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If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few months, you have likely heard someone bring up Bitcoin, a blockchain, or some other oddly-named cryptocurrency (ex. Cyptokitties).

Most people know that blockchain is the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin; in fact, some people confuse blockchains and Bitcoin as being one and the same. They’re not.

Don’t let the quirky naming conventions fool you, defining blockchain in 2017 reminds me of trying to define the “Internet” in the early 1990s. Most people today still can’t clearly define what the Internet is, but they know that without it, there would likely be no websites, e-commerce, streaming video or mobile apps.

We joke with clients, “if you ask 10 people in your company what your brand story is– and you get 11 different answers, you have a problem.” At the risk of adding the 11th story, below is to help you understand blockchains.

A blockchain is a new type of decentralized data structure that offers transparency and security. It is a way to store massive amounts of data and transactions securely via encrypted, peer-to-peer networks.

Think of a blockchain like a massive Google doc. Anyone with access to the decentralized peer-to-peer network can contribute. Contributions will be encrypted and recorded along with any edits. No one else can edit the content of your contributions, and only people with the proper permissions can view or analyze contributions.

What makes it special is that it has been decentralized. So instead of Google serving as the gatekeeper, meaning “they”- a centralized unit- can determine who can see and contribute what and how, the peer to peer network and its algorithms are the new decentralized authority. The participants of this network are compensated for being that authority through tokens or cryptocurrencies. Instead of the doc living on Google’s server, it’s distributed across different nodes or users.

You can’t change what has been put on a blockchain — and not one person or entity can destroy a blockchain.

The applications that have been put forth for how this new solution can be used are almost overwhelming, but with this wave has been a revived energy of innovation that’s exciting to all marketers.

What marketing challenges can be met by the power of a blockchain?

Some challenges are already being tackled by MarTech firms or through other means and won’t require intervention. Blockchain applications have the opportunity to 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 improved in some way.

Below I’ve outlined ideal targets for transformation:

Advertising and Campaign Effectiveness

Advertising is a prime target for decentralization. Instead of the current duopoly (Google, Facebook, and increasingly Amazon) that runs your ad budget, you could very soon be placing your messaging with a blockchain and the hopefully more transparent, algorithms that run across it.

For consumers, they are no longer passively allowing tech companies to determine what they see and want. It offers the opportunity for an “opt-in.” Consumers can know how ads are making their way to them, and exactly what information they are giving up allowing for personalization.

For brands, it offers an opportunity for enlightened marketing. With a blockchain application you can potentially:

  • Verify ad delivery, confirming that a real, highly-qualified 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.
  • Assure that content has been approved by proper parties before it publishes.
  • Validate campaign delivery, and track the exchange of messages between marketers and their target audiences.
  • Create an auditable trail of agencies’ or contractors’ advertising activity.

With over half of the internet using Chrome as their browser, don’t expect Google to relinquish their cash cow, but don’t be surprised if they see some interesting competition in a blockchain driven browser.

Google has attempted to offer visions for ad viewability among other efforts, but the use of ad blockers is on the rise. A blockchain driven browser or solution could offer the solution.

Marketing Resource and Asset Management

While the operations behind marketing is not always the sexiest topic, it could prove primed for a decentralized transformation. A blockchain solution could offer a more secure way of protecting one’s intellectual property.

Some ways blockchain could accomplish this:

  • Provide storage for digital assets as an alternative to cloud hosting.
  • Assure compliance with brand standards.
  • Ensure current agency or vendor employees have access to their specified clients’ data with proper rights granted.
  • Purchase or license rights from content creators (musicians, videographers, photographers) to use their work in campaigns.

Blockchain applications could also help with the most important asset within your department- the people. A blockchain driven application can verify employment history of job candidates confirming reporting structures, identities of references, and other details.

For contractors, blockchains could enable a shift from the measurement of time spent on campaigns to measure the output and performance. Time sheets could be replaced or upended.

There are countless possibilities for marketers. A blockchain driven shift can be disruptive. We can expect that the consumer-oriented shifts we see today will hit overdrive.

It’s only through an authentic story, customer-focused strategies, and aligned systems that marketers will find themselves capable of breaking through to win in a blockchain driven world.

To learn more, read my new book, Marketing, Interrupted, where I share some of the best lessons I’ve encountered over years of working with companies to tackle the unique challenges of marketing.