A New Approach to Branding Blockchains

By Deana Burke

“Brand” as a discipline in the blockchain industry is often an afterthought. In a nascent space that skews technical, teams are focused on engineering, infrastructure, and product roadmaps. While this is directionally correct, even in the most successful scenarios for many of these projects, developer tools and infrastructure will be abstracted away, folded into layers of tech invisible to the end consumer. 

However, there is an emerging category of blockchain-native projects that takes a different approach from previous decentralized finance (DeFi) companies. These projects are defined by their mission to disrupt the status quo. Projects that are leaning into the transformational nature of what this technology enables, removing extractive intermediaries and replacing them with transparent systems. Projects looking to rebuild and redefine our governing financial system into one that is regenerative for communities and the planet. In this growing corner of the industry, loosely defined as regenerative finance (ReFi), builders are leveraging the bleeding edge of tech innovation as a means to an end. They’re driven by values.

Mission-driven projects are 10x harder to build than your average crypto startup. The goals are audacious, and traditional finance (TradFi) incumbents have deep war chests. Many ReFi projects have longer time horizons, with roadmaps spanning over many years, if not decades, and often lack the speculative, get-rich-quick returns found elsewhere in this industry. But if a project comes to life where participants are intrinsically motivated and share a set of convictions about the world, anything is possible.

Plus, this is strategically advantageous in web3, when the tech becomes table stakes.

This alternative approach is a palate cleanser for how the industry has shown up lately, and has never felt more important. What we’ve witnessed with FTX, for example, mirrors the worst aspects of the traditional financial system––what happens when individuals motivated by greed consolidate wealth and power to siphon value. The story of FTX is a story about the perils of centralization. This is antithetical to the principles of web3, and represents the opposite of everything that many in web3 stand for.

What ReFi projects are working to create is a world where it’s not possible for something like FTX’s failure to happen. Where the system is intrinsically decentralized, transparent and immutable, with an expansive ecosystem of use cases for people around the world.

Plus, ReFi builders are making incredible progress across a number of fronts. They’re implementing community currency projects in Kenya, and driving poverty alleviation initiatives like Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) from Brazil to India. They’re building bankless infrastructure for circular trade economies that benefit small businesses in places like Asheville, North Carolina. They’re improving the livelihoods of unbanked coffee farmers in Chiapas, Mexico by providing access to capital at low-interest rates.

So, what does all of this have to do with brand?

As Boys Club Co-Founder and the Celo Foundation’s Head of Marketing, I’ve learned that for these projects to fully realize the impact of what is possible when this convergence of technological innovations are leveraged for Good rather than just Money, brands need to show up like the social movements that they are. They need to feel like Yes We Can. This means paying very close attention to the emotions that the words and the images around the project portray. It’s not just ones and zeros anymore.

Marketing and design teams often focus on branding that more easily associates them with broader industry trends. If you look at websites and social media profiles of blockchain platforms and protocols, you’ll notice an abundance of futuristic neons, deep space analogies, and vaporware. While this can achieve its desired effect for projects looking to position themselves as the “next iteration of the internet,” mission-driven projects must break free from that mold.

Rather than prioritizing the technology through branding, projects should highlight the real world. Human faces, bold typography, and warm, earthy tones can serve as a reminder that while the technology is new to many, the principles are not. We need this technology to feel grounded in order to be accessible, especially in 2023.

Today is the perfect time to take on the challenge of rewriting entirely, or at least expanding upon, what the rules are of what it looks like to be a layer-1. Blockchain companies must improve their storytelling to expand the impact of their work, especially to continue driving progress, and shifting the sentiment in today’s difficult market. Leaders have the power to move hearts and minds about our industry, and I’m optimistic about a future where the potential of these technologies is realized for everyone.

About Deana

Deana Burke is Head of Marketing at Celo Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting the development of the Celo blockchain, and started her career at marketing consulting agencies before co-founding several startups, including marketing and venture firm Agency of Trillions, bitcoin gifting and payments network Gracias, and travel app Allcall. Agency of Trillions was acquired by crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, where she served as Vice President of Client Services. Deana is also a co-founder of Boys Club, a social club and DAO. Deana holds a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and a master’s in communication from the University of Southern California.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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