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How Blockchain Will Alter Branding

October 7, 2019

JYoung (3)Very excited today, to be speaking to Jan Young, blockchain expert and champion. Jan has extensive expertise in digital media and has worked in Strategic Accounts and Product Management. She has an MBA from Columbia Business School, is a certified CSPO (Product Owner) and Scrum Master, and has certifications in Blockchain Business and Solutions Architecture. You can find her Blockchain Tech blog for non-coders on Medium at Blockchain2Go. Jan is a board member of The Rabbit Hole, a woman-powered blockchain community. The Rabbit Hole is conducting Beginner Blockchain Day here in Los Angeles on October 12, and Bitcoin Basics Brunch on Oct 13. She is also a co-founder of Prototopian Tech (website launching soon) which leads creative workshops on emerging technologies. Recently, I was speaking to Jan about the nature of brands, how they’re actually the shared relationship between a marketable asset and its market. We talked about how interactive technology has begun to shift the power in those relationships towards consumers – and away from the traditional gatekeepers of the brand, the owners and managers of marketable assets. You can see the trend in everything from the way consumers can now demand that businesses take a stand on social issues, to the impact of Yelp reviewers, even to how fan fiction influences some entertainment brands. It seemed to me, given its emphasis on decentralization, blockchain has the potential to really accelerate that shift. So, I asked Jan about it.

Kevin Walker – Hi Jan. Thanks for speaking with us today. As blockchain technology becomes more and more integrated into our business and culture – and keeping in mind other concurrent innovations like artificial intelligence, the internet of things, 5G, etc. – how do you see brands changing in the future?

Jan Young – Hi Kevin. Great to talk with you. We’re on the cusp of so many emerging technologies, it’s really an exciting time. If you think back to the change from 3G to 4G, we were hearing then that it would expand bandwidth and open possibilities, but I don’t think anyone would have drawn a straight line from 4G to social media and GPS on our phones, or people walking around the streets staring at their phones, but they are directly related. And when you think about how social media has changed marketing and relationships between companies and customers, then it’s only natural to think about how all of these emerging technologies will impact our society and shift paradigms.

Kevin – Do you see the relationship between the company and the consumer changing?

Jan – That’s an interesting question. The other day, when I was explaining blockchain to someone, I used Bitcoin as a reference point, and he asked “Who owns Bitcoin?” Well, the answer is nobody, and that can kinda of blow your mind. Public Blockchains are decentralized. They may have governance structures to determine how the technology will evolve on that platform, but ultimately, if the people involved can’t agree, it “forks”: the group splits up and one moves on with the new direction of the technology and platform, and the other group works on the current version and continues to improve it in other ways. We’ve seen that most notably with Bitcoin and Ethereum. These are groups of people who are not necessarily employees but can be compensated by the community, and they are connected digitally and globally. They’re not all located in a building, in a city, in a country. They aren’t even necessarily companies in the traditional sense, but one could argue they have a brand that has evolved, and there is usually a whitepaper that announces the blockchain’s values and purpose. These are completely different relationships—a different paradigm from how things have worked in the past. It requires people to participate and organize together. They are the “company”. Really, this is a natural extension of social media, where people have come to expect that their words and feelings should have an impact.

Kevin – That really is new. So traditional companies, as we think of them, go away?

Jan – No, I don’t think so. But even traditionally owned companies will change how they work with each other. There’s another type of Blockchain that came about during this evolution: Private/ Permissioned Blockchains. They are not decentralized, but they do change the relationship and how data/ information is shared between companies. Today, a database is owned by someone or a company. If you provide your data for use in the database, you no longer own that data, and you only have access to what another party decides to share with you. If instead a Permissioned Blockchain is used, each party owns their own data and shares portions of their data with another party. An example of this is the Food Trust project that IBM has developed with several partners. You may have heard about it as a Walmart project. Until recently, if bad Romaine lettuce was making people sick, businesses had to throw everything out, the good and the bad, until weeks later when the source of the contamination was identified. Now, using IoT and Blockchain, they bring the bad lettuce in to get it scanned, and they know the source in 2 seconds, saving tons of food. This is just one example of how blockchain can be used between businesses to gain efficiencies.

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Kevin – So where does that leave the relationship between the company and the consumer?

Jan – Great question. That goes back to the concept of a database being owned that we were just talking about. Today, when you’re on Facebook, all of your contacts, comments, the websites you visit before and after, all of this is data that is generated by you but owned and monetized by Facebook. Today, that is the price you pay for using Facebook without fees. But people have come to realize there is real value in this information. And, sometimes we wouldn’t choose to share our data at all (Cambridge Analytica for one example).

Blockchain offers up another really exciting possibility—owning your own identity and data, self-sovereign identity. The frameworks and infrastructure are being created so that individuals can own their own data-- digital, personal, health, financial… you name it. Imagine going to a doctor and not having to fill out a form where you try to remember every ailment of your extended family, when did you take antibiotics last? We could all be so much smarter about our health if we had our own data and then shared it as necessary with a doctor. We could anonymously share our health data for studies and be compensated for it—You may not realize, but currently many medical institutions monetize our data, it’s in the small print where you sign your rights away in order to see the doctor.

Today there are thousands of companies mining, selling, and using your data without compensating you. Companies you don’t even know exist. And think of the ones you do know—think of a business like Stitch Fix, with 100+ data scientists coming up with algorithms to identify which items of clothing you will buy so that they know your tastes and size better than you know yourself. Once they know that, they can get premiums from vendors because they can almost guarantee sales; they could cut out the middle man and make the clothes themselves. They can monetize your data and charge you a design fee for it.

So instead, empowered with self-sovereign identity, the consumer no longer has to agree to give their data away, and can start to choose services and products that compensate for data over those that do not. This is big. This will not change over night, but there will come a time that consumers will expect to be the gatekeepers of their identity and data, and reject companies that do not support this model. That means that not only the relationship between the company and the consumer will change, but also the economics.

Kevin – Thank you, Jan, for giving us this fascinating peek into the future of brands. Clearly, blockchain is a technical innovation that’s going to change all our lives. How can Brandtalk readers go about learning more?

Jan – Our events this month are already at capacity. But there will be more coming. People can stay informed by checking out The Rabbit Hole.


Best Branding Reads – Week of October 7, 2019

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Vans’ Nick Street on Fostering Creativity in Customer
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