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Review of #WPLDN February 2018: How Blockchain is Going to Disrupt Digital Marketing

David Lockie
David is the founder of and Pragmatic with over fifteen years professional digital experience.

The February WordPress London Meetup (#WPLDN) was all about WordPress product development, accessibility and blockchains. Dcent founder, David Lockie, gave a presentation on how blockchain is going to disrupt digital marketing.

A Question of Trust

David started by explaining that – unlike much of the rest of society and human interaction – blockchain doesn’t rely on needing to trust anyone. Using blockchain means that you only need to put your trust in the maths behind it all. And this is an important aspect, because trust is something that is stagnant or in decline in most of the worlds markets. This is illustrated by renowned communications firm Edelman in its 2018 Trust Barometer, which explains how trust in employers, governments and media is dwindling.

It is increasingly necessary to trust in order to get anything done, yet with unease and building tensions, we’re finding it harder to trust. Against this backdrop of mistrust, blockchain represents an opportunity, a departure from the traditional way of doing things. Instead of needing to trust people, computers and organisations, with blockchain you only need to put trust in the hands of cryptography; in the hands of the maths behind it.

The Advantages of Blockchain Technology

Blockchain is a decentralised ledger technology, meaning that no single person or organisation, nor computer network even, is responsible for the data. Instead, there is a consensus by algorithm that each part – each block – in the chain agrees the details to do with individual transactions. This maintains the chain’s resilience, and as long as one or two nodes are running, then the whole network will continue to run.

All the data in the blockchain is transparent and immutable. Although systems can be designed to be closed, such as they are for anonymous cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology is open by design. This means that everyone can track a transaction within the blockchain.

Because it’s a distributed ledger, there’s no central processing, meaning that transactions are fast and efficient. For example, compared with a credit card transaction, you don’t need to wait for the authorising financial institution to check the transaction and send a confirmation back. Instead, it’s an incredibly powerful decentralised network that processes the transactions, and can do so at high speed and with potential for high volumes of transactions.

With such a high bandwidth for throughput, the system and data itself are all available to everyone. Within this resilient, decentralised network, anyone can access the data.

Data integrity is also guaranteed because if just one bit of data is changed, the chain would break as it would be impossible to validate the data.

How will Blockchain Disrupt Digital Marketing?

One of the ways that blockchain will affect digital marketing is that it has the potential to change the face of content marketing. With digital assets such as Basic Attention token, the efficiency of digital advertising is enhanced by the use of a token that can be exchanged between advertisers, publishers and users. In this way, the user’s attention itself is tokenised, leaving the browser to determine what to pay and to whom. So a user can be rewarded by an advertiser for watching its advert.

Blockchain also adds an anonymity shield whereby users can decide what they want to share with advertisers or publishers. This brings benefits to all parties. The users are in control of their data. The advertiser has greater control of its spend because it can be assured that this user is a genuine user, rather than a bot. And the publisher can be assured that if lots of people looking at their content, they will receive tokens, and not be beholden to advertisers so much.

User generated fraud is another problem that blockchain can solve. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain represent tools that can be used to promote good behaviour online, disincentivising bad behaviour such as tricking TripAdvisor to highly rank your non-existent restaurant. Miniscule charges can be added to each transaction, like sending email or adding comments on a blog post. Such a tiny charge wouldn’t inconvenience legitimate individuals or businesses, but spammers sending billions of emails would see the economics of their reward paybacks totally changed. Spam would become a costly inconvenience to the spammers, not to the recipients.

Blockchain can alter the SEO landscape too. Although there’s a certain amount of carrying one’s profile around the web at the moment, blockchain takes this to another level. An embedded schema markup could record an individual’s identity, or note the certifications that a user has earned, or the number of rewards that a post has earned. You could even use it to work out who contributed money towards certain posts and what other actions those users took. With all these aspects inputting into ranking factors for search and social, the web becomes a far richer social graph.

Blockchain can help to eradicate fraud in display marketing, completely revolutionising it as a medium. In 2016, it was estimated that bots were responsible for $7.2 billion of advertising fraud. Yet with blockchain as the foundation for display advertising, programmatic scams would be avoided and a more transparent system would show exactly who’s viewed an advert and what prices were paid.

What Does Blockchain Mean for the Brands of the Future?

Successful brands of the future will be those that have a human value and that clearly articulate what they represent. With a clear mission that people can get behind, customers become more like a community of believers, developing an emotional investment in the brand. Where there’s also some form of financial investment – perhaps by way of tokens backing a crowd-funded approach – there’s more validity to a brand and it becomes bigger than its employees and bigger than the community itself. Such online community-backed brands will have blockchain-enabled economic power to change policies, to change buying patterns, to change government policies.

Blockchain also enables social proof – proof for example in the provenance of ingredients, or the verity of the supply chain, or the absence of slave labour in the processing. This augments the trust in the brand and helps differentiate businesses from their competitors.

What Other Trends Might Blockchain Bring?

It’s not hard to imagine Facebook issuing its own token, and leveraging its marketplace and the social interaction within it. Nor is it such a leap to see assets being tokenised – such as insurance or property deeds. With consumers owning their own data, blockchain makes tasks like switching power suppliers easier, where a customer can port his own electricity usage across, for example. Or with banking, a customer can switch more easily when he has access to all his standing orders, direct debits and payee information.

This heightened consumer power comes with owning the data. When a user controls his own assets, he no longer needs to trust other providers that once held that for him – like banks or insurance companies, or even educational establishments or government. Individuals will undoubtedly have greater power and therefore greater choice.

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