Blockchain is a prominent theme of many marketing and business conferences at the moment. You have almost certainly heard of it, and perhaps you understand it a little, but are you aware of the opportunities it presents? Blockchain is set to dramatically disrupt the digital marketing landscape, so if you’re not up to speed on it yet, you should be.
Even if you don’t yet think your organisation can make use of the technology yet, now is certainly the time to consider how you might be able to do so in the future. Blockchain presents a number of opportunities for digital and has the potential to radically transform the marketing perspective.
Blockchain is a quickly-developing technology that enables radical decentralisation of computing. The result could be the largest change in the world’s economy since the invention of money.
Blockchain technology comprises three key components: a distributed ledger (imagine a record of all transactions that everyone can keep a copy of), consensus algorithms (ways for a distributed network to agree about something in the absence of a centralised leader) and smart contracts (which are essentially programmable agreements that execute automatically when conditions are met).
Blockchain enables a trust-less economy in which participants do not need to trust each other or a central authority in order to be able to transact securely. Applications of blockchain include peer-to-peer cash (Bitcoin), a decentralised computing platform (Ethereum) and enterprise supply chain management record-keeping (for example, Hyperledger Fabric).
It’s possible to run blockchains with a variety of permissions, from totally closed or “permissioned” to totally open or “permissionless,” so all the data in the blockchain is completely transparent and unchangeable and all parties can see and follow the transaction within the blockchain. Transactions can be processed very quickly and at very high volumes. The integrity of the data cannot be compromised without breaking the chain, so it’s also a secure way of ensuring that the data is always validated.
Society depends on trust: trust in organisations to protect us; trust in institutions to govern for us; and trust in each other to be able to get along in a civilised manner. Modern day society also requires that we trust computers – and the corporations that run them – to responsibly keep and process our data.
So, we need to trust banks and financial institutions. We need to trust government and administrators. And we need to trust online social media and apps. But with so many breaches of data security, and large institutions not paying their taxes, we’ve become distrustful of these institutions and companies, and are wary of sharing our information.
In fact, Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer shows that trust is stagnant or in decline in most of the world’s markets. This is particularly evident in how little trust people have in their governments and their media. Peer-to peer trust is also dwindling, with people becoming more dubious about what their friends are saying online. This uncertainty and skepticism has created a backdrop of tension in the world, which could become the existential crisis of our times.
Blockchain changes all this; it completely negates the need to trust anyone at all. Instead, we only need to trust in the maths of the algorithms that link the blocks in the chain together. In this way, blockchain is set to capitalise on the rampant mistrust by offering a revolutionary way of doing business. This isn’t just in a financial way—via Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies—but in many other fundamental areas of business.
For marketers, this is important; it’s the job of a marketer to build relationships, to build trust. And as that trust is being eroded, blockchain will be able to disrupt the industry more and more, bringing significant opportunities for digital marketing.
Four ways that blockchain will disrupt digital marketing
Firstly, blockchain has the potential to dramatically transform content marketing. It brings the use of digital assets—such as the Basic Attention Token—that can be used as a means of rewarding users for consuming content.
With tokenised content like this, publishers and advertisers can “pay” for their content to be read, watched or listened to, but without the end user having to give up any of their data in exchange. This anonymity puts users in charge of their data while advertisers gain greater control of their spend as they can be assured that the user is genuine. Equally, publishers of content get the assurance that the system rewards them if lots of people are visiting their websites, without as much obligation to the advertisers, and without building paywalls, loading their sites with ads or chasing clickbait content.
Another area of concern is email spam. Not only is it an unwelcome inconvenience, it’s also often the means used to acquire passwords or other security information. As such, it’s very much the scourge of online marketing, tarnishing the methods used by legitimate digital marketers.
Blockchain has the ability to hinder the spammers and their dodgy methods. Using cryptocurrency and blockchain, good online behaviour can be incentivised. Adding a tiny charge–an infinitesimal fee—to a transaction such as an email would not trouble genuine businesses or individuals, but it would seriously financially impair the spammers who rely on sending billions of emails to achieve the payback they achieve. Spam would no longer be a tiresome problem for the recipients, because it would be too costly for the spammers to implement.
SEO is another aspect of digital marketing that blockchain could positively affect. While you can—to a degree—port your profile around the web with you as you surf, blockchain could supercharge this. Using an embedded schema markup, websites could record the identities of their visitors, or log the number of token rewards that a blog post has secured. It could even calculate which visitors have contributed value to certain posts and the actions they took. All of this would input into ranking factors and make the web a more robust and productive social graph, almost infinite in its scope.
Finally, display marketing fraud could be consigned to history thanks to blockchain. It’s been estimated that bots are responsible for billions of dollars of advertising fraud every year. But using blockchain as the platform for display advertising, such scams would not be possible, bringing greater transparency to display advertising and showing precisely who viewed what adverts, and the prices that were paid.
What will the blockchain-enabled brands of the future look like?
With blockchain fundamentally affecting digital marketing, the brands of the future will inevitably need to adapt. The disaffected consumers who no longer trust the authorities or “big business” will seek out community-spirited brands that don’t rely solely on trust. These will likely also be companies that validate their customers’ patronage by rewarding them with a clear, meaningful mission and perhaps even some form of financial, tokenised recompense.
The companies harnessing this strong driving force behind blockchain and embracing the desire for greater trust will be the ones that are successful. Communities of consumers will back those brands that deliver on their promises and that reward them for their loyalty. And it will become increasingly difficult for companies and organisations to not provide these proofs once they are possible to provide.
Eventually, these online community-backed brands will develop the economic power—enabled by blockchain—to influence policies, to alter buying patterns and to transform administrative policies. For some people, it might be too much to hope that a decentralised ledger technology could represent the catalyst in averting an existential crisis and neutralising tensions to bring about such a profound world change. But I’m not one of them.