Bitcoin, Brands and Brand Positioning

Bitcoin started out as a fringe movement among crypto-anarchists in the open-source community, but has rapidly gained acceptance as a legitimate alternative to fiat money as it pertains to digital transactions. Accordingly, the volume and value of mined Bitcoin has seen exponential growth since this crypto-currency was first launched in 2009. As per available data, nearly 13.28 million Bitcoins have been mined so far [1]. Meanwhile, the value of a single Bitcoin has increased from £4.25 in July 2012 to a high of £753 in November 2013 – an increase of roughly 17600% [2].

Bitcoin was originally developed as a fast, safe and cost-effective currency for digital transactions. Consequently, its earlier adopters were tech-forward users in the open-source community. Despite its growing clout in the mainstream, Bitcoin’s most aggressive proponents remain largely entrenched in this community.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn that brand Bitcoin, as it exists today, has come to be associated with words like “underground”, “alternative”, and even “anarchic”. This lends it considerable weight as a branding tool for certain businesses. For others, the negative connotations of Bitcoin, along with its proliferation through underground marketplaces, can be largely detrimental to the business’ brand image. Adopting and accepting Bitcoin through online channels, therefore, is something a brand must consider carefully before making a decision.

Bitcoin as the “maverick”

virgin-bitcoin

There are some obvious business arguments in favour of using Bitcoin, namely, the low transaction costs associated with the currency, emphasis on privacy, storage of coins in digital wallets, and speed of transactions. This has made the currency especially useful for digital-only transactions (i.e. purchasing digital products) where user privacy is important. For example, the popular website Reddit, which emphasises anonymity, accepts Bitcoin as a transactional medium largely because of its privacy features (Reddit’s community is also tech-oriented, which helps in higher adoption). Since Bitcoin is also decentralised and unregulated, it has earned the image of being a “pro-internet freedom” currency.

Integrating Bitcoin gives a brand the added advantage of aligning itself with Bitcoin’s brand associations. As noted earlier, Bitcoin has come to be associated with the “alternative”. In some ways, this is not dissimilar to the debate between open-source and closed-source software in the 1990’s, when some brands adopted open-source solutions such as Linux to position themselves as the “mavericks” who care about “community” and “digital freedom”.

Consider the example of the popular domain registrar, Namecheap. Namecheap has consistently positioned itself as the alternative to the more mainstream registrars (chiefly, Enom.com and GoDaddy.com). To this effect, it has aligned itself with pro-internet movements such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal fight against the SOPA (“Stop Online Piracy Act”) in the United States in 2011 [3]. Namecheap later started accepting Bitcoin in 2013, noting in its release statement that the company considers itself the “pioneers in the space of innovation and online freedom” [4].

Bitcoin-Brands

In fact, the top websites that accept Bitcoins is almost entirely composed of brands that identify themselves as the “alternative” [5]. This includes Virgin Galaxy (space flights), OkCupid (the free alternative to Match.com), PirateBay.org (free, pirate alternative to file sharing), WordPress.com (free alternative to paid Content Management Systems), Reddit.com (alternative to Digg), Mega.com (alternative, restriction-free file sharing), and Overstock.com (online-only alternative retailer).

When a business adopts Bitcoin, it is signalling to its users that it is a “maverick” that cares about issues such as internet-freedom, user privacy and being tech-forward. Brands that self-identify with these qualities would benefit the most from adopting Bitcoin – at least in the form that it exists today.

… Bitcoin as the “criminal”

website-seized

However, the privacy and anonymity of Bitcoin has also made it the favoured transaction medium in underground marketplaces known for trading illegal drugs and contraband. The volume of this trade is immense, although given the secretive nature of these marketplaces, the exact figure is hard to ascertain. By one estimate, roughly half of all Bitcoin transactions are to buy drugs online [6].

The large volume of these transactions, coupled with the recent closure of Silk Road [7] (the largest underground marketplace) and massive security breaches at popular exchanges like Mt. Gox [8] have affected Bitcoin’s image in the mainstream. Besides “alternative”, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that some have also started associating words like “illegal”, “scam” and “unsafe” with the currency (howsoever factually untrue it may be) [9]. Naturally, this association rubs off on brands who choose to adopt the currency. For mainstream brands that don’t have tech-forward audiences that understand Bitcoin, this may even backfire.

The keyword, thus, is “alternative”.

Given the current state of Bitcoin, every brand should make careful considerations before aligning itself with the currency. While on the one hand, it can amplify the “maverick” image of a brand that identifies itself as tech-forward, pro-internet freedom and “alternative”, it can also harm the image of a brand with customers who don’t fully understand Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies.

