Marketing Update: Week of Feb 12, The Foundation From Moving From Sandbox To The Real-World

:mega: TL;DR : Brand Refresh and Website Design Continues, RFPs In The Wild, Ramping Up Events (EthDenver! Consensus! HelloDecentralization!), Super Secret Partnerships.

Branding Efforts

The NEAR team has been focused on building the past 28 months. :gear: We’re now transitioning to Go-To-Market and this is requiring not only a different mindset but also different approaches – including the evolution of the NEAR brand. :rocket: This is a sneak peek into what goes into this evolution.

Our team works closely with the Dev Team Leads and our partners. :muscle: There’s been a lot of discussion around moving from a sandbox environment to the real world. This is why a brand refresh is important now more than ever. The NEAR brand touches everything in the ecosystem in some way.

:arrow_right: Here’s a helpful deck:arrow_left: to get all of us on the same page for how we think about Branding at NEAR and our products and services (not just our website but the brand as a whole – EVM+Bridge, our wallets, education, and more.)

What is Brand Strategy? :face_with_monocle: Brand strategy is a disciplined process used to build awareness and loyalty. It is driven by leadership but requires buy-in and participation from all. :earth_americas: It about alignment (Vision, Action, Expression, Experience.) Think of it as the single point of origin for everything we say and do. :point_down:

Fast forward - In our Branding working group, we narrowed down an Archetype (basically a way to help us define the personality we want to embody as project and further connect emotionally to Developers and Founders/Makers. :point_down: At this stage of NEAR in 2021, we felt the Explorer Archetype best resonated with our Vision of “A world where people have control of their money, data, and power of governance.” and our Mission to “To accelerate the world’s transition to open technologies by growing and enabling a community of developers and creators.

Besides working cross-functionally and with different partners, internal teams, Leadership, and community members, we tasked a few notable brand agencies with an RFP outlining our goals and timelines. This includes:

:white_check_mark: Refresh the Brand Identity to reflect maturity and growth.

  • Explore new concepts based on the strategy
  • Challenge assumptions and help refine conceptual vision
  • Engage and test concepts with Developers
  • Everything except the logo is on the table
  • Collaborate with internal Brand team

:white_check_mark: To capture NEAR’s Vision with visuals and motion.

  • “Embracing the Explorer” is about engaging and empowering developers and early adopters on their journey
  • Explore visual concepts that mimic real-world exploration
  • Static Visuals
  • Motion Visuals

:white_check_mark: To create an immersive web experience.

  • NEAR enables a new land of opportunity for those who participate
  • We want the website to feel like you’re exploring a ‘new land’ and can easily find your tribe and the resources you need along the way
  • The NEAR ecosystem provides a diverse set of opportunities for all people, not just developers
  • While being visually engaging, and immersive, the website will need to perform well from an SEO standpoint while strategically driving ‘top of funnel’ growth

We have a lot of these pieces now in motion now and it’s worth sharing that partnerships (like exchanges and companies like Flux, Mintbase, and Figment) recognize what we’re building and WHY we’re building it. Developer Success is at the heart of everything we do.

So we want you to think about the NEAR brand from moving from this… :point_down:

To a mood more like this… :point_down:

The Brand Agency we end up choosing will take this mood and brand concept to a whole different level with the right polish. We are discussing a very different look and feel to our brand. One that has dimension/layers (not flat and one dimensional as we are now), one that feels alive and constantly moving, competitive, differentiated, and a brand that is elemental (not space-themed, cartoonish, overly-used blockchain icons or absent of creativity.) We’re excited to share more with you in the coming weeks and want to hear your thoughts on this.

Events

Our team has been supporting our ever-growing event pipeline including: EthDenver, Consensus, HelloDecentralization! and more. We’ve got a busy year in store.

Partnerships

We’ve been heads down with planning marketing campaigns and rolling out our partnership pipeline campaigns – this includes companies/projects building on NEAR and also exchanges working to support NEAR’s growth. While you may not always see what we do (due to NDAs), know that we are constantly working hard on campaigns behind-the-scenes.

Upcoming Product Launch Support

Another area we’re in the thick of planning for is product launch support (ex. Codename: Project Aurora). Each product or solution at NEAR requires a dedicated cross-functional team to drive and support along the way so while this isn’t “marketing driven”, it does deeply involve the marketing team.

