Blockchain marketing in 2018

Blocks, of course. Photo by Esther Jiao on Unsplash

Throughout 2018, I tried to keep up with what was happening in blockchain marketing. In this article, I’m going to share some of the best articles I read throughout the year.

While this topic is important to me, I realise that most marketers see blockchain as either a flight of fancy or an interesting but obscure niche. Either way, hopefully this helps a few people with a passing interest (or more) to find out what’s been going on over the last year.

Blockchain marketing success stories

Every marketer understands the power of a good case study. Unfortunately for blockchain marketing in 2018, there weren’t that many to point out.

One area that gets a lot of attention in conversations about blockchain marketing is programmatic ad buying, and it is here where some positive news has occurred. In October, two of the biggest brands in the world released news about how blockchain had improved their ad buying process:

Toyota sees 21% performance lift with blockchain optimization for programmatic ads

AB InBev sees blockchain ad benefits

Essentially, it seems both companies have benefitted from using shared ledgers (separate ones, I presume) that recorded when ad space had been purchased, in a way that meant the record couldn’t be manipulated by a single party. While these positive news stories are good to see, the unsubstantiated commentary that often comes with them — ‘blockchain is seen as a solution to the problems surrounding programmatic ad buys’ — is unlikely to convince many marketers that they should invest time and effort in the technology.

Even so, there were other positive signs in 2018, as global market leaders dipped their toes into blockchain marketing and other related fields:

Ad holding companies ramp up support for blockchain

The Marketing Group (RYVL) makes €4.8m Blockchain Nordic acquisition

Havas moves into cryptocurrency space with blockchain comms division

The marketing industry’s view of blockchain

With few big ‘news’ stories to report, the established marketing and advertising publications haven’t explored the topic of blockchain marketing on a regular basis. At the start of the year, there was a focus on explainer articles, presumably in response to the cryptocurrency craze that hit at the end of 2017.

Econsultancy kicked off with an ask the experts article in February, which was followed up by a demystifying blockchain guide later in the year. Emarketer followed a similar path with blockchain — what marketers need to know and then reported how advertisers have mixed confidence in blockchain in October. Digital agency Isobar also weighed in with its blockchain playbook for marketers.

The Drum took a more contrarian approach with its how to tell when someone is talking BS about blockchain article in March. This last article contains a great quote that sums up where blockchain-based programmatic advertising probably is right now:

“One of the things I always hear is that ‘blockchain is going to solve fraud.’ Blockchain is not a mosquito repellent, you don’t just spray blockchain on stuff and then say ‘oh look all the fraud went away’.”

Blockchain in marketing

A lot of the best coverage of blockchain in marketing (which is different to the marketing of blockchain, as explained later) in 2018 focused on the future potential of the technology.

When it comes to crystal ball gazing, I find the general management publications often have an edge. Harvard Business Review has always had a good grasp of what blockchain is and has fairly assessed both its potential and its limitations. In March, it tackled the question of what blockchain could mean for marketing, providing a good overview of how the technology will be utilised.

While you might finish this article with the same nagging frustration about how these blockchain marketing applications actually work, it should help expand your understanding. It also explains how dealing with the smallest ad buying transactions off-chain, before any interaction with the blockchain ledger occurs, might be the way things actually pan out (almost like a lightning network for ads).

Another standout piece of content, which was updated rather than launched in 2018, is Jeremy Epstein’s blockchain marketing technology landscape. First released at the end of 2017, the map for the end of 2018 shows how most activity is within programmatic advertising and CRM solutions.

The marketing of blockchain(s)

Having looked at how blockchain might affect marketing, it’s worth looking at how marketing is affecting blockchain. One of the best places to start is Vitalik Buterin’s comments to Bloomberg in September.

The Ethereum co-founder said he believes opportunities for 1000-times growth were finished as the strategy of marketing a cryptocurrency and trying to get wider adoption is nearing a dead end. In separate comments to Quartz, he also dismissed some large organisations’ blockchain activity as ‘marketing hype’.

His opinions might make you think he doesn’t hold marketing’s role within the industry in the highest regard. Personally, I think he’s just saying it like it is, as there is a lot of hype and not a lot of substance out there. However, I did read a handful of articles last year from experienced marketers working in blockchain that contain some useful advice.

ICOs may not receive the attention they did 12 or 18 months ago but they haven’t disappeared entirely. For those who want to understand what best practice ICO marketing does and doesn’t look like, AJ Agrawal wrote this for Entrepreneur in August:

After Marketing 70 ICOs, I’ve Witnessed the Most Common Mistakes. Here They Are.

Growth hackers were the magicians of ICO marketing during the bull run of 2017 and the ability of the best of them to conjure up engaged communities is still in demand within the industry. For us mere mortals, Yoal Vilner provided a helpful guide to follow in Forbes:

Growth hacking 101 for the blockchain and cryptocurrency startup

There was also some less dramatic but still useful advice from Brian D. Evans, the CMO of Shipchain. He wrote in Ethereum World News in August about the importance of patience and persistence in blockchain marketing:

Brian D. Evans: Be Patient, Be Persistent at Blockchain Marketing

More views from inside the industry were provided in this Hackernoon piece from September, which includes conversations with senior marketers at well known blockchain businesses:

How to market blockchain with Consensys and Lisk

The last link I’m including here is one that will hopefully help any blockchain marketing or comms professionals (or founders, for that matter) who are struggling to find partners to help them. It’s a list compiled by Tech Bullion and released in September, which highlights the best agencies in the industry:

Best blockchain technology and cryptocurrency marketing companies and PR agencies

Some final thoughts

Hopefully you’ve found this brief summary of blockchain marketing in 2018 useful.

I’m in this for the long run as I believe blockchain networks and protocols will become an important part of the internet in the future. The big challenges that the technology faces don’t worry me too much because they’re being worked on by a lot of clever people who are backed by a lot of money. Things are bound to turn out differently from how we envisage them right now and it’ll be a fascinating journey to wherever we end up.

In terms of blockchain marketing in 2019, I hope to see more marketers explaining why their projects matter by telling stories about how they answer a clear user need. Right now, I see a busy landscape of hype about the next big cryptocurrency and ‘what is blockchain?’ style explainers.

However, there’s a scarcity of evergreen and long-tail content answering all manner of niche user queries, which has worked so well in other fintech verticals. More case studies, user stories and business improvement metrics are also needed, so marketers can tell engaging stories that convince more people about the benefits of blockchain.

If you’ve got to the end of this feeling like you don’t know enough about blockchain technology, there is loads out there to help you. I always suggest reading the Bitcoin whitepaper first but, if that sounds a bit daunting, use these annotated versions to guide you through it.

Then pick up a book on the subject (Digital Gold, if you want a page turner. The Internet of Money or The Bitcoin Standard if you’re more keen on the economics) and work your way through Jameson Lopp’s Bitcoin Resources too.

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