At its simplest Blockchain is a digital ledger that enables a practitioner to record data in a highly secure fashion that is both fully verifiable and decentralised.
Currently the word is commonly grouped with the digital currency Bitcoin. But Blockchain exists entirely separately to Bitcoin and is a disruptive technology that marketers need to get to grips with now to avoid losing ground to competitors in years to come.
It is widely believed that the security of Blockchain could have a big impact on sectors from banking and insurance to healthcare and retail. The advantages for marketers, in particular, are thought to be extensive.Currently the word is commonly grouped with the digital currency Bitcoin. Click To Tweet
“The opportunities Blockchain proposes for marketers are absolutely astronomical, but it is often marred by how difficult the technology is to get your head around,” says Paul Armstrong, author of Disruptive Technologies: Understand, Evaluate, Respond.
Blockchain, for example, gives you the opportunity to verify the identities of sellers or the authenticity of services, which could be huge for tax practice and accountancy services. You’ve got the potential to link back to source for everything, so in tax return preparation, you could use Blockchain to scan a transaction receipt that identifies an expense, verifying to the IRS that the transaction is legitimate and original.
Last year Walmart teamed up with IBM on a supply chain verification project to digitally track the movement of pork through the retailer’s Chinese supplier base via Blockchain. The idea was to boost consumer confidence in Walmart’s supply chain by proving it could trace the pork from producer to processor to store and finally to the customer.
IBM innovation services leader in EMEA, Hugo Pinto, sees the verification and transparency of Blockchain moving beyond supply chain monitoring to content platforms like Facebook, which could use the technology to combat fake news.
“Imagine if Facebook, or any of the other platforms, had a way to detect, weed out and isolate specific pieces of fake information. That would be a very powerful differentiator right now from a media offering standpoint.”
Ad verification potential
As brands continue to pull spend from Google amid concerns their adverts will appear alongside content promoting hate and extremism, the idea of using Blockchain for ad verification could prove seriously attractive to marketers.
An early player in this space is BitTeaser, a Danish ad network that displays all click-throughs in the Blockchain in real time, which can be easily tracked by users.
While wider adoption of the technology is still in its infancy, Pinto sees real potential for Blockchain to tackle the issue of ad fraud.
“With the Blockchain you have a set of core rules, so whenever something changes outside the parameters of the rule, you can remove that site from the pool of websites where the ads are displayed and that’s obviously very important.”
Mozilla CMO, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, sees potential for any technology that provides public visibility and measurement of whether online ads are being delivered and seen by a human being, in order to shine “bright sunlight on an unhealthy part of the industry”.
Blockchain could not only eradicate the lack of trust marketers feel around programmatic delivery but also simplify the process by one day helping brands go direct to publishers, according to Atom Bank head of marketing, Neil Costello.
“Look at the response from Google this week. Accounts thought to be worth £50m were put at risk as the internet giant apologised for failing to crack down on extremist content. Here we have some of the world’s biggest brands having no trust in where their ads are served programmatically,” says Costello.
Safe storage of data
Marketers could also utilise the power of Blockchain for the safe storage of large amounts of anonymous customer data.
To date there has been no serious data breach in Blockchain. The technology benefits from being securely encrypted and decentralised, meaning data is not stored by a single party. This, for example, sets Blockchain up as the polar opposite to the traditional banking model.To date there has been no serious data breach in Blockchain. Click To Tweet
As data breaches typically have specific patterns that aid detection, the very fact that Blockchain can be clearly audited means breaches could be detected before they become large scale incidents. Aside from security, marketers are also entering an era of mandatory digital consent, meaning brands could use Blockchain to manage the “permissioning” of their data, according to Pinto.
Choosing the right message
While Blockchain continues to creep up the marketing agenda, mass consumer understanding of technology is about five years away, according to Armstrong, who puts wide scale business adoption at two to four years.
This lack of knowledge is why Pinto believes marketers should focus on the practical benefits Blockchain offers to consumers in their daily lives, rather than trying to educate them on the nitty gritty of how the technology works.
“An example would be in banking. What if I could explain to you that as part of your savings account we will give you the chance to help farmers in Kenya grow crops and we can show how you’re helping the community flourish because we can trace your money end-to-end through the Blockchain,” says Pinto.
“These types of value propositions are exactly why marketers need to understand the technology. They are going to need to figure out how else they can generate value for customers, even if they don’t have to change the product. The messaging will have to be different because the capability is going to be entirely different.”
The first wave of Blockchain adoption is expected to take place amongst small-scale enterprises looking to improve their performance and productivity or expand their reach, says Pinto.
“If two years ago we were Blockchain tourists and last year we were Blockchain experimenters, then this year we’re going to start seeing a lot of emerging use cases of Blockchain on an enterprise level,” he explains.
Pinto adds: “The reason why marketers need to understand it now is because if they are part of the first wave that is going to transform the capability for business. They are going to be the first ones to come up with ideas for new business models and value propositions that they can take to market.”
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