built an ARMY.
Cult, community, army
A lot of projects aren't focussed enough on users, stats nor marketing, says Suppoman. Justin Sun, though, is getting this right - "He's getting lots of people, he's building the army, he's building the cult."
BTS are likewise supported by their fan influencers. They absorb the content feed, review it, learn the dance routines and flood their social media networks with K-pop content.
Fans buy the merchandise, every collectible version of the music releases, and watch or attend the concerts. BTS engage with fans and deliver what Jeff Benjamin of Billboard calls “360 degrees of entertainment”.
BTS put fans, the customer, first. They make personal sacrifices. So, K-pop performers operate under a 'no dating' rule to maintain the fantasy they remain romantically unattached. Fans reciprocate by remaining loyal to the point of silence when a new song disappoints. In this sense it's cultish - an accusation also thrown at people passionate about crypto projects.
There's a sense of belonging, purpose, 'hopium' and cultish fanatisism and high energy to be found in both fanbases. The idea that this is compensating for lack of these qualities in the offline life of fans isn't illogical. Who doesn't need hope? The best cults harness extraordinary energy (if in doubt watch the Wild Wild Country on Netflix).
Learn from masters, train for greatness
South Korea is home to “star factories” where kids do music and dance training to achieve their K-pop dreams.
Some of the better funded crypto projects are setting up their own training camps such as OmiseGo's 10 Neutrino co-working spaces across the globe.
BTS have clearly enjoyed a lot of training - including help with their choreography, song melodies and arrangements. In fact, over 20 different songwriters worked on their Love Yourself: Answer album. As a result the songs are high quality.
Well-funded crypto projects don't need to do it all in-house either. Quantstamp brought in a trainer who had survived the Dotcom crash. This helped prepare them for the PR challenges of 2018, when the SEC started writing the rule book for projects based in the USA.
Offer quality products
BTS have released an average of one studio album a year since forming in September 2013. Arguably, the albums have improved! They are estimated to be bringing $3bn a year to South Korea's economy.
Crypto projects should be doing the same, says Suppoman. They need to be constantly building better, more usable, more sticky products. "You can't just make a great product like Ethos, or Quantstamp...You've got to get it out there."
In marketing terms, successful acts work on getting repeat sales by converting first-timers into fans and fans into lifelong supporters.
In crypto projects like Quantstamp we see frequent re-iterations and improvements to their core product in search of a better customer fit, plus efforts to develop long-lasting income streams through new product extensions like their assurance protocol.
With High Performance Blockchain, who have delivered one of the few tangible products of crypto in their BOE accelerator hardware, the focus isn't just on optimising that. They also need to attract developers and partners that want to build on and benefit from their faster, double-encrypted DApp platform.
BTS have similarly struck symbiotic relationships with businesses whose products can help sell faster, including Puma and Rebok.
Of course, in the fickle world of popular music the threat of becoming yesterday's flavour of the month is all too serious. The music performers with longevity have constantly reinvented themselves and given another generation of music lovers reason to sit up and take notice. The chameleon-like David Bowie is a classic example.
Crypto projects like Antshares and Monaco have done one-off rebrands. A compelling change of look, posture and sound might work better. BTS have matured a lot since their 'bad boy' debut with its guns and gangster rap :-).
Obsess with succcess
On the success to-do list for crypto, Suppoman says, should be marketing, encouraging adoption and building addictive, sticky apps.
With seven albums in the bag, BTS are living proof that persistence and ever more 'sticky' releases grow your fanbase.
Determination has a lot do with lasting success, says Suppoman: "The way to be really truly successful is being absolutely, absolutely, cold-bloodedly obsessed with success... I just work tirelessly until I achieve my goals and so does Justin Sun."
Work hard, play hard
This hard work ethic does exist in crypto, evidenced in 7 day weeks worked by Telegram admin teams. Crypto is 24/7 and never sleeps.
But "It takes an extra element to be special...to be number one." says Suppoman. "You've got to be producing things people want to see...You've got to look at your competition and think what am I not doing? How can I be better? Okay, how can I be number one? If you don't, then the newer people will come and usurp you."
BTS have worked out the formula needed to be a No 1 act. Now crypto - your turn.
Ends | 12 May 2019 | Gordon Glass
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