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Bitcoin as a Hipster Consumption Item

Op-ed - Bitcoin as a Hipster Consumption Item

The quest to bring Bitcoin to the world is taking us on a journey of discovery. We have not yet found our way to mass recognition or adoption. Granted, these are new technologies and it takes time.

Much of the focus now is on ‘the other 6 billion’: a catchphrase that refers to the potential of p2p value-transfer technologies to enrich the lives of the unbanked and underbanked. Key applications would be remittance and micro-finance.

However, there is a lack of advancement here that is often lamented. Bitcoin, five years into the experiment, is still used by a relatively small group of Western, tech-savvy males with full access to credit and finance.

Here is an opportunity. Perhaps mass adoption is better suited to a Western demographic: The Hipster. At the very least they represent a unique marketing opportunity for enterprise.

Definition and Demographics

In an undergraduate research paper on Hipster Identity Kelsey Henke gives a definition of the term ‘hipster’ and its origins. From this we can draw key market demographics.

Henke notes that ‘Hipster’ is an identifier with origins stemming back to the gentrification of “poor urban enclaves” in major US cities by “young adults priced out of city neighbourhoods”. These “creatively inclined individuals” possessed the “skill-set to renovate neglected housing.”

For an understanding of the identifier as it applies today, something less academic is also useful.

From the urban dictionary (can’t get less academic than that) we understand ‘Hipsters’ are “typically in their 20’s and 30’s” and “value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.”

A clearly identifiable demographic emerges: one that overlaps heavily with existing Bitcoin users.

Today’s hipster is young (20’s and 30’s), progressive, politically aware and not averse to intelligent discussion. The Hipster emerges from the most progressive cities of the Western world.

Today’s Hipster is defined by consumption. Most importantly, as Henke notes, the Hipster exhibits “a greater behavioural trend of discovering, filtering, and assessing obscure cultural products.”

Bitcoin is an obscure cultural product. The hipster represents the lowest hanging fruit for entrepreneurs and startups focused on escalating Bitcoin adoption.

How to Market to a Hipster

Henke’s analysis notes three key cultural characteristics. These characteristics relate to capitalism, class and material culture.

The Hipster is a creature of contradictions. This is the key.

The hipster is characterised by an anti-capitalist and pro-consumerist position. Bitcoin is capitalist in the purest sense of the word. However the word itself has been co-opted.

Capitalism is routinely confused with corporatism. It is actually corporatism that hipsters despise. Bitcoin is fundamentally anti-corporatist.

Any market positioning should play on this strength. Confusing terms should be avoided. It is likely that a Hipster will believe himself to be anti-capitalist, due to confusion over the term. Marketing should be sensitive to that.

The anti-corporatist part of Hipster identity Henke epitomizes in phrases like “you’ve probably never heard of it” or “I liked…before it was cool”. In this sense Bitcoin’s relative obscurity, though growing brand recognition, is a unique strength.

The “compulsion to seek out the obscure” to project a “non-conformist” image is the key to successful product positioning for this demographic. So the importance of Bitcoin’s obscurity here cannot be overemphasised.

The Hipster will willingly adopt the rhetoric of the space if it can be shown that Bitcoin use “individualises him as transgressive” so that he can maintain his “rebel consumer” perception of himself.

The Hipster wants to latch on to something before it is cool. Hipsters are “less a subculture” and more a “consumer group”. If they are using their capital to purchase “empty authenticity and rebellion” then packaging Bitcoin’s real authenticity and rebellion is an easy sell.

Henke further characterises the Hipster by a simultaneous upper-class and marginalized group affiliation: another contradiction.

The upper to middle-class affiliation is a necessity, as “the conspicuous display of stylistic deviance” requires “both time and money”. As a result, the hipster necessarily has access to the technologies that make Bitcoin feasible: smartphones, computers and Internet.

However, Henke goes on to note that the Hipster “aesthetic…does not reflect a high socio-economic status”. Instead, the hipster borrows from marginalized groups. The ‘Bitcoin community’ is focused on elevating these same marginalized groups. So Bitcoin is an easy sell again.

It can be positioned as participation in a system that will inevitably contribute to the betterment of the marginalized groups the hipster already mimics through consumption.

For the Hipster “exclusivity and elegance aren’t cool”. However, “exclusivity dressed up in the…guise of the downscale and democratic”, well, “that’s the coolest thing of all.”

The Bitcoin community as an identity group offers exclusivity and early adoption simultaneously. The hipster can use Bitcoin before it’s cool: learning about it through an exclusive group that is focused on democratic empowerment of the downtrodden.

If the hipster is consumption driven, anti-corporatist and in search of the obscure then Bitcoin is uniquely perfect. Bitcoin is a medium of exchange that represents an opportunity to consume in an obscure way, while simultaneously ‘sticking it’ to a despised kleptocracy.

Hipsters, Employment and Bitcoin

From the Hipster Handbook we learn that “ideally, the Hipster is able to avoid work altogether.” More specifically creative fields and online work, such as blogging, are pursued: anything that, as Henke notes, allows the Hipster to “escape regular work hours, corporate attire, and normal levels of commitment.”

As cash for the internet, Bitcoin opens up a world of possibilities to earn income for creative work online and be paid directly.

Even traditional financial activities, such as trading, are readily accessible. Hipsters can trade crypto-currencies online and learn finance, while avoiding “corporate attire”.

This offers a unique value proposition for the Hipster that can be exploited.

Final Thoughts

The Western world is in real need of economic salvation: the kind that Bitcoin can provide.

It is true that the US dollar, Yen and Euro are more reliable than most national currencies. So, the need may not be as great as in other parts of the world. However, we do suffer from systemic inflation and the social ills that result.

A new generation familiar with the use of crypto-currencies would be a win. If it is this easy to sell to a new generation through a key demographic, then it should be done. It will be a net positive for society, despite the motivations of the demographic for adoption.

This Hipster demographic is ripe for adoption. All the prerequisites exist. Any business that successfully positions a Bitcoin product to this group will succeed.

In a space so rich with entrepreneurship and startup activity, a single hipster not using Bitcoin is unacceptable.