We are happy to report we hired more content marketing support and are rolling out a new process around amplification requests. This will be shared next week.

PR Agency

Last but not least, we should be able to share more about the PR Agency we’ll have supporting NEAR’s ecosystem in 2021. We super excited to take our stories and announcements further.

:fire: Are you feeling the excited for 2021? Let us know what you think below!

Thanks for your support,
NEAR Foundation Marketing Team

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Thanks! Where would we find the content roadmap for the next couple of weeks?

Super nice to see those values in this brief

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Preface:
This isn’t personal. This is about strategy. I apologize in advance for sketching a harsh reality, but we are a crypto network and crypto is an ideological WAR. We need soldiers not outsourced mercenaries.

Overall Feedback
We know ourselves better than anyone and we are also what our community and apps building on us make us. Why are we outsourcing to some expensive agency that is going to (a) not embedded (b) likely to get it wrong and © alienating our community?

My opinion on ROI from brand refresh:

  • zero new developers
  • alienate existing developers and community
  • expensive and time consuming
  • no metrics, testing, iterative approach or framework; so how can we expect quality work?

Key Point:

Is anyone telling us why our current brand is bad? Do we have metrics of people who don’t like it? Where are the companies telling us they won’t build on NEAR because they saw a meme?

I’d argue this requires more exploration.

Warning:
If we take too sharp a turn and end up looking too “corpo” or slick in a “re-branding” overnight, we risk alienating a lot of people who already have a pre-conceived Notion of what NEAR is.

Questions:
Why are we hiring a branding agency? Please don’t!
We have a brand Brand - NEAR Protocol We DO NOT KNOW it’s bad!
We have an incredibly capable designer @jake :heart:
We have a marketing team that should know / iterate on our strategy and brand :thinking:

Why are we not iterating based on metrics and testing with our community and wider audiences?

Key Point
Marketing can NOT work in the shadows with an expensive branding agency and then do an arbitrary “big reveal” like an enterprise company.
This will fail… miserably!!!
This isn’t the 90s and we’re not Microsoft.
(our community will be SO MAD if we do this without them and waste a lot of money on it) CC @nima

PS

What I want from marketing.

We have amazing teams and they publish status updates:

I want to see marketing doing “research” and “journalism” by reading these updates and spinning prose and content around them.

The marketing department should be covering our internal development teams every day like we’re walking down a red carpet at the Academy Awards.

Parting Thoughts
Here are some organizations. Most teams at NEAR are Google or Facebook. The executive team is Amazon.

image

We need marketing to look like Google! See all the connections being made!

We need the work done making the connections.

PPS

Speaking of branding, the tagline, “Embracing the Explorer,” is confusing for the team (and blockchain community) who refer to the Explorer as this thing: https://explorer.near.org/

CC @illia @nf_erik @potatodepaulo @waverlymaven @mallynear @ashert

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Hey Matt,
Thanks for the feedback. I don’t think your view is a harsh reality. It’s an opinion. There is a big difference. NEAR serves a variety of segments. The goal of putting this in the forums was to get all kinds of opinions and identify gaps and opportunities. Right now, our brand could be positioned much stronger to align with the original vision of the Co-Founders and also competitive marketplace positioning.

As to your question if people are telling us the brand is bad – YES. Yes, they are. Here’s some sample things we are hearing from internal teams (including the lead devs at NEAR) as well as our main partners building on NEAR such as Mintbase.

:arrow_right: Project Aurora Team: “We are losing much needed developer talent because of our current branding. When we interview devs for the project, they Ponies with rainbows and Nearkats is polarizing. It is not the right message and is affecting our recruiting efforts. We do not want to call the project “EVM”, “Rainbow Bridge” or have Nearkats riding ponies with rainbows.”

:arrow_right: Mintbase Team: “I love the tech but every time I see the NEAR community it’s not really a place I like to be. The brand is horrible. The Nearkats are horrible. It’s a flat brand from the 90’s.”

ROI on brand refresh is to go outside of the silo we are in now in our own community. While we’ve heard rainbows and Nearkats appeal to ETH Devs, NEAR is targeting more than just ETH Devs. We are targeting Devs with talent beyond Ethereum or even blockchain.

The current brand is polarizing - our Leadership team recognizes this and has heard it from various parties over the years. It appeals to a niche segment, but not the wider segment hoping to move beyond the sandbox environment into real-world use cases.

