Crypto Winter or Blockchain Building Frenzy: SHIFT at Consensus 2023

Late last month, two SHIFTers were among the thousands of attendees at the blockchain world’s marquee event: Consensus 2023, a web3 marketing frenzy.

Held in downtown Austin for the second year in a row and put on by the media outlet CoinDesk, this year’s event was markedly different from last year’s in a few ways. 

First, dehydration wasn’t a concern. In perhaps the easiest decision CoinDesk had following sweltering 105 degree conference days last year, the event was moved from June up to late April when the only real perspiration was from the sky. 

Secondly, it was a more subdued affair. 

“Crypto Winter’s” Toll on Web3 Marketing

We’re now a year+ into an incredibly rough “crypto winter.” Though most of the industry has come to terms with the chill, large web3 brands whose logos and execs were spread all over last year’s event were largely absent from 2023’s conference. In their stead on the exhibition floor were startups…lots of them, and many not based in the U.S. 

True to web3’s current ethos that ‘bear markets are for building,’ the majority of these startups are focused on building and scaling web3’s infrastructure layers for the next bull cycle that will need a strong foundation to accommodate the massive growth sunny skies bring.

Attendance also appeared down from last year when 17,000 eager attendees — then still riding a bull market high — streamed through the Austin Convention Center’s doors. Main stage seats were largely full this year, but smaller sessions and the general show floor felt less trafficked. 

The price of Bitcoin has rebounded this year, but a rising BTC price does not lift all web3 ships and too many vessels have been forced to cut budgets.

That said, the zeitgeist around Consensus 2023 was overwhelmingly positive. It’s an optimism we — as an agency deeply focused on the web3 space — brought with us to the event and certainly back home once it concluded on Friday. 

Some additional takeaways from this year’s biggest web3 event and its telltales about Web3 marketing and maturation include:

  • Tradfi (traditional finance) is no longer a web3 wallflower. Major tradfi players Mastercard, PayPal, Venmo and Franklin Templeton were all visible at the event, reflective of the growing convergence of web3 and traditional finance.
  • Non-native web3 companies are tapping in. Brands not typically associated with blockchain such as PepsiCo, the Golden State Warriors and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital took stages to discuss unique ways they’re deploying the technology for NFTs and, in the latter’s case, to facilitate $4.5M in donations from crypto communities.
  • Abundance of lawyers and VCs indicates the growing footprint of web3. Lawyers and web3 VCs were everywhere…on stages, in the halls, in breakout sessions, at parties. The cloud regulatory environment in the U.S. means plenty of white space for legal input, but the VC presence was interesting given web3 funding is at its lowest since 2020
  • Noticeably absent: U.S. regulators. The two key regulators vying for control over U.S. crypto markets — the SEC and CFTC — were largely absent, save for the latter’s commission whose fireside session on the final day was held on a smaller side stage. The SEC, ever mired in conflict with the web3 world, didn’t show at all. The only major U.S. politicians there were the pro-crypto Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), who indicated lawmakers can’t keep up with the fast innovation, and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC).
  • The Mooch and Brett spill the FTX beans. In one of the most engaging talks, SkyBridge Capital founder and former White House comms director Anthony Scaramucci joined ex-FTX U.S. CEO Brett Harrison in an unfiltered recap of FTX’ final days. Harrison, once very close to Sam Bankman-Fried, said the final text he received from the FTX founder upon his his resignation was a single red heart emoji ♥️
  • Hollywood creators are still very much involved. Some of the best attended sessions were at the end of the conference. Canadian actor William Shatner discussed how web3 is improving fan experience and teased his upcoming NFT collection. Marvel and Mythos Studios Founding Chairman David Maisel helped close out the conference in his first public talk since selling Marvel to Disney, discussing his new digital art venture, Ekos Genesis Art Collection.
  • Navigating media relations and reputation in this space is tricky. SHIFT client Filecoin Foundation held its own bespoke event all week adjacent to the main Consensus conference, including a panel of three web3 reporters and one PR pro for a fascinating discussion on pitching press. Insights worth sharing:
    • All panelists receive too many pitches. One has a color-coded sheet indicating which PR firms pitch her, how often and on what topics.
    • Pitching on Telegram can be appropriate if the reporter is active there.
    • Just because a company thinks a news moment is big, doesn’t mean it is in the larger macro context. PR should levelset.
    • One panelist advocated the best sources are those who move fast and respond to breaking news/deadlines with minimal friction.

It’s clear that navigating the evolving climate, setbacks, perceptions and general web3 marketing is challenging for press, the companies in the space and the Communications professionals supporting them, but equally exciting as the building and maturation of web3 continue.

If you’re a company looking for support on this, I’d love to chat at or @DarrenSHIFTcomm on Telegram.

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