There aren’t a lot of things that are as rapid to change and as sensitive to word on the street as marketing technologies. Digital marketing, in particular, is the most controversial subject. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the fact that you need it in case you run any type of business. The reason why the topic of digital marketing is polarizing is its variability in methods and outcomes. There is no universal strategy for success in the market but there is a variety of ways to get there.
Why conventional ads need a twist
The unprecedented exposure digital advertising granted to entrepreneurs came at a certain price. Compromised ethics is the question raised at every social and political level. Because the internet is everywhere and for everyone, it’s fair to ask where the information is kept, who uses it and who’s benefiting from it all.
It comes as no surprise that digital marketing is being controlled by those who obtain the maximum data and run the biggest exposure platforms. This gives these giant companies the leverage to influence the evolution of marketing for everyone else.
This might not necessarily be a bad thing but it certainly is not the level playing field the internet used to be. The very possibility of faulty and corrupt practices in digital advertising dubs its inevitability. They say, ‘even a broken clock is right twice a day’, and we’ve witnessed that in terms of ads.
Image credit: GQ
In one of our recent posts, we spoke about the demise of old digital marketing on the internet and how it’s time to on web ads as we knew it. In this piece, we’ll cover the new ways of marketing products and services. Blockchain ads in particular.
The question is: can blockchain disrupt digital marketing? And if so, how? Can it withstand the big money, the attempts of taming, and legislation? Will digital marketing become free from platform slavery and avoid pushing the boulder up a hill in favor of the process rather than the result? This has nothing to deal with cryptocurrency and Bitcoin, so if you are into that type of blockchain, perhaps this is not for you. If you are a marketer or an entrepreneur in search of a new territory to chart, you might be interested in researching this topic further.
Still, what is blockchain?
There is a multitude of definitions all relating to different applications of the technology, but in a nutshell, blockchain is a potentially infinite set of digital records created, kept, and acknowledged by a variety of users.
The power of a blockchain is not only and not so much in cryptocurrencies as in the innovative approach to doing things on the web and using the web.
By now, blockchain-based technologies implemented in various industries are a force to be reckoned with. Mainly due to the whole new approach to security, blockchain has already had a lot of impact in the financial and data-driven sectors of the economy.
Blockchain is a set of records grouped consecutively in a fixed order. These records register every transaction within the block and the addition of new blocks on a constant basis. Whenever a new computer joins a blockchain database, it gets a copy of all the information and transaction data stored on the blockchain until that very moment. Each block depends on each other which makes all the attempts to alter transactions (delete or reverse) impractical and unreasonable. The very nature of blockchain makes the data secure by design. The records are not stored in one place – they are distributed, thereby, not subjected to shutdowns, resellings, interventions, and so on.
“A blockchain wholly controlled by a single entity offers barely incremental benefit.” – Phil Gomes
With that said, a reasonable concern comes up: granted the infinite potential of digital objects, how do we tie it to the physical objects that are finite? What is the ultimate force that holds us from just reduplicating digital money? How do we ensure “digital scarcity” and consensually follow a common ruleset?
The first thing that makes blockchain possible is the absence of any kind of central authority governing the policy. If there is no single source dictation value, then this value is consensual. With no authority capable of diminishing the value of a digital asset, its value is as high as we agree it to be.
As of now, we are used to perceiving these scarce digital assets as money because it makes the most sense when we speak of a finite valuable entity. However, this concept reaches far beyond money. We are fine with replicated digital media and tend to tolerate even our own digital identities being duplicated across various platforms. Now imagine every single thing you produce or every datum shared being delivered in a manner where ownership is mathematically verified. This reshapes the concepts of ownership and property as we knew it.
Blockchain grants us the ability to own a unique digital asset, whatever it may be, without a chance of losing it in an unlawful way.
To narrow down the features of blockchain to those of relevance to digital marketing, let’s grasp the following ideas:
- Blockchain is permissionless. It requires no authority to let anyone join a blockchain.
- Blockchain is transparent. It comes with visible time-stamped data on all the nodes.
- Blockchain is immutable. The data can’t be erased or changed, as they all have copies.
- Blockchain is distributed. The data is accessible in multiple places.
- Blockchain is consensual. All parties involved need to agree on the state of data.
- Blockchain is sustainable. Parties involved can’t affect the system in a destructive way.
Image credit: Liz Broekhuyse
Blockchain was invented by the anonymous scientist or a group of those with a sole purpose of deinstitutionalizing the essential amenities the internet gives. With the lack of trust to the vertical, blockchain proponents unwillingly tempted institutions into the blockchain technology. We are yet to see the hybrid of heavily standardized and regulated institutions embracing some of the open blockchain features. As of now, blockchain is being actively implemented in various industries and applications leading to more exposure and a faster growth of public awareness.
What’s in blockchain marketing-wise?