Cost wise, it’s not expensive or time consuming. We’ve done a workback with the Project Aurora Team, our exchange partners, and ecosystem partners and it aligns well with a very solid Q3 strategy of New Brand, New Products, New Partner Launches, New Website. It signals we are in a Go-To-Market phase.

As for testing the brand concepts, we are sharing. We have Mintbase as one of our “sounding boards” in the Brand Working Group along with Team Leads such as Peter D, Arto, Illia, Eric, Alex S, and more.

Our own brand designer, Jake, has also shared he is not super proud of this brand and it doesn’t live up to his standards for what he wanted the brand to be. It was a compromise based on what the team had to work with at the time and we have since evolved with new products and new solutions that should fit within a house of brands ecosystem.

To be fair, when the brand was designed – there wasn’t a Vision, Mission or Values to work from. It wasn’t until January that we had this. This new brand should be a closer reflection of the original Vision than the one we have today.

Marketing isn’t working in the shadows. There’s been a working group with key sakeholders involved and it’s also why we posted this in the forums for wider feedback.

As for what the marketing team does - I’d like you to take a step back and look at our team in Nov 2020 when I came onto the team. :arrow_right:This Strategy Deck will help you understand what Marketing does and has been doing. :arrow_left: Just like every team at NEAR, we are BUILDING a product and service to serve the NEAR community but it takes a strategy, time, and the right skill set.

:eyes: Here’s what I walked into in November 2020:
→ No brand strategy, marketing strategy, no content strategy, no social media strategy, or ecosystem product marketing strategy.
→ Broken funnels across our main website.
→ Confusing UI and UX with data in our dashboard showing where people were getting lost and not converting.
→ No way to track MQL (marketing quality leads) and no CRM.
→ No SEO.
→ No Event Manager, Project Manager, Growth Campaign Lead, Social Media Lead, Content Manager, no PR agency, no Content Writers. Hard to plan and execute with major gaps on the team.

:muscle:So before we aim a spotlight on the brand, we have to fix these major gaps so we can scale. Otherwise if we attempt to launch anything of consequence, we will FAIL.

We now have a skilled marketing team. We have explored brand architecture – with the Leadership team, by the way. We don’t want a Google brand. Google is a branded house. There’s a reason our Founders left Google. That is not the future they wanted.

Our Founders want diversity and openness. This equates to a House of Brands architecture… Not a Branded House like this:

I’m reading between the lines you want to see more content, more amplification, more of everything you see as marketing but our team is not set to serve the entire ecosystem this way. This is why we are moving away from Marketing embedded into teams to Disciplines (like DevRel) having their own Product Marketing Team. NEAR has failed at trying to execute without a strategy or without knowing who our target audience is – and it’s not just Eth developers. We didn’t even have our segments identified until last week.

The NEAR brand goes beyond the current NEAR echo chamber or rainbows, ponies, and Nearkats.

I’ll follow up with another post on competitor positioning and branding. I think this will help shape why NEAR is behind with our brand when it comes to marketplace positioning.

Thanks for the feedback.

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I wasn’t aware marketing was doing any of this. This is great!

This is a much clearer picture of what is happening RE: brand and why. Thanks for taking the time to explain it all.

  1. I had no idea internal teams and partners felt this way about our brand. All I hear from the community is that they think our cats and rainbows are cool and they want T-Shirts. Self admittedly, I’m probably in an echo chamber.
  2. Hard to know why things are being done, if there’s no summary of the research in the original post.
  3. IMHO Working with an external company will still be an incredible challenge if they don’t know crypto / our tech / our people. Also it will be expensive no matter what. Branding is expensive.
  4. I share the vision of house of brands.
  5. I share the vision of decentralizing marketing into the respective teams.
  6. I’m not so hot on “explorer”. What/Who is an explorer?

Ok actually trying to help now:

IMHO (big opinion time)

We can’t come up with a brand and support it’s existence on our own. We’re not strong enough in this department.

Even if we hire for the brand, we all need to embody the brand to make it a reality. Again, we’re probably not cohesive/strong/large enough a group to pull this off. We’re not Coca Cola.

The best thing we can do is get behind / piggy back / spin an existing brand or concept.

