Back in February 2022, cryptocurrency-exchange brand, Coinbase, was riding high — following its simple yet ingenious show-stealing ad at the SuperBowl. Featuring a QR code pinging left and right in the style of a retro screen–saver, the ad — which cost around $13 million — caused Coinbase’s landing page to receive 20 million hits in a single minute.
Although the crypto market was already showing worrying signs of a potential future crash even then — the SuperBowl ad appeared to represent a watershed moment: crypto had finally gone mainstream.
Though this felt like a huge leap forward, there was still a mountain to climb for the countless brands in the crypto category — whether they belonged to the currencies themselves, the exchanges that facilitated trading, or the services that processed payments and transactions.
In order to be recognized as legitimate financial brands that could convince everyday consumers to hand over their hard-earned money — and not just “crypto bros” — they would need to take a fresh look at their identities and work tirelessly to build trust.
And then the crash happened.
The value of Bitcoin has tumbled from an all-time high of $67,500 to around $19,000 at the time of publication — all but wiping out the precipitous gains enjoyed by investors since late 2020. One currency, Luna, sunk close to $0 and wiped out “$60 billion of investors’ money” in a flash — while services such as Celsius, Vauld, CoinFLEX, Babel Finance, and Finblox froze or limited withdrawals. And, as values continued to fall, many investors found their entire life savings squandered.
It’s worth remembering that cryptocurrencies were originally sold as a means of taking back control from central banks and increasing transparency, with blockchain technology making transactions more secure and traceable. As of yet, it has struggled to convince a majority of consumers. Even before the crash, 1 in 3 Americans said they would not invest in cryptocurrencies because they didn’t think they were legitimate. And now, with millions being lost, it’s clear that the industry has a severe issue with trust.
Even if it manages to pull out of this bear market and regain its lost value — in order to take the industry to the next level, Cryptocurrency brands need to invest in building trust as a central pillar of their identities.
Let’s explore how this can be done.
3 Ways That Crypto Brands Can Build Trust
1. Take Responsibility For Past Mistakes
Consumers genuinely have relationships with brands — as strange as that might sound — and though they’re primarily transactional, emotions do still play a large part in driving these relationships.
So it should go without saying that if your brand makes mistakes, it’s better to be open, honest, and ready to demonstrate how you can improve — just like in a real relationship!
When brands mess up, consumers want to see contrition and they need to feel confident that the same mistakes won’t happen again. Indeed, research from 2015 suggested that companies that accept responsibility rather than trying to deflect blame benefit from doing so.
A good example of where this didn’t happen is the Financial Crisis of 2008 — which caused a huge rift between financial institutions and consumers. Even after 10 years, two-thirds of British people still didn’t trust banks. That banks were bailed out by taxpayers while the industry never took real responsibility may be a leading cause of this rift.
Of course, activists and films like “The Big Short” have shown consumers what was really happening in the lead-up to the crisis, but for those institutions that made poor decisions, little has been done to show they’ve learned from their mistakes.
Take a page from Uber’s book — which attempted to turn a new leaf on its poor reputation following the company’s chaotic expansion into new territories and toxic culture under its former CEO Travis Kalanick.
Here, the brand tacitly admits to its past mistakes and makes a strong case for how it's going to move forward in the future. Given the recent leak of confidential Uber files that have revealed even more scandals from the Kalanick era, an updated version of this campaign might be on its way soon.
2. Lead With Values
Research has shown that perceptions of trustworthiness rely on three pillars: competency, honesty, and benevolence. That final one, benevolence, is vital for financial brands — essentially, consumers need to feel that the brands they are entrusting with their money are on their side and will work to benefit them.
To build this type of trust, crypto brands need to step up their current branding to demonstrate that their business is built on a series of important values. Think about the difference between Coinbases’s SuperBowl ad and this one from British bank Lloyds.
While the ingenuity of the Coinbase ad cannot be denied, Lloyds leads with its values — building trust by vowing to look after consumers and stand by their side. If cryptocurrency brands are ever going to move past the small but dedicated audience that they currently engage, they need to develop their own set of brand values and use these as the foundation for campaigns.
By outlining what their company stands for and how it can be a force for good, cryptocurrency brands could regain consumers’ trust.
3. Build Better Brand Propositions
Simply put, a lot of consumers don’t trust cryptocurrency brands because they don’t really understand how they work or what their function is. It’s an infamously convoluted new technology that comes with a host of confusing jargon — such as “blockchain” and “bitcoin mining” — that doesn’t make sense to the average consumer.
Whatsmore, the benefits of cryptocurrency, beyond it simply being a speculative asset, are similarly nebulous. That it’s not regulated by a central bank and therefore “not subject to currency manipulation” is one of the main talking points usually offered up by cryptocurrency converts. But is this something that consumers really care about?
By building a core USP around “elaborate financial theories”, crypto brands could limit their reach and by trumpeting the lack of oversight this system has as a main selling point, they could be undermining trust in crypto as a brand.
It’s worth remembering that most people don’t understand how complex financial instruments work, but this didn’t really stop traditional financial brands from building trust (until the 2008 crash that is). This is because those traditional brands are really good at simplifying the complexities — and volatilities — of the systems and processes that function at their core.
In order to build trust, cryptocurrency should build better, clearer brand propositions that demonstrate how this new technology can benefit consumers, in clear and easy-to-articulate ways.
For example, one big perk that cryptocurrencies could potentially offer to consumers is lower
fees for processing transactions — allowing consumers to access and use their money for a fraction of the cost that banks charge.
By building their brands on more relatable brand propositions, cryptocurrency companies can build trust — moving the industry on from its current obsession with fringe economic ideas and, of course, the feeling that many investors at the moment are merely speculating.
While consumers still might not trust banks after the faults of the 2008 financial crisis, we accept that they serve a useful function in society. Cryptocurrencies still have a lot more work to do to convince the majority of consumers that they can play an important role in the economies of the future.
The brands of cryptocurrency companies will play an important role in reshaping these views, but their success hinges on whether they can establish legitimacy and build trust. At the moment, the entire industry is bogged down in complexities, associations with “crypto bros” and toxic online culture. Add in allegations that it’s little more than a speculative bubble waiting to pop, and it appears to many that the bubble has already burst.
Once cryptocurrencies recover from this current “bear market” though, rather than returning to business as usual, they need to re-evaluate their relationship with consumers and work on building trust.
Otherwise, the currency of the future may just be resigned to the past.