Last week we saw the launch of the Bitcoin Barometer, a nationally representative study commissioned by the Digital Currency Council and conducted by my employer, Reputation Leaders.
The study points to the growing levels of awareness of bitcoin in the UK. At 71 percent, awareness of bitcoin is higher than both Moneygram (67 percent) and Californian start up Square (37 percent). And as can be expected, Paypal and Western Union top the awareness level chart at 99 percent and 87 percent respectively.
But while more and more people may know about bitcoin in the UK, this does not mean that they think highly of it – quite the opposite in fact. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of Brits think bitcoin has a fair or very bad reputation against just over a tenth (13 percent) who say it has a very good or excellent reputation.
The study further examines what the biggest challenges are for the digital currency in the future. Respondents pointed at two main areas: adoption and communications.
It is a logical finding. Without mainstream adoption, bitcoin won’t make it into the mainstream. If there aren’t places to spend bitcoins, if consumers don’t start spending them and if the infrastructure doesn’t exist to exchange bitcoin into or from traditional currencies, then bitcoin has no hope.
But the battle for adoption lies in increasing public understanding of bitcoin and its benefits.
Respondents say that the biggest communications challenges for bitcoin include difficulty in understanding how it works (38 percent), public perceptions of bitcoin (38 percent) and a lack of understanding of the benefits (37 percent).
We need to see bitcoin companies start marketing bitcoin, not just their own businesses. There is significant venture capital flowing into the bitcoin economy, but where is the bitcoin-wide PR campaign?
In the worlds of INSEAD Business School’s Professor Subi Rangan, “You cannot have a successful business in a failing society”.
He was speaking on the need for businesses to enact the concept of shared value, but the lesson is a relevant one for bitcoin companies too.
The large bitcoin payment processors like Coinbase and BitPay cannot succeed if the society (i.e. the bitcoin ecosystem) within which they operate fails. Bitcoin companies need to work together to create a strong communications programme that will educate stakeholders across business, government and the general population about the benefits of bitcoin.
Only once they have won the battle for moving bitcoin into the mainstream can they start to win the battle for market share among themselves.
Tom is a project manager at Reputation Leaders and sits on the Communications Working Group of the UKDCA and the New Money Systems Board of the Lifeboat Foundation.