Originally published in Advertising Age
Before anyone has had a chance to figure out their artificial intelligence strategy or augmented reality plan this year, along comes the blockchain to suck all the buzzword-filled air out of the room. But blockchain may be more impactful than anything marketers have encountered since the advent of the internet.
Defining “blockchain” in 2017 is akin to defining the internet in the early 1990s. Most people still can’t clearly describe what the internet is, but they know it is the backbone of the Web, email, streaming video, and mobile apps. Blockchain technically describes blocks of data strung together as a distributed ledger running over a peer-to-peer network that authenticates and protects the data. In practice, people will become familiar with blockchain through its uses, such as payments, identity verification, and others.
Here are 27 ways marketers and advertisers can expect to use blockchain. Some of these challenges are already being tackled by various technology firms through other means. While ad and identity verification aren’t new, this list shows the Swiss army knife versatility of blockchain. Thus, in some ways, blockchain applications will create entirely new solutions to marketers’ challenges, while other applications will aim to solve problems in ways that are arguably more impervious to fraud, more reliable, or better in some other way. If buyers (across brands and agencies) and sellers (across media and technology companies) can agree on the same blockchain standards, it may reduce the need for many third parties and leave a path of creative destruction in its wake.
- Verify ad delivery, confirming that a real person saw the ad for the contractually bound duration.
- Verify engagement with or performance of any ads delivered.
- Prevent the same ad from being overserved to anyone, and ensure optimal frequency.
- Pay publishers, tech companies, agencies, contractors, and others who should be compensated for the creation, delivery, or performance of the ad.
- Pay consumers for use of their implicit data, such as behavioral or psychographic data.
- Reward consumers for providing explicit data such as personally identifiable information, interests, and purchase plans.
- Give a consumer a transparent look at how his or her data has been used by the advertiser.
- Give consumers insight into how the marketer is using data in aggregate.
- Pay consumers for use of their content that they have already created, such as photos or videos of a brand.
- Reward consumers for contributing new content to an advertiser’s campaign.
- Verify that influencers are really influencers, and that they meet the marketer’s criteria.
- Verify that anyone’s followers are real people and not bots.
- Ensure any advertising or content has been approved by proper parties before it runs.
- Allow award competitions to determine if an ad being submitted qualifies as spec work and if the ad has been approved by the business that is featured in it.
- Verify voting for award shows or sponsored contests so that each person gets one vote, and each voter meets eligibility criteria.
- Mandate attribution for political ads, with authentication required before any ad runs.
- Give marketers an opportunity to create initial coin offerings (ICOs) to crowdfund new products or services. Investors gain stake in the venture.
- Ensure only current agency or vendor employees have access to their specified clients’ data with proper rights granted. This won’t eliminate agencies’ “Chinese wall’ challenges of working with clients that are direct competitors, but it will make those walls taller and stronger.
- Create new rewards programs for consumers, while making it harder for participants to fraudulently accumulate points.
- Vet and authenticate any and every contract.
- Create an auditable trail for agencies’ or contractors’ insurance policies.
- Store digital assets as an alternative to cloud hosting.
- Purchase or license rights from content creators (musicians, videographers, photographers) to use their work in campaigns.
- Verify employment history of job candidates while confirming reporting structures, identities of references, and other details.
- Enable a shift from the measurement of time spent on campaigns to measuring the output and performance of the work. Time sheets could be replaced or upended.
- Validate email delivery, and track the exchange of messages between marketers and their target audiences.
- As marketers use blockchain to minimize fraud, spam, and hacks, use that safety as a marketable asset.
This is just the beginning. The internet in 1994 was America Online and, for most people, not much else. Few had dreamed of search engines, social networks, or smartphones. Today, blockchain means little more than Bitcoin for most of those who have heard of it. The applications are coming, and marketing will never be the same.