Further Reading

[1] https://blockchain.info/charts/total-bitcoins?timespan=1year&showDataPoints=false&daysAverageString=1&show_header=true&scale=0&address=

[2] http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2013/11/29/bitcoin-hits-record-1242-as-it-nears-value-of-ounce-of-gold/

[3] http://venturebeat.com/2011/12/27/namecheap-offers-discount-for-domain-transfers/

[4] https://www.namecheap.com/support/payment/bitcoin.aspx

[5] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonmatonis/2013/05/24/top-10-bitcoin-merchant-sites/

[6] http://lsvp.com/2013/08/15/about-half-a-percent-of-bitcoin-transactions-are-to-buy-drugs/

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/silk-road-closed/

[8] http://www.wired.com/2014/03/bitcoin-exchange/

[9] http://www.debate.org/opinions/is-bitcoin-a-scam

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University Brands: The Importance of MOOCs

Whether we accept it or not, all of us are in the business of information these days. From the coffee shop to the fashion boutique to the largest of multinational brands, it cannot have escaped many people’s attention that both prominence and profile are the fundamental marketing objectives of our time. And, as the points of contact between the organisation and the consumer continue to proliferate horizontally, rather than hierarchically, it is the shared experience and the common interest which will always dominate the marketplace of this newly levelled playing field.

But how does our current information revolution relate to the spheres of higher education and to the brand identities that many institutions have carefully cultivated for themselves over the years? Will distance learning across the web ultimately prove itself to be an evolutionary leap in how we approach the sharing of knowledge and our understanding of how it is taught? And is the online model a financially viable one: that will generate not only sufficient revenues to sustain itself, but to also attract the leading institutes and the brightest students into participating? These are the key challenges facing the first generation of massive open online courses (“MOOCs”), as we see them today.

moocs-future

There is something of a strange irony when considering the length of time it has taken for the first massive open online courses to find their way into the public domain. Because the technology of the internet was originally developed with the specific purpose of allowing academic bodies to communicate and to share knowledge across the globe. It is a particularly harsh reality then that the vast majority of learning institutions have, until now, proven themselves as slow to adapt to, or to even recognise, the central role that the online world will play in the future of education.

From a technical standpoint, there is no reason why this should be the case. Both text documents and streaming media content are amongst the most basic of web content to manage. So the slow exploration of the digital realm by academia is more likely a result of factors beyond either the technical or the logistical. Instead, it should be assumed that the most frequently aired doubts raised about MOOCs by higher education institutions (“HEIs”) – those of financing, and a perceived undermining of reputations – have been the primary deterrents up until this point.

empty-lecture-theatre

In this regard, HEIs have positioned themselves alongside the corporate media, which has been equally slow in finding new ways to exploit the online environment as a method of securing global audiences. Both media and academia fear a loss of income that this may entail, but history has taught us that we cannot shout at the waves of change. Only this week, the writer and social commentator Will Self wrote of the “irrevocable severing” of media and information from an assured revenue stream. MOOCs are the way that institutions will remain active and responsive to the demands of an online, global marketplace for learning.

In this regard, the success of MOOCs will be a self-realising one. The institutions which break new ground online will achieve a greater global prominence for their brand, and as their popularity inevitably grows with a broader uptake of courses, so too will it attract the previously sceptical competitors into the market. With this added degree of competition, the quality of the MOOCs on offer will, in turn, reach new heights, and so the prestige of offering a respected MOOC will feed back to the institution itself. As with any form of online social media, success is governed by participation.

mooc-word-cloud

This is not to suggest that institutions will immediately offer a full degree through the MOOC platform, but insight and background into the subject, which will capture the imagination and whet the appetites of new students. Indeed, there are many benefits from creating an identity for MOOCs which is distinct from on-campus learning. In the USA, for instance, Ivy League universities such as Stanford provide online students with a Statement of Accomplishment carrying the Stanford brand, but not certificates or course credits. Far from being a limitation of the MOOC system, it is just such an innovative approach that benefits every party, from the student, to the HEI, to the MOOC platform itself. A Statement of Accomplishment will be an invaluable addition to any student’s CV. To the institution, it will make their brand a prominent and highly recognised one and – most importantly of all – one that is increasingly in demand.