The abundance of products and services bombarding customers with ads is the direct result of technological growth both in production and promotion. However, it was not always like this. Before, the manufacturers would produce things they saw as relevant with little impact from the customer. In the conditions of limited competition, you could neglect the want and focus on the need. But as competition kept growing, businesses realized that selling what the customers want is way more lucrative.
On top of that, if you can stimulate that want, you might be hitting the mother lode. As a result, the products branched, creating this abundance of offers aimed at pleasing our senses and offering utility. This turned marketing from the practice of spreading the word about what you produce to
The science of identifying customer needs and turning them into products that could be sold.
The same technological advances that allowed better products to be made also increased the scope of their existence. Manufacturers no longer step down after the purchase. Staying connected to the customer, constantly pitching newer products to them, providing updates and so on, are the footprints of modern digital production.
Many marketers consider blockchain to be a far cry from what they do if it’s not connected to the cryptocurrency shenanigans. Partially due to the shady folks immediately picking up the technology, partially because of the trusted information deficit, but blockchain is the last thing you’d think of when planning a marketing campaign or building an ad.
As mentioned above, we haven’t even come close to unfolding blockchain’s full potential. From what we know, blockchain can be used in marketing for these reasons:
- The level of transparency and security that blockchain offers is magnetic for all the major industries and frameworks serving them.
- Marketing a product or service that can benefit from blockchain using blockchain is a win-win.
- Blockchain has all the tools to become a disruptive innovation in marketing, in which case it will reshape the existing paradigm and allow lower cost alternatives and smaller producers to have their say.
If retaining customers is no longer a great challenge, attracting new users remains one. One of the oldest and most effective mechanisms of doing that is advertising. It is arguably the most expensive part of the marketing process.
Because of the scarcity, ads have to be appealing for customers in the right place, at the right time.
Ads have to guarantee customer satisfaction. They have only one shot on goal with no right to miss. If the ads do hit the spot, everything else about the product marketing has to be on point in order for the product to be effective. No wonder companies look to establish their ad campaigns on the resources with maximum exposure. This along gives those platforms the ultimate leverage to influence markets according to their needs. This is the same institutionalization and centralization that blockchain was made to confront.
Image credit: Alexei Vella
Traditional systems are designed to make the profit off of the participants’ transactions they conduct. Think of it as a country whose territory is partially used by a giant gas pipeline. The country might not be producing that gas but the fact that it allows it to run through its territory is the reason to get a bite of the real producer and ultimately, the customer.
In that sense, running an ad campaign on Google is paying for the mediation it provides. There is no guarantee an end customer will enjoy your product. There is no guarantee you’ll be satisfied by the exposure you get. The only one whose interest is secured is Google.
Blockchain has the power to change that by removing the third party out of the equation and disrupting the layered system created in the early days of the internet.
If we treat this concept as the highest value, there is a bunch of more tangible advantages the blockchain technology can bring to better product marketing.
Counterfeit and pirated products are the curses of today’s industries. Digital content being distributed with massive copyright violations and the number of knock-off brands flooding the market is a huge problem for everyone. Businesses with established names have to deal with this, as well as the smaller producers suffering from the fact that big brand ripoffs are present in their market segment.
One of the ways blockchain can disrupt this unhealthy ecosystem is by uniting with the Internet of Things (IoT) movement. This combo is capable of diminishing the knock-off industry by building and facilitating ecosystems of participants designed to maintain decentralized consensus for product identity and reputation. In simple terms, it works like this:
A producer attributes a unique key to every product item. The key is bound to a blockchain record tracing the item history and providing additional authentic information.
For example, is a company developing an integrated blockchain and IoT hardware solution to solve IoT’s issues with identity, security, and interoperability. As stated, the problems they are addressing are very evident: identity, security, privacy, uniformity of open-data initiatives, and total clarity about the benefits blockchain has to offer.
Most technologically complex products have an extended life circle on the secondary market. By using the unique identifiers with a blockchain record of transactions can provide the transparent chain of ownership and in some cases increase the value of certain pre-owned authentic goods.
Stores like that are taking authenticity and secondary usage very seriously, could benefit from the interactive experiences they can create with the unalterable records of origin and previous ownerships.
As users, we have the access to the information about when and where the product was made but not how it reached us, were there any unethical events happening along the journey of the product, have the conditions of the transportation been properly observed, and so on. The intersection with the physical realm is especially important here, as there is a problem of shipping based on the traditional Bill of Lading system subjected to fraud and theft. Chain of Things is working on a protocol in which the pivotal legal document in shipping (the Bill of Lading) can be digitized on a blockchain and terms of the shipping contract can be executed in code based on real-time data provided from IoT devices (Smart Agents) accompanying the parcel.
Smart Bill of Lading would designate certain devices as the monitoring agents of certain terms in the shipping contract. These devices would simply relay data to the Smart BoL, acting as a ‘hardware Oracle’ for shipment conditions data.
