Marketing has been with us since the first caveman tried to convince his neighbor that the comfy cozy cave he’d found would make his life better than sleeping out in the open, and the way that we have marketed has changed with every new technology that’s been introduced, whether it’s been the printing press or the billboard, the radio or color television. With the introduction of the Internet the ground shifted beneath everybody’s feet, and suddenly marketing went digital, and within that world, there has once again been a series of seismic shifts that change the way marketing information is dispersed and received. The next big thing will be blockchain.
In this post we’ll explore:
- What blockchain actually is
- Why eliminating the middleman is important
- How blockchain will drive more confidence in products and companies
- How blockchain leverages consumer identity to impact search
What Is Blockchain?
When technology people talk about blockchain and the kind of impact it’s going to have, the first point out that it’s not there yet, but it will be soon – kind of like comparing what the internet was in the days of AOL and dial-up to where we are today. But the fact that the world’s adoption and technology are only rudimentary doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be aware, educate yourself about it, and maybe even jump on board over the next couple of years.
These days, most people associate blockchain with Bitcoin, a payment method that has a mysterious air about it and whose reputation has unfortunately been tarnished by the fact that hackers have demanded it as their payment method for removing ransomware from computers. Though this shines a negative light on the currency, it also highlights its advantages, as bitcoins are a decentralized digital currency that offers a high level of privacy and whose transactions are irreversible. They’re made possible by blockchain, which is an opened, shared database that can’t be altered because it isn’t stored in a single repository or centralized location – instead, it is a decentralized network that is transparent and which can’t be compromised.
It’s a little complex, and the easiest way to understand it is to compare it to the different ways of sharing documents. If you’re working on a Word document that is a collaborative effort by a team. A single user works within the document, then shares it with others who can make changes. The only way to see the changes is to send the document back and forth to one another for review – each change is made by an individual and if that individual doesn’t show their changes to the rest of the group (and highlight it), nobody else knows about it. Now compare that to the way that a Google Doc works – everybody who is in the document’s shared space can see it and work with it all at once. The entire history of edits is there for all to see, and there are even notifications sent out when changes are made. It’s peer-to-peer sharing, with all the people in the chain involved and aware, and everybody having it stored on their own computer in a “chain” of “blocks”. Get it?
So that’s not exactly the way blockchain works, but it’s close enough to give you a basic level of understanding what it does, and that it cuts out the middleman. Just like your document no longer has to get passed back to each individual for updates to be made, a blockchain of payments can go back and forth between users without having to go through a bank to oversee it. No more centralized authority, no more middleman. And you know what happens when you cut out the middleman, right? Lower costs and more transparency. So, the advantages of blockchain are:
- It’s decentralized – no more middleman
- It’s protected from fraud (including cyberfraud) because no changes can be made without it being shown on everybody’s block
- It belongs to everybody on the chain instead of being owned by any type of authority
Who Needs the Middleman?
So, when it comes to blockchain and digital marketing, one of the biggest benefits is that it eliminates the middleman. What’s wrong with the middleman, you ask? Let’s look at the role that the middleman plays.
You know that the middleman always gets a piece of the transaction for their role, right? It’s true whether you’re buying a car or a house, depositing money into a bank, and yes – creating a digital marketing campaign. When you buy a house, the middleman is the realtor, who is getting a commission from your sale – that means the buyer pays more and the seller gets less. In digital advertising, the middleman is Facebook, or Google, or whoever you are trusting to make sure that you’re getting the clicks you want and that your ad is being seen by the people that you want to see it.
What if instead of going to those giant corporations and handing them your ad and your money, you had a way to just go directly to the people you want to advertise to? That is unquestionably in the future with the use of blockchain, because users will provide information about themselves that is unchangeable and completely transparent. They’ll be able to reveal information about their identity as they choose, and allow access to that information as they choose. Companies may pay for that access to specific types of consumers, but the payment goes directly to the consumer (making them more likely to sign up for ads they want to see), and the advertiser will have greater certainty that the people who are seeing the ads are the ones that they want to target. The costs will be lower without the middleman, and the rewards will be higher – on both ends.
Inspiring More Confidence
One of the biggest advantages that blockchain offers is transparency at every point along the line. That means that consumers no longer need to be suspicious about anything from the provenance of a product to whether or not an organization they support is actually making the charitable contributions that they claim to be. You want to know whether the dog treats that a local vendor is selling is really processed in the United States or whether it’s actually coming from China? The entire supply chain is available for tracing. You want to know whether it’s true that 10% of all profits are going to hurricane victims or that the store you’re buying from is really using solar power? All the information will be available and easily accessed via the blockchain – and can’t be hidden or altered. Companies become accountable – and that works to both the consumers’ benefit and the organization, as its reputation for trustworthiness grows and invites greater loyalty. Look for blockchain to inspire much higher levels of corporate responsibility as companies realize that consumers are watching.
Protecting and Leveraging Consumer Identity
Think about the way that digital marketing has evolved, and consumer complaints about it. As much as digital ad delivery is able to follow and target consumers’ browsing and shopping habits, consumers dislike being digitally stalked. Blockchain will mean that before a customer sees a company’s ad, the consumer will have to provide permission for them to access their information. That’s a double-edged sword: as an advertiser, you may lose access to the broader swaths of consumers that you’re currently accessing through a third party that you have to rely upon (like Facebook, Google or Instagram) … but you’ll know that the consumers providing permission are both the ones that you want to reach, and are open to receiving your information. You may even have to pay to access the consumer, but the increments will be small and much higher value than the blind trust you’re paying for now – and the ads that the consumer receives will be of higher value to them – or else they can revoke the access.
What Should You Do Right Now?
As stated earlier, the blockchain technology is in its infancy. Expect it to grow quickly and exponentially over the next year or two. There’s not much to do right now from a marketing perspective, but you can jump on the Bitcoin bandwagon if you want your brand to be identified with innovation, or even use a blockchain platform to verify information about your product or services. Blockchain is definitely coming, and it’s going to change everything. If nothing else, start familiarizing yourself with it and its uses so that you’re ahead of the curve.