The first MOOCs are about to go live in the UK and, tellingly, the most notable participants are those institutions which are well known for championing innovation over tradition. The University of Southampton offers students from across the globe the opportunity to learn “How the Web is Changing the World”, whilst the University of East Anglia will investigate “The Secret Power of Brands” in partnership with brand agency Wolff Olins, cementing its reputation as a world leading institution for brand leadership studies. If any one course is emblematic of the entire MOOC experience, it is this.

university-brands-online-learning

So, can universities turn a lively, open and online learning experience into a viable and self-sustaining revenue stream: one which attracts the brightest and best students in high numbers? It is still early days in the MOOC life cycle, but anecdotal evidence from across the globe is positive. In Asia, where online learning is an established part of education, individual tutors are already earning substantial fortunes by making their courses available across the web for a small fee which is still a tiny fraction of the cost for on-campus education. At this preliminary stage, it would be damaging to promote the inclusion of paywalled course content for domestic MOOCs. But their popularity would suggest that the concept of online learning is attractive to the general public and that it is, indeed, a growth market.

We are still very much at the dawning of this social media age. Although there are lessons to be learned from the early pioneers of our new digital frontier, it would be naïve to presume that we have already seen the high water mark of this new approach to the sharing of information and marketing strategy. As the online environment evolves, every organisation – from the corporate to the academic – will need to respond and reposition itself to maximise the full potential of its own brand.

Further Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303759604579093400834738972.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-23069542

http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=2012080915084470

http://elitedaily.com/news/business/english-teacher-makes-4-million-per-year-in-south-korea-yes-you-read-that-correctly/

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/09/hatchet-job-mark-kermode-review

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Top Tips to a More Successful Blog

The success of your blog is determined by the number of visits that it receives from your target audience. Your content needs to appeal to their interests, and they should know where to find you in the first place. Without your readers, you will end up wasting the information that you are posting. Being at the top takes a lot of hard work and creativity, and you should know how to maximise the tools that are available at your disposal.

Here are some tips on how to attract more readers and increase your website traffic:

1. Know Your Audience

You must have a comprehensive understanding of your target audience. Learn about the things that they desire and the type of information that they want to know about. Using surveys is a good way of gathering information about your target market. You can create an online questionnaire and ask for feedback. You can also consolidate comments from previous customers and readers and assess the types of posts that they are more inclined to comment on. Knowing what your readers want will make it so much easier for you to decide what kind of content should be posted on your site.

2. Use Social Media Tools

You need to utilise social media tools to reach a wider audience no matter how good your content may be. Having great content does not automatically gain you a wide readership or audience. Fans need to be able to share your content with their own followers and subscribers using social media plug-ins and share buttons. Most of the major social media tools including Twitter, Facebook and Google+ provide options for sharing.  All you need to do is to make these buttons available and visible on your web page.

3. Capitalise on Hot Topics

Once you have identified the general topics that interest your readers the most, you need to create multiple content revolving around these hot topics. Find different angles or points of discussion that pertain to the same basic concept or idea. If your audience is interested in planting corn, for example, then you can write different articles on how to plant corn, the challenges faced by corn farmers, the biggest misconceptions about corn farming, suggestions on how to maximise corn harvest, and earning from corn farming. The key is writing multiple articles on the same topic without being repetitive.

4. Harness the Power of Emails

It is a known fact that most readers who visit your site will no longer come back for a second glance. There is a big possibility of them losing the original link that they clicked on or simply forgetting about the name of your website. It will be your responsibility to attract these readers to be returning customers. Having them sign up or subscribe to your page using their email address is a great way of encouraging them to come back to your site.  Once they sign up, you will be able to email them links to your latest blog posts on a regular basis.

5. Guest Blogging

Take a look at the most popular blogs in your industry and you will notice that there are multiple writers providing content. There are a lot of advantages to having guest bloggers write for your website. First, it provides variety and fresh ideas for your site. You will also have other people promoting your website as they promote the content that they provide to you. You will also forge strong alliances and friendships with other bloggers and authors in the industry. Lastly, you do not have to provide articles and content all by yourself.

Applying these tips to your blog will improve the chances of increasing and maintaining a healthy traffic of loyal readers. Building your presence online using social media tools and tactics is a great way of boosting your business and gaining more customers.

Top 7 iPod, iPhone and iPad Applications for Students

April 18, 2012 |  by  |  Technology  |  No Comments

Advances in digital technology have made education more interesting and fun.

What used to fill up high school lockers and bags are now conveniently stored in mobile devices such as the iPad and iPhone. These devices provide access to thousands of learning materials both online and offline.

This medium of learning is also perfectly suited for the lifestyle and aptitude of today’s youth and here are some of the most useful applications available from the Apple App Store:

1. iBooks

iBooks is a great way of making books available on your mobile device. It has an entire library of books to select from and can even be used to access PDF files. You can use the iPad to conveniently view textbooks, eliminating the need for heavy books and large backpacks. This free application also allows the user to highlight passages and add personal notes.