The blockchain features we’ve mentioned only cover a tiny bit of opportunities they present for marketing. In reality, where we are constantly bombarded with products and data, we’ve developed a thick skin and it is not always good. It does save a lot of time and energy but it also filters out the smaller producers’ efforts mistaking them for the part of the hoard. Every now and then a good email gets marked as spam.
Decentralization of production is impossible with bandwidth solutions and requires a distinctive and transparent approach to product development. The approach that blockchain has ingrained in it.
A proven advantage of digital marketing is the ability to target advertisements in accordance with the information received from/about the users. Digital ads being a costly media required what is called relevant advertising in order to optimize the costs and stand out from the abundance of available advertisements thrown at users daily from multiple platforms.
There are three parties involved in the circulation of digital ads:
The connections between these parties create the ecosystem of marketing relationships and define the success of advertisements. Unfortunately, this architecture is often too complicated and does not qualify as team effort. Trust issues, fraud, inconsistency are only a few of the adversities within this ecosystem. Transparency in it is not only a luxury, it is barely possible.
A reasonable question rises up: why do the relationships between a manufacturer and a customer become so entangled and infested with middlemen? The answer is simple, today’s manufacturers can’t reach their clients on their own. They need someone to deliver their message according to the address specified. The ad industry than, generated a role for the proxies between the provider and the client.
In the world where attention became a currency, marketers have to deal with something as changeable and fleeting as user tastes and moods.
For advertisers, this means they have to completely rely on the analytical data to make better marketing decisions. The analytical data thus becomes another commodity and leads to more shady schemes, poaching, and unethical acquisition. On top of that, there is no verification available for that data which takes it to a level of blindfolded marketing. This eventually, can backfire on the brand and run the whole purpose of marketing. From the perspective of a user and a consumer of ads, the issue with unethical use and acquisition of their personal data is a key factor in dissatisfaction.
So it becomes quite evident that digital ads run a vicious circle with multiple vulnerabilities exposed all the time. Verifiable data is the core of these issues.
The reason why companies started incorporating the blockchain principles in advertising is because the very nature of blockchain is always verified and difficult to modify.
What blockchain-based technologies can provide in terms of data privacy, transparency, and security can change digital advertising big time. An innovative advertising system can help users regain control over their personal data and only render it for the appropriate incentives. This creates a healthier environment for advertisers allowing them to be more effective in reaching their target audience and taking proxies out of the equation.
Image credit: Basic Attention Token
Advertising problems blockchain addresses
The internet in the face of giant media corporations made access to free information public. In order to connect people, give everybody a voice, provide them with various means to express their digital selves, businesses had to pay for the technological development of the internet. These costs reflected in the companies chasing the revenue to make up for those advances.
As ads kept getting more and more popular, companies started collecting the information of their users in order to provide a more targeted and relevant advertising experience. First, those were behavioral data to decipher demographics and interests from. Later on, it became all the personal data available for collecting.
Media companies fell into a loophole where they owned a resource people would bring their information to, and transformed that information into tangible profit without complimenting the users.
Technically, the data they collected was no one’s. Like our eyes capturing the sights in the open view. With that said, it’s an essential right of a user to own their personal data, therefore have the control over its privacy.
In practice, this could mean the creation of peer-to-peer platforms for information exchange. User data would be stored securely on blockchain, protected by cryptography. The information would be safer there than in the database of companies who have an interest in collecting information. Theoretically, blockchain is hackable, but it’s much safer than most platforms used right used to store information.
Another huge issue that creates a bad psychological vibe around most ads is most of them are not relevant.
This problem hits both parties as it provides no customer value and does not positively affect the ROI. The adblock is a direct result of this contraption.
Even personalized ads do not always hit the target mainly due to the lack of a conscious user involvement with advertising. Trying to figure out the ads based on the unverified data is a waste of resources. In fact, if we accept the fact (and we should) that the users are the proprietary owners of their data, ads should only be based on the data they provide.
Image credit: Berin Catic
That way, marketers reach only the users correspondingly interested in the specific ads. Blockchain-based marketing systems fix this by introducing decentralized networks of advertisers, publishers, and users all equally interested in a valuable trade-off.
The blockchain method is the heart of such a system. It runs the smart contracts, facilitates the incentives mechanism, introduces decentralized cryptographic monetary options if needed, and securely stores all the data involved in the process.
All the benefits blockchain promises are very practical and logical. A single-source, transparent, and trusted ecosystem solves so many problems with fake accounts, data bots, and duplicated data. Something merely impossible to do now.
Blockchain offers almost a self-cleansing mechanism of digital advertising.
There are no monstrous companies investing into the technology yet and most of the blockchain market is run by smaller companies with more of a technical rather than the entrepreneurial background. Most people are still suspicious of blockchain-powered solutions which give the industry a lot of room for experiment and exploration.