An interview with Isa Kivlighan, Digital Marketing Manager at Aave
Blockchain marketers face a very unique challenge. Not only do they have to compete with thousands of other platforms to attract a limited set of developers, but they also have to raise awareness about nascent (but powerful!) technology that the mainstream still associates with hackers and criminal activity. To top it off, they have to grow this product globally from the get-go, to keep the network decentralized. All that, without any playbook of course.
Isa Kivlighan is the Digital Marketing Manager at Aave, a DeFi money market that allows users to earn interest on cryptocurrency and borrow against it. Aave is currently the largest money market in DeFi, with $1.42 billion in total value locked.
Isa made the list of the best marketers in Blockchain for 2020 – a list of 35 individuals whose organizations were measured by the lift in FCAS Rating, which indicates user and developer activity as well as overall market risk, and growth in Twitter mentions as measured by The Tie.
Rochelle: What were you doing before going into marketing for Aave?
Isa: Before Aave, I moved to Berlin for a masters degree in Public Policy, and I really got into the blockchain space through going to meetups about different blockchain for social good projects. At one of these meetups I actually met someone who I ended up co-founding a project with, which leveraged existing blockchain capabilities to authenticate limited edition streetwear fashion, allowing users to trade these proven authenticated items and also carry their physical apparel into multiple gaming realms as virtual assets. This was a super fun project to work on, and this was really how I got involved in the blockchain world. After working on that passion project for a bit, I needed to find a job, and I knew I wanted to work in blockchain. I did some research, and that’s how I discovered decentralised finance and Aave, and now I’m here!
Rochelle: What things do you wish you’d known before you started?
Isa: How fast paced everything would be! I love it because it keeps you on your toes and the space is always rapidly developing, but I definitely didn’t grasp how fast everything moves, particularly in DeFi, before joining Aave. If I take a day off from looking at twitter and telegram, I’m always shook at how much has happened. You know there’s constant innovation when its hard to keep up.
Rochelle: How is marketing of a blockchain platform different from what you were doing previously?
Isa: Before getting into blockchain I was working as a business consultant, so this is very different. Working on my own project really opened me up to the challenges of marketing blockchain technology– when people hear ‘blockchain’ or ‘crypto’ they can shut down and just assume it’s something really complicated and convoluted. Working in decentralized finance and marketing complex financial instruments is definitely a step up– it’s been challenging but also super fun and rewarding.
Rochelle: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of leading marketing efforts for a public decentralized network?
Isa: When looking at your marketing strategy, you really have to consider multiple audiences. On one hand there’s the dedicated crypto and DeFi audience who’s very technologically savvy, and there’s so many niche memes and insider stuff that you have to keep up with so you can effectively communicate with this community. These people are using DeFi every day for many different purposes, yield farming ,etc. On the other hand there are people who are totally new to DeFi, maybe they have some crypto or are just getting into it, and they’re using Aave for completely different reasons– mostly depositing and earning interest. Here your marketing efforts have to really streamline educational material, as this audience is going to respond to completely different stuff from the dedicated DeFi community. And then there’s everyone in between. The job in marketing is to not only break down how to use these complex financial tools for many different audiences, but also to produce content that people want to respond to and grow the community.
The meme culture and niche expressions really mean you need to be on top of everything for marketing in the DeFi space. However, DeFi is also attracting more of a mainstream audience every day, so being able to cater toward “newbies” is important too.
Rochelle: Would you say marketing in the DeFi space is unique? If so, why?
Isa: Absolutely! The meme culture and niche expressions really mean you need to be on top of everything for marketing in the DeFi space. However, DeFi is also attracting more of a mainstream audience every day, so being able to cater toward “newbies” is important too. The message about what your product is and why people should use is extremely different depending on who you’re talking to. I’ve been onboarding my dad to DeFi– he has an Argent wallet and he can deposit into Aave from there. He follows all the social media accounts, but doesn’t understand any of the DeFi jargon or what’s going on half the time. Always have to think of very different audiences.
Rochelle: If you were to give advice to someone starting in marketing for a blockchain startup, what resources would you recommend they turn to?
Isa: The community is the most valuable resource in my opinion. Having conversations with people is the best way to get to know the space and work out your marketing strategy. It’s important to get perspectives from outside the space as well. Twitter is probably my favorite place to learn, and you can see what kind of marketing other projects are doing and get inspiration there.
Rochelle: How do you market for a product that is inherently global?
Isa: In this aspect, I think the product markets itself a bit, since anyone can use it anywhere and anytime, as long as they have internet access. That 24/7 access attracts a global audience naturally. We are really looking to expand in Asia, which is challenging since the communities are so different, so there’s no one way to market for everyone. Luckily at Aave the team itself is very “decentralized” too all around the globe, so we have people speaking many different languages who can be a “spokesperson” for different regions. Also, different social media platforms are big in different places, so you really have to know where to reach people and where the discussion is.
Rochelle: Has your marketing strategy changed since you started?
Isa: For sure! We only launched Aave Protocol in January, and then it was really about reaching our existing community, primarily devs, and getting more people to build on Aave. Now, DeFi has moved more towards mainstream adoption (we’re not there yet though!), so the strategy has had to take a new shape and include a new group of people. You’re trying to reach people with so many different knowledge levels and needs, so we’ve had to strategize differently for different groups.
Rochelle: The Tie worked with us to analyze Aave’s growth on social. Looking at Twitter, they found that LEND’s number of mentions grew by almost 1400% since the beginning of 2020, from around 12 mentions a day to over 192. How important is social media in your marketing strategy and how do you think its role differs from industries?
Isa: Wow that’s super exciting! Social media is extremely important in our marketing strategy– different social platforms are good for engaging different audiences. Twitter is our biggest one, I’d say, where we post memes, updates, or just interact with the DeFi twitter community. We’re big on memes– in true GenZ fashion, I like making memes from TikToks.. We are also always super active in different channels like Telegram and Discord– we want people to know we are accessible and they can always reach out to us! Our CEO Stani is always replying to people (I don’t think he sleeps), and lots of other people on the team are active in different channels. The dev team will reply to people’s technical questions in our #developers’ discord channel, for example. We like to be reachable.
Rochelle: $LEND’s FCAS has also increased 33.33% since the beginning of the year, which reflects growth in Aave’s fundamental data. What do you think of crypto ratings that measure the health of assets? Do you use them to measure growth? If not, what type of metrics do you use to measure the success of certain marketing efforts?
Isa: I’m very glad there’s metrics to measure the fundamental health of assets and projects. I remember when we first launched, we checked the Fundamental Crypto Asset Score, and we have worked on improving that. It’s useful to have these measurements that can help you track your progress. Growth is important, and these metrics are useful to understand our marketing efforts– community engagement is our priority.