Education is the new Marketing

Does Cardano need advertising or the dissemination of knowledge?

Yesterday (October 21, 2020) marked the final deadline for submitting proposals to Fund 2 of Cardano’s Project Catalyst. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll witness history as our community votes on how to distribute real treasury funds to real projects for the first time. Everyone is welcome to browse, leave comments, and ask questions about the 97 finalized proposals by signing up here, and details on how to vote will be shared soon.

I got involved with Catalyst during Fund 1, and proposed an idea for “Open Source, Experiential Learning” that started some great conversations and gained traction within the community. I continued to refine the idea during Fund 2, and in the process teamed up with two other Catalyst participants. This week, Juliane, Roberto and I founded a new company called GimbaLabs. Our initial web site coming soon, and you can read our final Fund 2 proposal here.

My goal in this essay is to share some of our background thinking about why GimbaLabs exists and the role it will play.

I’ll start with a reflection on Fund 2.

One of the stories defining the first few weeks of Fund 2 was the deluge of proposals for funding podcasts about Cardano. Tasked with solving the problem of “encouraging developers and entrepreneurs to build businesses and applications on top of Cardano in the next six months,” community members created over a dozen proposals for podcasts, leading to some spirited conversations on Reddit, Twitter, and within the public Fund 2 Telegram.

It would take a separate essay to summarize these conversations, but in sum, I think they were productive. The entire purpose of Catalyst is to foster community governance, which means having the chance to raise ideas, debate their merits, and arrive at outcomes. In the end, several podcasts withdrew their applications, including the flagship Cardano Effect, as well as AfroFinLab, to which I am a contributor. Counting them today, I see 7 proposals for podcasts in the final list.

Why were there so many podcast proposals? In part it was Charles Hoskinson’s call for them back in August. This in turn bred a Catalyst Problem Sensing proposal called “CH’s Podcast Callout Too Successful”, which may be true. One way to read this is as an illustrative example of a leader’s words moving a market. But I think it’s more than that.

The influx of podcast proposals indicates both the passion of our community and our shared recognition of the work ahead. People want to participate. We recognize that we have to tell the story of Cardano to so many people, and podcasts are one way to do that. Mix the high-level goal of driving adoption with a little dose of pandemic isolation, and we’ve got a great recipe for creating whatever we can from home.

What remains unresolved in these conversations is whether or not podcasts actually successfully drive adoption of new technology. As a community we recognize a need for deeper public awareness of Cardano, and that for now, podcasts provide an accessible way to pitch in. If we agree on that need, then the question is really about how to address it.

The entertainment industry has long been funded by advertising. Of course we can count commercials, print, and the various sorts of ads introduced by the internet. There’s also product placement in movies and TV shows, and a whole world of options within professional sports.

Sometimes, media is the advertisement. “Soap Operas,” for example, were originally sponsored by soap manufacturers seeking to sell to a certain segment of home-makers. Similarly, the term “podcast” is a nod to Apple’s iPod. The medium itself was initially invented by iPod users, not Apple itself, but was soon coopted. These days, most podcasts are accompanied by a targeted message from the show’s sponsors, often read by the show host. I’m a music fan, for example, and when I hear Hrishikesh Hirway share sponsorship messages on Song Exploder, I feel like he’s talking directly to me.

Sometimes, the podcast is itself the advertisement. Corporate podcasting is a viable avenue for brands building strong ties with their users. Within a space like this, how should we classify a suite of community-produced podcasts about Cardano? Would that comprise a distributed marketing department? As potential podcasters, are we interested only in selling Cardano, or are we in it for more than that?

Advertising in the network TV era was centralized and designed to appeal to a broad audience. On the one hand, it was manipulative, on the other, it didn’t try to pretend it wasn’t.

Now featuring double the styrofoam! But wow that lettuce looks crisp, and doesn’t it feel good to dance?

As cable TV arrived, new opportunities for audience “segmentation” emerged. The internet took this phenomenon to the level we see today: filter bubbles formed, algorithms were designed to speak directly to us, keeping our eyes on screens so that we can look at more ads that confirm our world views. The definition of “truth” itself is now under constant scrutiny.

These days, it can be hard to draw a line between being informed and being manipulated. Advertising always disseminates knowledge, but what is the nature of that knowledge?

Try this thought experiment. Create a continuum in your mind that runs from manipulation on one end to understanding on the other. On the manipulation end are things that we don’t need but can be made to want: fast food, sugary soda, cigarettes.

On the understanding end are things that we simply need: a hammer and nails for building, fresh fruit and vegetables for eating, some land and shelter, some simple clothing. I could go a lifetime without seeing advertisements for these things, and I would buy all of them. I understand their value, and that is enough to put me in the market.

This being a continuum, we can place items anywhere on it, and most goods and services will fall somewhere in the middle. I’ve only tried to name some extreme examples. One way to summarize the distinction is that if knowledge and understanding can’t sell something, then we could argue that it does not need to exist and therefore manipulation will play a greater role in marketing. We could draw a parallel between “manipulation” with “consumption” on one end, and “understanding” with “utility” on the other.

Put another way: advertising creates income for people selling the soda and cigarettes. In contrast, knowledge creates wealth: if I have tools, food, space and clothing, I can participate in my community and build wealth for myself.

However you frame it, do you have this continuum in mind? Good.

Where does Cardano fit on it?

Depending on your answer, you’ll have some insight on the sort of marketing Cardano needs to be taken mainstream. At GimbaLabs, we believe that Cardano lies firmly on the “understanding” end of the continuum. As such we are building resources for the Cardano commons and creating educational marketing infrastructure for new startups. We recognize that a new wave of utility is being built on Cardano right now, and that when utility is this high, education is the new marketing.

We have witnessed through the work we already do that it can take some time and effort to help someone understand what Cardano is and what it can do. As difficult as it is to get people to the point of understanding this brand new thing, we rarely see anyone “go back” once they arrive. Compare this to say, Coca Cola or cigarettes.

Any graphic designers looking to make a splash? Who’s going to redo this ad for Cardano? (Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/vintageads/comments/et0lhl/believe_in_yourself_phillip_morris_cigarettes_1951/)

We also believe that adding to the chorus of online media can only take us so far. Not everyone learns from podcasts. That is why we are building real tools to help all people to develop a tangible understanding of Cardano. We believe that in order for Cardano to achieve mainstream adoption, we must get this technology into people’s hands.

We are focused on putting people to work within the Cardano community, which is full of talented people with broad expertise in solving real problems: as shown above, this is in part where all the podcasting proposals came from. We are creating free, open source APIs & Project-Based Learning resources that empower people from different backgrounds to drive adoption of Cardano.

Our Cardano Starter Kits will give people ways to share Cardano in communities by facilitating real use cases. Our Cardano APIs as a Community Service will provide developers with efficient ways to test new ideas and to create utility for Cardano.

We believe that Cardano is a “product” that sells itself to anyone who understands what it is and what problems it can solve. We’re not talking about a product to be sold, we are talking about creating wealth, via use and utility, in its broadest form.

GimbaLabs Mission

Mobilizing everyone in the Cardano community by creating tools and real-world use cases that ignite the public imagination and facilitate adoption.

GimbaLabs Vision

A world where as many people as possible are empowered to solve problems using the Cardano platform.

Get in touch

Journeying toward decentralization with Cardano | workshopmaybe.com

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