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/ibooks/id364709193

2. iTunes U

This application provides access to courses from leading universities and schools right on your mobile device. You can easily take free lessons created by top instructors and professors. Course materials such as books, documents, videos and presentations are also available through this free application. Improve your knowledge with more than 500,000 learning materials from different institutions around the world.

http://www.apple.com/uk/apps/itunes-u/

3. Convert Any Unit Free

This application can convert dozens of unit types and is a useful tool for Math and Science subjects. Converting units has never been easier. By simply typing in a value at the “From” field, the “To” field is automatically limited to the desired unit category. This app also has a built-in calculator and is free to download.

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/convert-units-for-free-1-unit/id337224035

4. iStudiez Pro

This app helps students to manage and plan their schedule. It has a built-in planner that allows the user to input information such as class details, instructors, and personal information. An entire section is also devoted to homework and assignments, and organises the information by date, priority or subject. The “Today” view also summarises important details, making it easier for the user to manage his time. Push notifications and reminders can also be set up and iStudiez Pro only costs £0.69.

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/istudiez-pro/id310636441

5. Dictionary.com

This mobile dictionary is a great application that includes a thesaurus, word etymology, and an audio tool for proper pronunciation. It is very easy to use and is even available offline. This free application is essential for students who wish to improve their vocabulary and learn new words.

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/dictionary.com-dictionary/id308750436

6. The Chemical Touch

The periodic table can be a complicated and scary chart, but it can be easily accessible in your iPhone through this app. It provides a touch sensitive chart with a wealth of information and links to Wikipedia. You can know more about your favorite element with just a few taps.

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/the-chemical-touch/id288060442

7. Simplenote

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/simplenote/id289429962

You can use the boring, yellow note taking application built-in with your iPhone, or you can download a free application that allows you to effectively synchronise information with your other devices. Simplenote connects with a web interface and allows the user to access your notes from a laptop or another mobile device. This app also allows the use of tags, pins, and sharing.

Most of these applications are free or are available at a very reasonable price form the Apple App Store. They are very easy to use and require no expertise. They are also effective tools in encouraging students to study and learn.

Increase Twitter Exposure: Gain More Twitter Followers

Twitter is one of the best ways of promoting your business or profession. It is widely used by millions of people across the globe, and it is a great way of making people know about the products and services that you offer.

Your success on Twitter depends on the number of followers that you have. Each Tweet or status message can reach hundreds or even thousands of potential customers.

It is therefore essential to work on gaining as many targeted Twitter followers as possible. Here are some tips on how to successfully build a larger number of followers in Twitter:

Content

The most basic rule in using social media tools is to have great content. Even the shortest posts need to be informative and should appeal to your target audience. Give them a reason to want to keep reading. Make it a practice to provide useful information that they can apply to their lives.

Make Your Presence Felt

Tweet on a regular basis to make you visible to your followers, but never overdo it. It is irritating to find multiple tweets from the same person. Some people want their timelines clean, and flooding them with random posts will surely prompt them to “unfollow” you.

Personal Tweets

Unless you are a popular actor or a famous person, avoid posting Tweets about yourself or about insignificant things. Nobody wants to know that you are waiting in line at the local fast food joint. Nobody cares if you are about to sleep or about to bring your dog to the park. Followers want to read posts that will appeal to them. They should be the primary audience of your posts.

Interaction

Build great relationships with your followers by responding to their tweets, re-tweeting their posts, or sending direct messages. This encourages them to reciprocate and to respond in turn. Having a good connection with your existing followers is an effective way of making your presence known to their followers.

Profile

Take the time to write a comprehensive profile that gives an idea as to who you are and what you are interested in. The profile page is one of the first things that people look at before they decide to follow a user. Make yourself sound interesting, and upload a photo that best represents you or your business.

Follow Back

Like you, other people will try to build their audience. Some users promise to follow back people who follow them in Twitter. Use the “Search” functionality of Twitter and locate people in your niche market. Follow them and wait for them to follow back. Do note, however, that Twitter has strict guidelines and limitations on the number of users that you can follow.

Promote

Promote your Twitter profile by adding your link or username to your existing websites, social networking sites, email signatures, and calling cards. The idea is to have as many people know about your account as possible.

Peak Time

If your target market is limited to a particular geographic location or time zone, then it would be wise to be active during peak times. Posting status messages during lunch breaks and after dinner would increase the likelihood of your posts reaching a bigger audience. It will be pointless to post your Tweets at two in the morning when almost everyone is fast asleep.

Offers

Attract attention by providing discounts or special offers that are exclusive for your Twitter followers. This will make your account more interesting to them.
It takes a lot of hard work and effort to build up a big list of followers.

On a final note the key is to be committed to the task, you need to make sure that you update your page on a regular basis and you need to keep your followers interested. But once your mechanism is up and running, it will be much easier to reach out to potential customers.

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