Case Study:
Our most successful event to date was Ready Layer One a riff on Ready Player One. We had streaming numbers that are still probably the #1 or #2 most streamed talks in crypto since Corona started a year ago. @ashert @crasskitty

Some powerful concepts to play with (there’s more):

We can borrow and develop our own brand from these concepts.

The hard work of getting into the consciousness of Crypto / Tech is already done!

@sashahudzilin @nearmax are big sci fi readers. There’s additional culture references we can draft off and “tweak” to be more professional, strong and cohesive.

Thanks for the update!

I am aware marketing didn’t exist prior. I’m providing feedback because I don’t want to see marketing or our team spend a lot of effort on something that won’t work.

Thanks for publishing the weekly update. I think all this context in the reply would have been perfect for the weekly update update.
e.g. “we talked to these people, found out X, so we’re going to try Y”

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Matt, I appreciate your passion. All of this feedback (good, bad and ugly) reveals one thing: that you care. This is how I see all of the feedback that has been received regarding the brand since the beginning. The early developments of the NEAR brand were based on very little strategy and has evolved based on the tactical directions that NEAR has taken over the last few years.

The goal was always to take a more strategic approach to brand-building, but at the early stages of our journey, we weren’t quite able to plant a flag yet. We were still figuring out what we wanted to be when we grew up and the tech was iterating like crazy. As a result, our brand is drastically under-developed IMO.

The strategy that has been worked through (as Alexandra shared above) will now allow us to move forward more quickly and efficiently while giving our community and the greater web a clearer picture of what NEAR stands for and where the project is going. It is not about organizational hierarchy as much as it is about a strategic approach to growth.

With strategy as the guide, we now have a TON of work to do to build the foundations for a brand that can be internalized, embodied, and extended by the community. A brand system doesn’t exist to restrict, but to empower the NEAR community to co-create the brand moving forward. To do that efficiently, we do need a core set of strategy, guidelines, and assets.

Now, while I appreciate (very much in fact) your vote of confidence in me as a designer, however it is time for me to give up a bit of control here in order to help us move forward more quickly. Enlisting the help of an agency is not to ‘out-source’ our brand, but to enlist the help of more people to execute the vision that we have established, and to do it quickly (<3mo). If I tried to do this alone, you would find my lying on the road dead next time you drove through (or flew over) Nebraska. :slightly_smiling_face:

The strategy and the vision that we have put together has not been executed in a silo. It is one that has been extracted from our founders, our community, and those who are putting their heart and soul into NEAR. Most importantly, this vision is designed to engage the brave developers and creators who will be the first to explore, build, settle and become citizens of this new land, paving the way for the masses that come after them.

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@Tinsman the feedback I received recently from some younger investors is that NEAR is obscure, so there is clearly a need for this process.

The challenge with the current brand is that it is exclusively tailored towards devs. I realize this is a target audience for growth, however as the interest in NEAR and the number of apps grows our audiences will segment. The brand should be an overarching theme that addresses these audiences:

  • Engineers / Sysadmins (Devs and Validators)
  • End Users (Community & Apps)
  • Executives (10-foot view of NEAR)
  • Investors (VC Firms (for Devs/Founders), NEAR Staking, etc)

Brand Image
I really like the selection of the “Explorer” as it resonates well with the devs and the crypto community at large.

Mood Boards:
I’m not in love with the mood boards, as they are contained and boxed in. From a design standpoint they should be more focused on an architectural design (lines, schematics) instead of a landscape, at the end of the day this is technology. Color should be an accent, not an element.

Feel:
The design needs to be more open and not constrained by color and objects. That adds the progressive feel and is common in tech for an open and explorative feel. There are no boundaries only the expanse of the NEARVerse to explore. Designs that encompass distance.

I echo some of Matt’s concerns with agency selection that it may be a difficult challenge unless they have been heavily engaged with crypto and tech.

Overall, I am completely enthused this process is underway! I would also be more than happy to participate in any further discussion and contribute to this process in any way.

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This is close to being finalized. Still tweaking verbiage a bit around the “Mind Your Growth” and Remove Hurdles" sections. The Leadership team is working with a strategist on this and I feel confident we will knock final version out shortly. It’s been a huge team effort. I’m thrilled you like it.

