Why marketers should care about blockchain Jeremy Epstein

Do you know what blockchain is? If you don’t, marketing leader Jeremy Epstein says it’s high time you learn about it.

Jeremy is the CEO of Never Stop Marketing, and after years of working with innovative technology, including roles at Sprinklr and Microsoft, he has shifted his focus to blockchain, which is the transaction-tracking technology behind the digital currency known as bitcoin.

He recently mapped out what he sees as the implications of blockchain for marketing in this SmartBrief article.

If this all sounds futuristic and abstract, a recent Harvard Business Review article helped me understand why forward-thinkers are excited about the ideas behind blockchain. Basically, the technology that the Internet is based on (it’s called TCP/IP) started out as a way for researchers to email each other without going through an intermediary. Traditional tech leaders were skeptical about TCP/IP, but it became wildly important because it helped people connect with information. Blockchain has the same potential.

I followed up with Jeremy to find out why he thinks blockchain will be essential for every marketer to understand, sooner rather than later.

How did you get interested in blockchain?

I was very intrigued by this thing called bitcoin. I was like, why are people starting to pay attention to this? Why is this starting to pick up steam?

I discovered that behind bitcoin is what’s known as blockchain. Just like email is an application that runs on the Internet, bitcoin is an application that runs on a blockchain. What’s so powerful is it allows for the transfer of value and assets from one person to another person — or from one entity to another entity — without any intermediaries. And that transfer is universally recognized and universally accepted by everyone in the network.

So it started to dawn on me that any institution — banks, governments, Better Business Bureaus, notaries, eBay, StubHub — all of these guys are third-party intermediaries. In a blockchain world, they would not be necessary.

How do you see blockchain changing the way we think about data?

Companies will have to change how they create value. Blockchains are essentially a shared data layer. Imagine everyone in the industry having access to the same data set. The value companies provide will be the applications that allow people to use that data in better ways. The power for the company won’t rest in just controlling your data.

What are some examples of how data ownership and access will change?

Here’s one: If you currently market your product as free-trade, organic coffee from a women-owned cooperative in Nicaragua, you can slap that on your label and it’s basically impossible to verify. But in a blockchain world, you could actually inspect and verify the supply chain claims of any company, and find out: Are these people behaving in a way that’s consistent with the values that are important to me?

There are 100 other possible examples. This is just one that comes to mind in terms of how marketers will have to adjust to a blockchain-enabled world.

How do you think blockchain could change the way we think about advertising?

What if attention wasn’t really free anymore? Right now I can send a million emails and it basically costs nothing. But what if I had to pay every time I sent you an email? What if instead of paying Facebook for a promoted ad, I had to pay the actual consumer? How would that change the economics for me?

So, in a blockchain-driven world, a few things might happen. First off, you don’t need ad agencies or ad brokers. The protocols themselves would support the business rules (called “smart contracts”) that match up buyers and sellers. So, that’s a pretty big disruption right there. Secondly, you’d have full accountability that a given ad was displayed at a given time on a given site (one which you approve of — i.e. no “fake news” sites). Finally, instead of paying the broker or agency, you’d pay the audience based on a price they set. So, you’d be able to measure the ROI and LTV of your customer base in previously unimaginable ways.

Crazy, I know.

What are the implications of blockchain for the health care industry?

Right now there’s a huge industry of people who simply verify that health care practitioners are actually certified on specialized machines and equipment. For example, if you apply to be a nurse at your local hospital, they say, “Well, do you know how to use this dialysis machine?” You could say yes. Then they have this whole industry of companies (that represent close to 90 percent of health care costs) that verify your claim. The hospital calls them up and says, “Did Mary Ellen really take this dialysis training?” They say, “Yep, she did, and she’s good for two more years.” “OK, thanks.”

Instead, imagine if your professional identity token had other tokens linked to it. And one of them is, do you have a criminal background? Another is, how many machines are you certified on?

There will be a protocol for that. And that’s where the value will be. Whoever creates the protocol or standardization for health care credentials will create the value.

Insurance is also ripe for disintermediation. Thirty percent of the premiums we all pay for health or auto insurance just go to keeping the lights on at these companies. That just says “Put a big disintermediation target on my back and start firing.” It’s going to happen.

It may not happen tomorrow. It may not happen next week, but it’s going to happen. And that’s the mission I’m on right now. I don’t want people to go out of business and lose their jobs. I want people to realize that this blockchain thing isn’t hype. It’s the real deal. Wouldn’t you rather think about it now instead of when it’s already hit you in the face? I’d rather force change on myself than have it forced on me. We’ve seen it with the Internet and we’ve seen it with social. You have two strikes. Don’t let it happen again.

How can people learn more about blockchain?

Well, besides reading my blog, you can start getting your head around the idea. I tell people, “Look, it’s scary, but go buy some bitcoin for $120 and get comfortable with the idea. On-ramp into the bitcoin world. Start exploring what it means to be able to send money to someone else without needing any intermediaries. Ask how your world changes if data is shared and trust is free.”

Read more interviews about the future of marketing in our interview series, Meet the Marketing Masters.