stacked containers
Blockchain technology is slowly moving into the martech world, but it still has some kinks to work out before it can deliver on the hype PHOTO: frank mckenna

Jeremy Epstein likened his wait for blockchain to enter the marketing industry to this: he's sitting in a stadium waiting for a football game to begin. He’s got a ticket that says the game will start at 1 pm ET. What he doesn’t know is if the game is at 1 pm today, 1 pm tomorrow or is taking place in five months from now.

“I used to think maybe I had gotten to the stadium five months before the season started,” said Epstein, who is the CEO of Never Stop Marketing and the author of "The CMO’s Primer for the Blockchain World." 

“Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that I am only a few hours early and the game is about to start,” he told CMSWire.

Blockchain Explained

There has been much ado about blockchain lately and for good reason. The technology, which was first conceptualized by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, has been slowly and then not-so-slowly making its way into a handful of industries, with financial being the most prominent.

Briefly, the technology is comprised of a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptographic techniques. When each block is created, it receives a timestamp that links it to the previous block. Perhaps most ingenious is that blockchains are crowd-validated, making it difficult to change them. At least 50 percent of the participating computers that support blockchain must confirm any given block. The end creation is a secure and verifiable record.

Jeremy Epstein
Jeremy Epstein
It is easy to see why the finance sector — or rather the fintech — has been using blockchain as a base for disruptive applications. Other sectors, such as transportation, are moving in this direction as well.

Now, according to Epstein and a number of other professionals CMSWire spoke with, the marketing space is beginning to move towards the technology.

Signs of this, he says, include pilot projects, industry conferences and seminars and, of course, the growing number of applications themselves.

As blockchain becomes more prevalent in the space it will introduce all kinds of new efficiencies, such as cost-reduction and greater flexibility in certain applications such as display advertising, Epstein says. It'll produce more confidence in the data that other applications like predictive analytics produces. "In the long run we will see new markets open up whereas before those customers were just not cost-effective enough to reach."

30 Marketing Blockchain Apps (and Counting)

There are some 30 blockchain applications in the marketing space, according to Epstein’s newly released Blockchain Marketing Technology Landscape. These include adChain, Papyrus, AdEx and Proof of Work in the display and programmatic advertising space; BitBounce for email marketing; VidRoll for video marketing; Decent for content marketing; Onename for CRM; Augur for predictive analytics; and Santiment for marketing analytics.

But these are clearly early days for the industry — Epstein’s landscape still has plenty of white space. Categories such as mobile and web analytics and sales automation, to name just two, are blank. The existing apps themselves also have room to progress. 

Ben Feldman
Ben Feldman
One vendor on Epstein’s list is NYIAX. Part of the display and programmatic advertising category, it is a transaction ledger for the trading, and re-trading, of forward guaranteed contracts. 

“At the forefront of many minds in marketing is whether blockchain can resolve issues within the RTB [real time bidding] arena of programmatic,” Ben Feldman, VP of Technical Operations, NYIAX told CMSWire. “Every day, there is growing progress on the transaction speed capabilities of various blockchain infrastructures. While today the volume of transactions handled on a per second, or per day, basis are too high to be recorded on an individual basis, that may change in the near future.”

Epstein’s chart will become crowded soon enough, he believes, and as it does observers will start to notice a pattern. It is the same pattern that enthusiasts for the technology in other sectors have noticed, which is that blockchain is able to drag all sorts of efficiencies — or as some would call it, the middleman — out of a sector.

“It’s no accident that, when you look at the marketing technology landscape that ad technology has the most applications,” Epstein said. “Everyone knows that it is a total cluster for the end user.”

In the case of ad tech, the various solutions follow the same premise: by cutting out the middleman the technology can save money delivering a higher ROI for the advertisements. In addition because the users are verified by blockchain the brands that are placing the ads actually know that they are being seen by the people who are meant to see them.

“The advertiser will know that this particular person saw its ad and now wants to establish a relationship. The brand starts building trust with that person, having conversations that demonstrate a respect for the customer’s time,” he said.

Blockchain Technology's Fundamental Promise

Areiel Wolanow
Areiel Wolanow
To understand how that happens one has to understand the two main use cases underpinning blockchain for marketing right now, according to Areiel Wolanow, managing director of the consultancy Finserv Experts: tracking and provenance. 

For the former, he said, “blockchain’s immutability and shared ownership of transaction data is being used to develop content tagging and tracking systems that will be used to provide a reliable and monetizable record of who has seen a given piece of marketing content. This kind of trusted record can serve as the basis for innovative and far more accurate pricing models.”

As for the latter, blockchain solutions are already being used to provide an independent record of provenance for high-value assets, Wolanow said. These apps — he cites Everledger as one example — create a record of authenticity that can be used to defeat counterfeiting and identify buyers and sellers of low-quality goods that can damage the perception of a brand. 

For marketers, provenance translates into nothing short of the Holy Grail.

“End customers will benefit by only having to pay for marketing messages that actually reach their intended target, and by having the visibility to see at a much more granular level which messages actually prompt action,” Wolanow said.

Delivering on Smart Marketing Contracts Too

Avani Desai
Avani Desai
Blockchain can also provide for smart contracts should something goes awry, says Avani Desai, principal Privacy Leader and EVP of Schellman & Co., an independent security, privacy and standards compliance assessor. 

“Smart contracts use blockchain to be able to set up services or goods between parties without using a middleman and enforce the obligations of the contract, she told CMSWire.

“The best way to think about it, is an if-then premise. If I have a contract to put together a marketing campaign that must have a specific number of impressions and I set it at a specific price and the impressions is not met — the contract is immediately null and void and the cryptocurrency deposit I put in there is sent back to me.

“If the marketing campaign hits the number of impressions we decided on and is in the contract then the contract is executed and I am bound to the contract, and it witnessed by thousands of people on the block, and my deposit that I had is paid to the organization managing the campaign.”

Is Blockchain Ready for Marketing Prime Time?

Rob Weatherhead
Rob Weatherhead
None of this is to guarantee that blockchain will, without a doubt, disrupt marketing as we know it. 

"Blockchain has the potential to address some of the issues we face with digital advertising and marketing, but it is a long way from the solution some people laud it to be," said Rob Weatherhead, a digital advertising consultant with 15 years experience working for some of the world’s largest agencies including Dentsu Aegis and WPP.

There are fundamental issues with its ability to deal with large scale transactions, and the fact it is a decentralized solution requiring collaborative input, he told CMSWire. “The decentralization in particular is an issue within advertising technology,” Weatherhead said.

“With existing markets which are fiercely competitive it is a huge ask to break down the silos in their approach, especially when there is so much money at stake. I think we are a few years away from it being a viable solution and there are simpler solutions to some of the individual challenges we face.”

Maybe. But so far the industry has been unable to deliver. We may just have to wait — ticket for the big game in hand — until these issues are resolved.