Published in Jan-Feb 2018
You have heard about it in the context of digital currencies such as Bitcoin, Ripple and Ethereum among others. You have even heard of it as being dominated by supply chain and aviation. Pop culture and its myriad media outlets have painted blockchain as something to do with finance and corporate culture, something only math, finance and operational geeks can get their heads around. In all this chatter, the most important point has been missing from the conversation: digital marketing and the blockchain.
Let’s break this down for anyone still struggling to understand this technology. A blockchain is a list of records called blocks, which contain time stamps and transaction data that are linked and secured by using cryptography. It is virtually impossible to hack into or modify. Universally shared across the blockchain (in other words, a chain of blocks), everyone has a record of every transaction, hence there is no possibility of fraud or corruption. This removes middle-men, such as banks or regulatory authorities. This is also what makes it so critical to digital marketing.
Today, digital marketing is inundated, and in many cases, held ransom, by middle-men. From media buying agencies to online ad servers, freelancers to publishers, there is no end to the obstacles to full transparency and the flow of marketing directly to customers.
This is how blockchain will change digital marketing. Take, for example, the concept of media buyers. Already, machine learning has helped drive the success of programmatic advertising. Blockchain’s modus operandi will eliminate the need for an agency to handle programmatic’s initial signup and a ‘front man’ role, allowing advertisers to directly engage with the seller. This also offers 100% transparency on any ad dollars spent. Imagine being able to demonstrate absolute ROI without guesswork.
Another value will be with the traditional media buying agencies. The mark-ups, margins and in many cases, commissions charged by these agencies has for decades been ridiculous and created a global mafia of sorts, whereby agencies act as the walls brands have to climb over to reach their customers.
"Blockchain is changing the industry as we speak. Every industry, including yours. The best digital marketers are those who never stop learning, training and reading. Learn about blockchain and implement it. The game is about to change. It’s about time you changed too."
Now, imagine blockchain in this situation. You will see all the transactions made across the industry, with no need for a regulator. You will also see a change in the way negotiations are held with agencies on matters such as long-term partnerships or creative account management, simply because of the transparency in practice across the industry. The only way to remain competitive will be on creativity and not financial gain. This is a win for branding and digital marketing, in fact, for marketing as a whole.
I haven’t even come to social media, where ad buying is based on trust. As the social media advertising game has grown, what has also grown is the mistrust in the actual numbers. There are no verifiable statistics on the quality of the leads, clicks and other calls to action because these are provided by the networks, which offer their own insights. We either put up or shut up.
Enter blockchain. Secure impression tracking using ad blocks (cryptographic click and funnel tokens) will tell advertisers exactly what they are paying for, with no confusion on bots versus humans. The impact will also be felt on big and small data. Imagine access to transactional data in terms of clicks, completed funnels and goals as well as spends by customers. Now, imagine you can segment and target your ads directly to an incredibly deep selection of customers, based on every variable-buying demography available. The sheer ROI implications are astounding.
"My prediction is that the digital marketers who will win in the next five to 10 years will be the ones who invest in learning how to implement blockchain in their technology and strategy. Even better, they are likely to become managers within leading companies."
This brings me to an aspect many digital marketers think about often, desire more, and yet, are not able to turn into reality: education.
One of the most salient aspects of digital marketers is that they stop reading once they reach a certain stage in their career. This stage is usually when they reach middle management and have their hands full with campaigns, leading small teams and dealing with P&L (profit and loss) accountability. As a result, they cannot allocate time to educating themselves via certifications or programmes. It isn’t enough to watch a YouTube video; one needs to go the distance and master new platforms.
To this end, I implore digital marketers to learn about blockchain from the experts. Not cryptocurrency or Initial Coin Offering (ICO) experts, but from individuals or companies which excel in providing education and knowledge on the strategic, technical and operational aspects of establishing and running blockchain.
The point is to not make the same mistake people made with cryptocurrencies; rush in blindly because it was the cool thing to do, but without learning about how it works at a baseline level.
My prediction is that the digital marketers who will win in the next five to 10 years will be the ones who invest in learning how to implement blockchain in their technology and strategy. Even better, they are likely to become managers within leading companies. Today, the emphasis is on marketing managers who excel in digital thought leadership and content marketing. In a few years, this will become mainstream across the board; this will also be the time when the next generation of marketers will start to establish themselves. This generation will experience blockchain as natives, not inheriting it, but living it.
Blockchain in digital marketing is a new concept, even in the US, the UK and in other countries, advanced in their digital marketing strategies. Blockchain is changing the industry as we speak. Every industry, including yours. The best digital marketers are those who never stop learning, training and reading. Learn about blockchain and implement it. The game is about to change. It’s about time you changed too.
Anthony J. Permal is a digital marketing director based in Dubai. Follow him on Twitter @marketingdude