The following is a guest post from Matthew Lieberman, CMO at PwC U.S. and Mexico. Opinions are the author's own.
Precisely measuring and demonstrating impact are two of the biggest challenges marketers face. It's one thing to know that after a campaign took place, sales rose 5%. But can you prove to clients or the c-suite that your team's efforts directly caused that sales boost? Can you identify which part of the campaign reached which audience at what time in order to fine-tune efforts and make the next campaign better?
Sure, you have data to answer some of those questions, but this data is probably inexact, late or hard to verify, so it doesn't inspire much trust.
That's about to change. With the help of blockchain, it's now possible to track marketing campaigns in near real time, with verifiable, trustworthy metrics. To see how it works, let's take a look at one sector that currently suffers greatly from this trust gap: digital advertising.
Today: fraud and confusion
What happens when we run digital ads? In many cases, the answer is unknown. Organizations measure clicks and impressions, but thanks to bots, click farms and ghost sites, fraud is rampant. It costs the industry an estimated $22.4 billion a year, or about 10% of total ad spend.
The digital ad ecosystem is incredibly complex. By one measure, 23 participants are involved in getting a digital ad from the marketer to the publisher to the consumer, then getting data on performance back to the marketer. All the changing of hands opens a lot of room for fraud, human error, data leakage, cybercrime or simple sloppiness to make measurements inaccurate.
The result? Buyers aren't sure they can trust data on ads' impact, both for making payments and for fine-tuning campaigns. Publishers have to spend a lot of money and time trying (and often failing) to manage this system and compile decent metrics. Consumers, meanwhile, may not be getting ads that interest them.
Tomorrow: clarity, simplicity and trust
One of the main reasons why blockchain matters to business is that it can more securely verify, store and selectively share data across multiple parties, thereby lifting trust. For digital advertisers, there are already a number of efforts underway to create blockchain-based registries of authenticated digital outlets.
Once these registries achieve critical mass, smart contracts on a blockchain can automatically test measures of impressions against the registry for authenticity. Blockchain can store these verified measurements with a time stamp and securely share them through a digital dashboard as widely or as selectively as desired. Artificial intelligence (AI) can then scan for anomalies, creating an extra layer of protection against fraud, cyberthreats or error.
This combination may allow marketers to more reliably follow the progress and impact of digital ads and demonstrate that progress to clients or the c-suite in near real time. If desired, smart contracts on this blockchain can automatically determine payments based on these authenticated measurements.
This is not a pipe dream. On a small scale, it's already happening. Toyota, for example, rolled out blockchain to reduce fraud in its digital ad buying and saw a 21% uptick in visits to its website as a result. Several vendors are now offering blockchain-based solutions to increase transparency and fight fraud. Companies including Anheuser Busch Inbev, Kellogg, Kimberly-Clark, Pfizer, Unilever, McDonalds, Nestle and Virgin Media have participated in pilots. In a different part of the ecosystem, NYIAX is using blockchain to add transparency and traceability to the sale of digital ads.
None of these solutions are yet able to cover the entire advertising ecosystem, so none can yet give marketers full visibility into how all their ads are performing everywhere. Nor are they taking full advantage of AI's potential to automate much of the process of detecting fraud and maximizing traceability. But we're still in the early days.
For this system to really transform digital advertising, it will need more than a few companies' buy-in. But the more companies get involved, the trickier it becomes, as everyone must agree on standards for data as well as how to share costs and benefits.
Yet the reward — demonstrably trustworthy metrics, easily and securely shared — is worth the effort. And just as blockchain can slash fraud and provide reliable metrics for digital advertising, it can support digital marketing in other ways as well. By offering new tools for consumers to manage their own digital identities and exert more control over their privacy rights, it can help marketers comply with GDPR, CCPA and other regulations, while encouraging consumers to share more data.
This potential surrounding blockchain is yet another reason why a modern marketer needs to understand digital technology and be ready to lead its implementation.