An additional point, I failed to include is that MEME’s are a central part of crytpo and defi. So finding ways to repurpose the NEARKat in a MEME oriented way to encapsulate the fun and playful side of NEAR in the Discord and Telegram realms could prove useful. :slight_smile:

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I love MEMEs and am not anti-MEMEs. :slight_smile: We should have them. That image was from a partner showing that overall the brand isn’t quite on-point. Love the feedback. Thanks!

I meant to circle back on this publicly… in short, YES. Content roadmap will be shared tomorrow (Friday) for next few weeks so community and teams can add and work with us. We’ve got an internal version with some stuff that we can’t share widely (just yet) so we’re having to clean up a few things before sharing. We will also have a Call for Content channel so folks can post things they’d like us to amplify. At the upcoming Town Hall, we’ll go deep on both brand and comms. Thanks for bring this up!

This response is more for community than Matt but I wanted to follow up on this a bit more for folks reading along. Passion is powerful and it’s awesome to see passionate voices letting the marketing team know how they feel and see the brand. Our team’s goal is to keep pushing for more transparency and discussion – Matt led the way on this and that led to deeper discussions and shed some light on where there’s pain points across the ecosystem that we can work to fix.

At the heart of the frustration there’s a few things that bubbled up:
1.) There is a lot of folks who love our Brand and a lot of folks who don’t. We are evolving. Change can be scary. One way to mitigate fear around change is to make sure everyone has the same information, knows the “why”, and has a chance to weigh in when possible. We have been chatting with lots of folks across verticals, channels, products, partners and teams. It’s important we hear voices so we can make sure what we collaboratively build can be flexible enough to offer customized experiences for many segments.

2.) Nobody wants NEAR to be corporate (ex. Look like Microsoft.)

3.) Authenticity is important – especially to devs. We need to honor this. This is a priority for us.

4.) Marketing is ramping up to be more in the trenches (we are hiring!!!) and we are lucky to have awesome support with our Guilds and Community team to keep us connected. We still need to fill in the gaps around hiring a crypto native Social Media Lead and Marketing Campaign Lead. Plus we’re ALWAYS looking for passionate and knowledgable writers!

5.) We are making a Google Form so that people can weigh in there privately if they aren’t comfortable jumping into the discussion here. Then we can talk about the feedback we’re getting without specific people having a light shined on their names. (Link will be available shortly.)

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I have never hated a brand more in my life. I am embarrassed to send people to the NEAR website as they might get confused it’s a neat spot for a pizza party for 9-year-olds or a coloring book advertisement. The MEME’s are used by Sasha and Eugene for the most part from what I can see, that’s not a MEME culture, it’s internal branding if only used by employees, not the community. Mintbase needs more dapps on NEAR to survive, if I wasn’t sold on sharding and didn’t know you pre-decision, I would have headed to somewhere else a little more adult. This is a serious piece of elegant, fast, and powerful technology, not peewee’s playhouse. Latching on to / copying Ethereum’s “fun” is not the answer, that grew organically for them not NEAR. Brand is important. It might not be solved by an outside agency, but it needs outside help somehow, please.

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Will be happy to help with my feedback on branding and NEAR mass adoption strategy and tactics, a few folks found my feedback helpful in the past.
What is the easiest way to participate? I struggle with long English writing so ideally would prefer 15 min interview session or similar.
Thank you!

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Hey @sasha We just created a new Brand Refresh site and open form to help guide everyone through the brand refresh, get more feedback, and help with transparency. Open Brand - NEAR Protocol We will be updating it weekly with progress and feedback sessions. I’ve also sent you a DM so we can connect in real-time. I’m based in Texas. Thanks for reaching out. I appreciate your willingness to help out with this!

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Finally decided to publish my super simple prezi about my first impression on NEAR back in January 2021:

I hope some finding make sense.

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Love this :star_struck::rocket: … is it ok to share this more broadly and ask trusted advisors/community members to follow our progress and share their feedback?

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1,we do not create a chain or corp. but a community (country without boarder and KING).NEAR Protocol is the future of Ethereum 2.0 & the bridge of open web base on its Night shade technology (Alexander)and users experience and ownership allocation and governance thought (illia) .

2,NEAR token economy should do more, and the token price is the first brand of a pubic chain,the more hodlers, the more powerful of the community, at the first stage of chain。

3,thanks,NEAR team.slowly,but surely.

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It was good to chat with you today on this. Your insights were constructive and helpful. Thanks for taking the time today @sasha.

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