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The Abyss beyond Blockchain

Is it the next big thing – or just a big thing, or even only an average thing? Digital prophets and transformation evangelists kneel at the alter of Blockchain in the best messianic manner. After all, it will change nothing less than the world as we see it, and as Marketeers bent on brand purpose, we should definitely be part of that, we think?

However not all is clear in the church of Blockchain: The prophets have spoken and yet there is still a lack of a tangible – let alone meaningful use-cases. So far no water has been turned to wine. The applicability of Blockchain is not yet such that the entrenched masses will convert. However, legend has it that Jeff Bezos’ own business model in the first few years was not so clear to both the preacher and his followers.

Those searching for enlightenment in a VUCA world are already evangelizing. The gamblers and intrepid Pre-Early-Stage investors have already bet their shirts on the Blockchain dream. And like drug addicts they salivate over the ‘more risk- more profits’ euphoric high. This has always been the case since the dawn of entrepreneurial time, and for those driven by greed and status Blockchain smells ripe for dealing on every corporate street corner.

Let there be no misunderstanding. The intent here is not to solicit believers towards a potential counter religion, in a voice shrill with denial, jealousy or vindication in order to gain attention and recognition. The notion of a fathomless Abyss “Beyond Blockchain” should not nourish the author’s hubris. By no means. Rather, it is about considering one’s position in relation to the inevitable unknown

Everything has its time. Even in disruptive and rapidly changing times of transformation, technologies, hypes and trends come and go -“Never before have things changed so quickly as they do today, and yet they will never change so slowly again,” Justin Trudeau correctly stated in 2018. And yet: even in ultra-changing speed-up mode, there will always be visions, approaches and innovations that warrant validation in the real world, so that we can potentially practice what is preached to us! Otherwise, ‘perish the thought’ – we might be destined to reconsider the merits of a barrage of fairy dust and unicorns.

But everything has its time and not everything is good for everything, but according to Kevin Kelly’s 12 forces. The time is NOW – the time of ‘beginnings’ .The 3E Trap (Everything, Everywhere, Every time) also applies to this transient religion. Let’s unpack this technology suitcase, and examine the items that will apparently define our very existence. Or to put it another way, the Cree said: “At the latest when the last bank has closed its counters, you will notice that for centuries we have paid an incredible amount of money to those who have declared mistrust to be the omnipresent sword of Damocles, in order to secure their trust.” Successfully, admittedly. But finally unmasked. By simply stringing zeros and ones together. Simple, but highly efficient and really incorruptible. You don’t need to be an economist or a politician to know that numbers lie.

So what of Blockchain’s ‘go to market’ It should not be a crusaders manifesto for the abolition of banks. That would be good for reach because it’s populist, but it has nothing to do with looking behind the blockchain in marketing. In marketing, Blockchain will certainly take quite some time until it creates traction and changes something. The first hypothetical use cases have been written, but let’s be honest: Who of us Marketeers is currently working with blockchain-based processes? Time for a deep dive into the status of one of the largest mantras of current transformation gurus.

First there is the Brave browser, which has been ‘realized’ as more than a promise and can be shown at any time. The flagship project of every “blockchain in marketing” Keynote. It exists, works and is even somewhat trivially explainable. The Brave Browser is about a thoroughly customer-centric approach. The browser itself pays users when they consciously and freely look at advertising. Displays, pre-rolls and the like are radically hidden, unless the user gives his consent, for which he is then rewarded or paid with Bitcoin or other crypto currencies. So we are quickly back to the use case of payment or transfer of money from A to B on the basis of trust (does A have enough money to pay B?. Is the transaction correct? Did B really see the advertisement?). That’s where the blockchain comes into its own.

But the crucial question is: Why are you reading from the Brave Browser for the first time today and why has the Brave Browser not long since become the number one browser? The answer is quite simple: Never change a running profit making process. And I don’t know what I don’t know.

