In the world of digital marketing, it feels like we’re always on alert for the next big change.
The industry moves fast, and success can ride on being able to keep up.
The latest hot topic is blockchain, a relatively new software that was developed for use in cryptocurrencies. We’ll get to the details of blockchain in a bit, but first, we’ll try to put this into perspective.
Imagine going back to 1992 and trying to convince everyone in marketing and advertising that this new “Internet” thing they’d been hearing about was going to change everything.
That the entire landscape of marketing would become more or less centralized on how to reach consumers “on the web”. That new companies, products, and entire industries would exist just to use the Internet for marketing.
You’d probably have a hard time getting them to believe you, right?
Now hear me out— I am a marketer, visiting from the year 2038, here to tell you that blockchain is the future of digital marketing and commerce. “What? Blockchain? Like bitcoin?” you might ask.
And then you’d probably shrug it off as hype, maybe just a fad. But just like those who doubted the power of the Internet 25 years ago, you’d be making a mistake by ignoring blockchain today.
Okay, maybe we can’t say we’re really from the future and give you an exact prediction of the future of marketing automation. But blockchain is not just about cryptocurrency anymore, or even finance alone.
The potential values that blockchain technology has for those in marketing and advertising is startling, and something marketers should not only be paying attention to, but actively engaging with.
Wait, a Block-What?
Let’s rewind a minute and talk about what blockchain actually is.
Blockchain first came about in 2009 with the development of Bitcoin as a secure way to complete digital cryptocurrency transactions. It works as a continuously updated digital ledger that is both self-auditing and so far nearly impossible to hack.
The easiest way to picture blockchain is to envision a spreadsheet shared among many users in a network.
As each person involved edits the spreadsheet, the information is approved, and then permanently saved as a new page in the sheet.
This happens in real time and updates the information in the spreadsheet on every user’s version. Once the new page has been added, it forever becomes part of the spreadsheet in the entire network, and cannot be altered or deleted.
This kind of functionality means that the blockchain can give a candid and constantly updated view of every contributor’s involvement and interaction with a specific kind of information. It provides complete transparency in whatever system it’s being used and because it’s part of a decentralized network, it cannot be changed or censored in any way.
It’s biggest application is still in finance, where people are using blockchain technology to quickly transact between themselves in a secure and almost instant way.
The original program, developed by the inventor of bitcoin and unsurprisingly just called Blockchain, boasts over 24 million users in 140 countries with 160,000+ daily transactions.
Many other blockchain software options are popping up every day, even some from big names like IBM, and the options for different programs will continue to grow with the market.
So Why Should Marketers Care?
Okay, now that we’ve established what blockchain actually does, let’s get to the real questions—what can it do for you? What value does this technology give to those of us in marketing?
The answer to that is a fairly simple one: trust.
Customers today don’t want to be jerked around. They know they’re being marketed to and for the most part are okay with that idea.
But they want straight-forward, honest messages from companies, and they can quickly see through any that aren’t. So brands are taking the time to build a level of trust with the consumer— they’ll trust the medium, trust the product, and trust the information.
Blockchain can be there to act as a way of building that trust by providing a clear-cut view into whatever that brand is trying to sell.
Supply Chain Tracker
One of the most consumer-directed uses for blockchain is in supply chain tracking.
The process, which has already been adopted by some companies, means that a product is scanned and its progress is tracked as a block along every step of its journey. This product could be a piece of clothing, food, technology, among many other things.
From the product’s inception, maybe the factory it’s first created in, the blockchain would begin. Then with each subsequent trip the product takes— like a secondary factory, a shipping center, a boat to travel, a truck to bring it to the local shipping center, a final truck to the store, and it’s resting place on a shelf—a new block would be added to the chain. Once the product reaches the consumer, a scan of the barcode shows the entire journey.
This could be greatly beneficial for brands that use fair trade and sustainable sourcing as a way for consumers to verify the company’s claims. The consumer can see the path of a product and know that that information hasn’t been altered or shrouded to make it look more appealing.
It allows a feeling of honesty to be established between the brand and the consumer, and will bring the brand to top-of-mind awareness the next time the consumer is looking to buy.
Controlling Data Use
A hot topic of conversation recently has been the use of consumers’ internet data by large companies for advertising, somewhat without the consumers’ knowledge.
When a large social network made their individual ad profiles for users available for access, many were disturbed and upset by how much of their personal data was being gathered and sold. Even though the terms and conditions of sites probably go over this data acquisition in full, you’d be hard-pressed to find a consumer actually willing and able to read and understand that novel of an agreement.
So what if instead of just glossing over those terms and blindly agreeing for websites to use and sell all of the personal information they want, consumers could be in control?
If a consumer could not only see directly, but also choose for themselves, what information a site is given about them, and then go a step further and see how that information is used, it would put the authority back in their hands.
Blockchain can allow this to happen. It could be used to create an ongoing ledger of a user’s internet persona, from each site they visit and how long, to what they buy, who they talk to… the list goes on.
And it would give the user access to this ledger, meaning they know exactly what information is being given out. Users could decide what pieces of the ledger they wanted companies to have and what stays private.
In turn, a new ledger would be born of how that personal data is used by websites and advertisers so the consumer as a 360-degree view of where their Internet-use biography goes.
This also opens up opportunities for consumers to put a price on their information, and directly sell it to the websites instead of just agreeing to give it away.
Consumer Profile Building
In a similar vein to controlling the data a company can see, marketers could leverage this tactic directly to build consumer profiles or personas.
Currently, teams spend hours, days, and weeks trying to build the perfect target consumer for their product. And as close as these profiles get, they’re still mostly just best estimations.
So, instead of making assumptions about a target consumer’s habits, blockchain could allow marketers to build a full profile of a consumer’s internet habits.
Once the overarching demographic profile of a target is identified, agreements could be made with users within that demographic for a company to build a blockchain-based journal of their interactions and movements on the internet.
Without any real effort being made on the consumers part, their persona could be built. And with all of that information in one aggregated location, marketers could draw conclusions and data and a precise target and subsequent branding plan could be built.
To Sum Up
Blockchain may not sound like something that could have as large of an impact as the World Wide Web. And maybe it won’t— at least not in quite as much of an obvious, life-changing, center of everyone’s universe kind of way.
But hopefully, we’ve at least convinced you that it’s more than just a blip on the radar or a fad to be discounted.
As marketers, and digital marketers specifically, we know that technology and best practices are constantly evolving–it’s just the nature of the beast. So we try to embrace those changes and make them beneficial to us in the long run.
Perhaps blockchain isn’t the next big change, or even the next-next big change. But it’s coming up fast and strong, and if you don’t dive into the technology soon, you may find yourself struggling to keep up.
If you are looking for new innovative ways to transform your digital marketing, or are still trying to understand what blockchain really is and how you could be leveraging it, we’d love to chat with you.