You can’t open a tech website or scroll through a LinkedIn feed these days without reading about blockchain. More than just a buzzword, blockchain has captured our collective imagination as a mode to decentralise and thereby improve a multitude of transactions.

The basic premise is that it introduces the possibility for people to exchange value without the need for a third party – for example, purchasing a house without the need for a solicitor, or shares without a broker.

The origins of blockchain technology are in the much-discussed cryptocurrency, bitcoin. There, it works as a shared and time-stamped digital record that transparently stores data in chronological order. Outside of the finance sector, it carries lots of potential for marketers and consumers too.

Will blockchain democratise personal data?

Consider how personal data is stored, used, bought and sold, and – sadly from time to time – breached.

As a type of encrypted and distributed ledger, blockchain differs to a centralised database of information in the sense that it can be more secure overall. For example, with an inadequately protected and centralised data store, once a hacker’s in, (s)he’s in. With a distributed ledger like blockchain, the prospect of hacking encrypted pieces of data along the chain is mightily unattractive and near impossible, as it requires immense amounts of time and computing power.

Added security is one thing, but as award-winning blockchain author Michael Mainelliargues in the Harvard Business Review, blockchains could also change how entire industries manage and control personal data. The prospects are quite transformative: it has the potential to return personal information control back into the hands of consumers, who could theoretically choose to sell or not sell their personal data to organisations for set periods of time, granting rights access as needed, for a fee.

That would change the playing field, and contribute to the same kind of consumer empowerment we’ve seen resulting from other technologies like webtech and social media. The control of personal data could be prised from new media companies, credit reporting agencies and big retailers.

And all this personal data is central to online advertising.

Blockchain makes data even more effective for marketers

Once the concept of consumer empowerment around data settles in, we can anticipate changes to various lines of business, advertising and marketing.

How will blockchain play out in online advertising? It’s already begun.

The same decentralisation effect that is playing out in the finance sector is taking place in the adtech world. New venture Bitcomo is launching soon with “smart” contracts on a blockchain platform for online advertising and lead-generation. The premise is that advertisers will enjoy greater transparency as every click and lead is tracked openly, eradicating potential fraud from the buying and selling process. It’s a two-way affair; publishers will achieve more predictable and visible revenue from the process too.

Another newcomer just getting going now is Papyrus, which aims to be a disruptive and decentralised digital ad platform capable of processing hundreds of billions of targeted ads daily. We marketers need to pay attention to these platforms because the potential is ripe for better cost efficiency. At Lenovo, we’ve already fine-tuned our programmatic spend by managing parts of it in-house, but when you consider the digital supply chain, blockchain promises to add more value to the chain.

These developments and others like them are all very new, and not every platform will emerge triumphant. But now is the time to investigate the potential and get ready for the blockchain marketing opportunity. Not only will users soon have more control over their own personal data, marketers will be able to reach a more relevant audience with the messages they are actually looking for via expressly stated data-sharing preferences. This is the exciting new martech and adtech world – and we are on the cusp of it right now.

My advice to my marketing colleagues is to stay educated on the developments the industry is making, and where appropriate, trial systems in a controlled environment. It’s the difference between staying at the bleeding edge, seeking to uncover value, where value exists, or being left behind by the opportunities blockchain can bring to both marketing and your entire organisation.

If blockchain has the potential to revolutionise commerce by democratising data, then marketing will definitely be affected. In fact, I believe it will fundamentally change how companies and advertisers do business.

What do you think of the potential of blockchain? Please leave a comment below or reach me on Twitter.

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