Ironically there is more to the trivial payment function of the Brave Browser. Much more. It’s actually about a gamechanger in the well-oiled interaction between advertisers (yes – we are meant, dear colleagues), the totally transparent media agencies as intermediaries – and the publishers who earn their money with advertising. The Brave Browser redefines “reach”. It pays users for their definite and unequivocally proven interest in the advertiser’s advertising messages via blockchain. The crucial question is: Does everyone want that? Or does the media agency arena, like the publishers, actually live quite well with the old formula of defining the GRP as the all-decisive KPI instead of using the Net Rating Point? In plain language: If you iron and fetch beer while the spot is running, you are a reached consumer in the CPM (thousand contact price) bill. And that has worked well for centuries and made many rich. So please do not change. After all, media agencies and publishers are two important factors in the equation from advertiser to recipient. And besides: who has chosen this “stupid” idea to pay the user for his interest and thus transfer a share directly from the advertiser to the consumer? And at the expense of media brokers and publishers. A rogue who thinks evil. Advertising money to the consumer – so please – please include this calculation in the full cost calculation of the offer cycle. But please do not touch our already strained budget for “scatter volume”.

And that puts us at a crossroads, dear colleagues in the marketing arena: As consumers themselves, downloading the Brave Browser and thus not only proving early adopter qualities? Or would you rather secure your professional existence and keep the system as it is? Then have fun in the next SEO and SEA meeting with the agency you trust.

Let’s move on to the next of the currently much quoted and forecast use cases for blockchain in marketing: the basic process between advertisers, media intermediaries and media, and their money flows and cost-performance calculations.

To make it short, and not to inadvertently preach the same sermon: Transparency claims yes – but really producing by means of blockchain-based purchasing of programmatic advertising, blockchain-based verification of fraud & brand safety and finally blockchain-based analysis of really reached traffic is on a different page. If the digital media business were really as transparent as it is pretended to be, the business model would neither be so much in demand nor would it be so passionately struggling for market shares with high investments. The ROI sends its greetings … Before we now take a closer look at every use case for blockchains in marketing, which is so close to the bone, we’d rather limit ourselves to one last, admittedly not entirely unpleasant use of the blockchain, if we take a closer look: In the future, “Smart Contracting” on a blockchain basis will regulate cooperation with social influencers in a standardized, transparent and trustworthy manner. Touche – that’s where we have it, the groundbreaking Gamechanger approach to marketing, isn’t it? After all, influencers are also the hot thing at the moment. Fits perfectly. After reading these lines, knowledgeable marketers are already stalking the question of whether “smart contracting” and the “influencers of today” are two terms that perhaps do not go together so well after all. Or to put it another way in a provocative way: If you have to question the ability to read and even form whole sentences with a large number of wannabe influencers, how are we supposed to structure a cooperation on the basis of smart contracting? Even more concrete is the question recently asked by an influencer in the agency: “Can you also send me the contract as a YouTube video? Let’s just take a few steps back to the good old days. Weil´s is so much fun. Because already in the 90s some top advertisers claimed behind closed doors that a TV spot shoot with Verona Feldbusch requires pain and suffering instead of a fee for the creation. And clearly Verona plays in the professional league. Time machine on – arrived in 2019: Transfer this to the current self-influencers, whose intellectual output is target group affinity, but is often minus four – which is defined as “conditionally viable with the help of others”. The instrument and the channel of “influencing” are not questioned at all. Only whether “smart contracting” on a block-chain basis really helps here? Let’s see, perhaps there will be a video-based smart contracting with blockchain proof in the next few years. That could actually help. In any case, at your next meeting with your trusted influencer agency, try to bring this topic up on the table and remain strictly serious.

Beyond Blockchain – you can see it already, there is not much to get in marketing at the moment. Not yet, mind you. Admittedly, it is not the author’s intention to misjudge a definitive game changer, just as Bill Gates once thought of the Internet as a hype that will pass by. Blockchain will change the world – most quickly and sustainably the world of traditional bankers. And later perhaps also our beautiful colorful marketing world. Only as the next big thing, as a panacea and as an expression of immeasurable expertise in combination with an advisory status at the crossroads into the future is the Blockchain in marketing currently only suitable to a limited extent. The religious leaders of Blockchain need to get their house in order to unmask those charlatans preaching false sermons full of provocative half truths. Trust me in the exited babble of the new disciple the abyss of irrelevance is not far away.

In this sense: Off to the next Bullshit Bingo Meeting. Maybe the term blockchain will come up.


Tobias Voigt