You’ve probably heard about Bitcoin, and maybe you’ve heard about blockchain, the underlying technology that makes Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies possible. But have you thought about how that same technology is poised to disrupt marketing?
If that sounds futuristic and abstract right now, a recent Harvard Business Review article explains why people are so excited about the ideas behind blockchain. Just like email is an application that runs on the Internet, Bitcoin is an application that runs on a blockchain. What’s so powerful about blockchain is that it allows for the transfer of value and assets from one person to another person — or from one entity to another entity — without any intermediaries. And that transfer is universally recognized and universally accepted by everyone in the network.
Right now, people are focusing on the currency side of this, especially as prices of Bitcoin hit record highs — but there are plenty of other institutions that serve as third-party intermediaries, including in marketing. In a blockchain world, they would not be necessary.
To learn more about the impact that blockchain could have on marketing, we reached out to Jeremy Epstein, the CEO of Never Stop Marketing. An expert marketer himself, including roles at Sprinklr and Microsoft, he has now shifted his focus to blockchain. Here’s what he had to say:
What If Attention Wasn’t Free?
Blockchain could completely upturn the way we think about advertising, by assigning a direct cost for being interrupted.
“What if attention wasn’t really free anymore?,” Epstein asks. “Right now I can send a million emails and it basically costs nothing. But what if I had to pay every time I sent you an email? What if instead of paying Facebook for a promoted ad, I had to pay the actual consumer? How would that change the economics for me?”
In a blockchain-driven world, a few things might happen, he predicts. “First off, you don’t need ad agencies or ad brokers. The protocols themselves would support the business rules that match up buyers and sellers. Secondly, you’d have full accountability that a given ad was displayed at a given time on a given site — one which you approved, so no ‘fake news’ sites. Finally, instead of paying the broker or agency, you’d pay the audience based on a price they set. You’d be able to measure the ROI and LTV of your customer base in previously unimaginable ways.”
New Ways to Think About Data
Widespread adoption of blockchain would radically change the way we think about marketing data in general. “Companies will have to change how they create value,” Epstein says.
“Blockchains are essentially a shared data layer. Imagine everyone in the industry having access to the same data set. The value companies provide will be the applications that allow people to use that data in better ways. The power for the company won’t rest in just controlling your data.”
Honesty in Labeling
Consumer interest in organic and ethically-sourced goods has created strong demand for labeling programs that detail the provenance of the things we buy. But that system is still largely based on blind trust. In a blockchain world, you could actually inspect and verify the supply chain claims of any company, Epstein notes.
“If you currently market your product as free-trade, organic coffee from a women-owned cooperative in Nicaragua, you can slap that on your label and it’s basically impossible to verify,” he said. But with blockchain backing the claims, you would be able to trust that the company’s claims are consistent with the values that are important to you.
Epstein recommends that marketers who want to learn more about blockchain technology just jump in and buy some e-currency.
“Start exploring what it means to be able to send money to someone else without needing any intermediaries,” he said. “Ask how your world changes if data is shared and trust is free.”