Why ‘Initiative Q’ belongs to the marketing textbook

You take a hype and spice it with a pinch of growth hacking – and the marketing lesson is ready to go.

Speed of innovation in medium-sized companies: agile like Amazon

We have long since grown accustomed to ever-new trends and enormous agility in the world of digital marketing. At the moment, though, we are experiencing a new developmental stage in hype machinery: Initiative Q. Officially, this is a new variation of digital currency, i.e. an alternative to Bitcoin, Ethereum and the rest. Actually, there is no shortage in this regard: according to Wikipedia, there are already 100 of these digital currencies. So why is number 101 generating so much buzz?


Marketing coup or marketing gag?

To understand the current bustle surrounding Initiative Q, let’s take a brief look at what it’s all about, anyway:

invitations for the new currency have been circulating on an increasing scale since October. According to its own data, this cryptocurrency wants to turn international payments completely inside out. But makers of Initiative Q are not revealing just how this is supposed to work. The only explanation provided concerns why we need a currency like Q, and why people should urgently secure their invitation now – there is no such thing as direct registration. But the problem lies elsewhere: there is still no product, not even a demo of Q. Everything thus far is based on a vision, and even this is extremely vague. According to the roadmap, the actual development is not set to start until mid-2019, with the start to the payment network planned for the late 2021 or later.

But why does a non-existent product, one that will also be just one among many, generate so much attention? The answer is simple:

“Initiative Q is reserving this Q currency for people who join today — the earlier you join the more Q you can reserve!”

This means that registered users will get Qs when the currency launches (for which there is no guarantee, incidentally). The sooner they register, and the more people they manage to invite, the greater their share will be later on. Immediately upon registration, the person receives a whopping 13,000 Qs. Later on, a Q will be worth as much as a US dollar. And all this for the equivalent of an e-mail address! From a marketing point of view, the team headed by Israeli Saar Wilf has done everything right. The preliminary balance sheet: 4 million registrations (as of November 8, 2018).

While we can’t determine yet whether this is ultimately a marketing gag or even a fraud, it certainly already constitutes a prime example of a growth hack.


What we can learn from Initiative Q

If the actual development and go-to-market ultimately work as well as the marketing has, then Initiative Q could actually prove successful. Because there are several things we can learn from:

Use an up-to-date hype! Particularly in the digital sector, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum are viewed as pioneering, and some of today’s digital pioneers regret their previous reservations and skepticism. Because before the Bitcoin hype really got started in 2017, an individual Bitcoin was available for a few cents – today it costs nearly 4,000 euros. The price is subject to very wide fluctuations, however, making entry rather risky at this time. So a new currency is arriving at just the right time: Anyone without Bitcoins in his or her virtual wallet is more susceptible to Q marketing.

Be mystical! Suspense generates attention. This is something we see every year in the run-up to the Apple keynotes, for example: what is Apple going to present, what might the visuals used in the invitation be trying to hint at? Initiative Q taps into this same effect. With nearly no information, the room for fantasies is all the greater.

Artificial scarcity! It’s an old growth hacking trick: If you give people the feeling they might become members of an exclusive and lucrative club, they only feel good once they’ve already been accepted as members.

Make it viral! The invites have another effect, though: they make things viral. Anyone who has already joined the exclusive club can, in turn, invite new users. That’s something a member is glad to do, as it shows he or she is an early adopter. In the case of Initiative Q, this effect is intensified extrinsically, as recruited users wash Qs back into the inviter’s own account.

Don’t spend your money until it’s worth it! This is actually the special highlight, because rather than provide advance financing and shoulder an entrepreneurial risk, the Q-makers wait first to see if they have reached the critical mass.

The bottom line:

There are plenty of reasons not to get involved in a global digital currency called “Q.” Not a few skeptics are even speaking of a snowball or pyramid system and imputing underhanded intentions to the originators. But since no one has to deposit money, this motivation is rather unlikely. Is the aim to turn e-mail addresses into money? Is it really worth the effort? Perhaps the point of Q is simply to show us how well marketing works when used cleverly…