Marketing has changed a lot in the past decade, but it’s about to go through another revolution, thanks in large part to blockchain. Yes, while most of us associate digital marketing with things like AI and analytics, blockchain may be the most disruptive technology yet to hit marketers in every industry. Blockchain is changing digital marketing, and you may be surprised who will benefit.
At its core, blockchain enables transactions between two parties without the need for third-party verification. Most of the uses for blockchain have been around finance and crypto-currencies, but the underlying technology could be huge for marketing.
While AI and analytics have arguably benefited businesses more than consumers, blockchain may level the playing field by giving the power of data back to consumers themselves. The following are a few ways blockchain is changing digital marketing for the better—and forever, moving forward.
One of the most exciting things about blockchain is that it gives the value of data back to consumers. Up until now, many companies have benefited from being able to pull data from their customers. Everyone from PetSmart to Walmart wants our phone number, email address, address, and the name of our firstborn even to make a simple purchase instore or online. Yes, in some ways it helps the consumer, because it allows companies to market for personally to them. But in other ways it’s invasive, and it means companies are making money by taking—and sometimes even selling—the personal information they gather from anyone in their wake.
Blockchain is changing digital marketing by removing companies’ abilities to pull data from customers without also offering to reimburse them for its value. For instance, the Brave browser is changing how users interact with online advertising. Rather than simply being pelted with online ads, Brave users opt-into viewing ads and receive Basic Attention Tokens (BATs) for the ads with which they interact. It’s a completely new way of viewing advertising, by trading the value of online attention, rather than simply the trading of space for potential ad sales.
Another new technology, Blockstack, uses blockchain to “protect your digital rights”—creating a new type of network for decentralized apps. While in the past, consumers would provide their data to use certain applications, and their data would remain on the application’s server—completely out of the consumer’s hands. But with Blockstack, your data stays with you. It acts as a key to unlock certain apps, but returns to the user as soon as they’re done using it. This is simple but revolutionary in terms of digital marketing. The free-for-all data-grab is over.
Indeed, if you’re in the marketing business, you may not love this concept. In many ways, it’s like going back to ground zero—relying on customers to give you the information you want and need to serve them better. Maybe not the best news for digital marketing—but a necessary step forward in terms of consumer protection.
In the past, people would shop everything from eBay to Craigslist to Whole Foods and hope—fingers crossed—that they were buying what was being marketed to them. Was the item organic? Authentic? Was it really grown or made in a fair-trade / fair-pay environment? Or was it manufactured in a sweat shop powered by child workers? Thanks to blockchain, consumers can finally know the answers to these questions, and many more. With the power of blockchain, companies are able to verify exactly where an item was manufactured or grown, what kinds of soil the items were grown in, or how much workers get paid to work there. This is huge, especially in an era where consumers care more and more not just about the quality of what they are buying, but of the integrity of company and processes creating them.
Unilever and IBM are on their way to clarifying the freakishly confusing arena of online ad spend. As part of the project, blockchain creates a trusted and verified chain from the ad dollar to the end user. In the past, some 85 cents per advertising dollar made its way to the publisher. Today, that number has dropped to just 40 cents, largely due to the many intermediaries in the process. The project has already resulted in tens of millions of savings for Unilever. On the flip side, it could also put tons of companies that have built their worth on verifying ad metrics out of business. Blockchain is changing digital marketing in a disruptive way—potentially wiping out a whole new generation of companies built on its very existence.
Indeed, the real impact of blockchain in digital marketing is not just in the new use cases being developed. It’s in how those use cases will impact entire systems that have popped up as a way to manage the digital marketplace. In a time when digital marketing seems to be changing and growing by the moment, blockchain is changing digital marketing in disruptive, perhaps even irreversible ways.
The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.