Why Blockchain Matters for Marketing Researchers

By Matthew Unger, MRIA Emerging Leaders Blog, March 2018

Imagine an Ipsos Reid poll where the data was open and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Let’s say this poll was studying user adoption for a new banking software that enables you to send money to anyone, anywhere in the world, instantly and with zero fees. An example of this software I am describing exists today: Bitcoin is a blockchain, a shared public ledger or a database, where every user can request a copy for free (using a GET function) and scour this ledger for insights.

Blockchain is accelerating information technology’s movement and management across major sectors like never before.

Blockchain is touted as a technology so powerful that it could both destroy and save our global systems in finance, communications, connectivity and personal identity… This and other decentralized ledger technologies are making waves in nearly every industry on the planet because blockchain is restructuring how we store and manage customer, financial and other critical pieces of business intelligence.

In the 90s, most people couldn’t visualize how the internet would enable information-sharing between computers. Similarly, it is hard for many individuals today to visualize how blockchain works. With the internet, few users care about nodes, protocols, servers and routers, but most of us do care about its functional benefits.

Beyond the hype, blockchain is merely a tool for information management—albeit, a new and exciting tool with near limitless use cases! What makes blockchain exciting for marketers and researchers is that in order for blockchain to function, it requires highly ordered and structured data. Just as there are multiple types and structures in traditional databases, there are various blockchain applications and protocols requiring that the information stored on such shared databases be highly structured, globally distributed, immutable and completely trustworthy.

For market researchers, this technology creates enormous opportunity, while also opening up some sobering questions about how we will choose to use blockchain to shape the future of our society. If you had concerns about your personal data in the era of Facebook, Google and smart cookies, then blockchain and distributed ledger technology are pushing privacy issues to a whole new level!

Public blockchains function by using two simple pieces of information: a public address and a private key. The private key provides access to all information at the associated address. What is both exciting and concerning from a privacy perspective is everything I can do with just the public address.

A public blockchain address is similar to your home address. If I know where you live, I can park out front and watch you come and leave your home, see who comes to visit you and when. With a public blockchain such as Bitcoin, all I have to do is access the shared database using your address to read every single transaction you have ever made.

Our company, iComplyICO, uses blockchain forensics to gather deep insights into the ebbs and flows of capital in cryptocurrency markets. Blockchain forensics can flag public addresses to create a notification when a predefined activity occurs, identifying the address, geographic location, and origin of funds on a blockchain.

In the past quarter alone, cryptocurrencies built on public blockchains have grown from US $200 billion to over US $600 billion. Entering its fourth year in 2018, this market is still in its infancy but has shown exponential growth potential. With that growth comes an ever expanding and permanent shared public database.

To complicate matters, new methods of machine learning, AI and business intelligence analytics are emerging. For public blockchains, this will provide nearly endless possibilities for customer research and targeting.

Three examples of projects that use blockchain to transform the world of marketing research are:

  1. Getting paid to read your spam

Recently, Earn.com released their platform targeting e-mail marketing and social media advertising that claims, “recruiters, salespeople, and companies can now send paid messages to compensate you for your time.” Rather than paying Facebook to place an ad on someone’s feed/screen, Earn.com wants the advertiser to pay you, the subject of their ad targeting, to view their ad. Imagine going through your spam folder and getting paid a few cents or dollars for each email you read. Using blockchain, Earn.com can distribute the entire budget of an e-mail marketing campaign evenly to all recipients who own or respond to the e-mail.

  1. Airdrop, a whole new kind of spam

Alas, just when you thought spam was gone forever, a whole new type emerges… There are no spam laws protecting your wallet! Airdrop is a strategy that allows the creator of a new blockchain to save a snapshot of all addresses on a public blockchain and then target any or all members on the list. Imagine, opening your bank account to realize that another competing bank had deposited a coupon for free services or a minimum account balance just for you to try out their product. This is airdrop; and while it can be quite expensive to send free blockchain tokens to an entire network, effective targeting of specific addresses has proven extremely profitable for new product launches such as OmiseGo. As blockchain gains popularity, it is likely that airdrops will be used more by marketers for a number of marketing strategies.

  1. Higher data management standards are coming

At iComplyICO, we manage a tremendous amount of data for companies that raise capital with what is commonly known as the initial coin offering or ICO. As a company built on integrity, regulatory compliance and auditability, we regularly face the reality that it is highly irresponsible to store certain types of information on a public blockchain. Alternatively, the recent SECEquifax, and Uber security breaches have revealed the weaknesses of a single centralized store of data.

With growing privacy legislation and data security standards such as PIPEDA in Canada and GDPR in Europe, it is imperative that every company takes a close look at their information management procedures and data storage protocols. In the case of GDPR, the fines per infraction start at a minimum of 20 million euros. It is crucial that marketers take a close look at these regulations and adapt their data management procedures to mitigate the risks of holding personally identifiable information (PII). New developments such as MIT’s OpAl framework could unlock new business cases for zero-knowledge proof and analyzing metadata on highly-secured and encrypted data.

However, with blockchains where information is permanently and publicly accessible, there is a new opportunity to analyze large sets of data without acquiring their copy. Time will unravel how machine learning, AI and cutting-edge business intelligence software can be used by marketing researchers to gain deep insights without actually taking ownership of all this data. For the end user, this means that a company could know everything about a user without needing to know their name or personal information which signals more positive strides in client confidentiality.

If having your personal information owned by Facebook concerns you, owning any product, investment or currency that uses a public blockchain should keep you up at night. Whether public blockchains will destroy or protect our notions of privacy in the future remains to be seen, but what we can already do with this technology in information management is revolutionary as some of the biggest players in the financial industry face potential disruption or displacement.

Still, the biggest opportunities in blockchain are yet to be seen or leveraged. Recently the CFTC Chairman testified to the US Senate that at its current rate of growth, the cryptocurrencies market would surpass US $20 trillion by 2020—projecting US $19.5 trillion of growth in only twenty-two months—this is equivalent to a quarter of all the global payments markets or one-sixteenth the size of all global capital markets.

For the marketer, the biggest opportunities in the near term will likely come from mapping and monitoring major public blockchains for user trends, purchasing, and trade sentiments. In our own datasets, we can see the direct impact of regulatory enforcement actions or changing cryptocurrency market values in the daily actions of ICO issuers and investors. Currently, banks, hedge funds, market research firms and financial data companies are restless to not only access all this data, but to be able to understand how it will impact them as the world continues to adopt decentralization at a near breakneck pace.

Matthew Unger is the founder and CEO of iComplyICO (iComply Investor Services Inc.)the world’s first automated compliance protocol that enables ICO issuers, security token platforms, and investors to both launch and trade coins or tokens in compliance with global securities, identity, and privacy regulations. He will be presenting at the MRIA’s National Conference in June 2018 in Vancouver here.

Also Published on Green Book Blog here.