written by
Justin Theng

The Coming of Decentralised Search and Consumer Data

Future 6 min read

Recently I had the privilege of speaking at an event for young marketers looking to future-proof their career. One of the questions asked was, "What is the one thing that someone should do to give themselves the competitive advantage." My answer, is to a large part the inspiration for this piece.

The best way to stay ahead of the game is to understand the business of search, and social media, as a whole. This will allow you to predict with stunning accuracy what lies ahead. Because companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others to come are not building these gargantuan platforms out of the goodness of their heart. It's a data business, and your personal data is the key to their success.

The more the better.

Recent sentiment towards centralisation of anything (think Blockchain craze) reveals an underlying mistrust of the corporations that hold our finance, transactions and information in their hands for profit. Needless to say, banks are regularly being hacked these days, and so finance and data - our modern economy's two most valuable commodities, after time - are making our society feel increasingly uneasy.

Technology is beginning to provide a solution for us that allows for decentralisation of money and data.

In the world of sales and marketing we rely on centralised data to inform us about where our potential customers are, how they behave online and offline, and how we can best tailor our messages and products to them.

Exchange of Convenience vs Trust

However, the key to effective selling is building trust between consumer and brand. How do we do this in a fundamentally distrusting world? Okay so we give away tons of our information in exchange for convenience, but this shouldn't be mistaken for trust.

A 2015 Verve report revealed that 33% of consumers provide false information at least occasionally, and 60% submit false information such as names and emails most of the time due to privacy concerns and unwelcome marketing. This sullies marketing databases and can quickly hinder the effectiveness of campaigns.

The problem is that, despite its best attempts, marketing still hasn’t been able to completely provide the interruption-free experience that consumers really demand. In light of what real customers value, even the “new” inbound marketing styles are getting a bit outdated.

Unleash the Cryptographic Identity

In a world of voice search, more of us going 'screen-less' (I recommend you listen to Matt Barby's podcast - 'Skill Up' Episode on Voice Search) which taps into the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) I'm predicting that blockchain will be instrumental in making customers feel valued throughout the marketing process.

The failure of the old “new” marketing to build trust

Inbound Marketing has proven effective at delivering high-quality, warm leads. But when sales teams step in, things sometimes (often) go downhill. Too many companies lose ROI because they can’t break through their customers’ defenses. Despite the value that inbound marketing creates for customers, it’s simultaneously creating walls.

Sales teams and ads continue to disrupt the customer experience. From unwanted phone calls and emails to popup ads striving for attention, the online experience can be frustrating for customers. The fear of private information getting into the wrong hands—or sometimes worse, into the wrong marketers’ hands—has made many consumers increasingly wary of what they’re getting themselves into when downloading a piece of content or opting in to a free offer.

Artificial Intelligence-as-Marketing (AIM)

Yeah I made that up. But if it takes off, just remember this humble post. Most people don’t even realize that they’re already using AI in their business dealings, often through tools like chatbots and product recommendations. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed and conducted through AI, and it turns out that customers are fine with that. There’s something about chatting with a chatbot that feels less intrusive and pushy than with a real person—not to mention the customer can exit the chat whenever they want, guilt-free. With brand AI bots making touches with the customer toward the final stages of the marketing funnel, customers will be less concerned about unwelcome marketing. This, in turn, could help marketers maintain a stronger database and help sales teams break through the distrust.

AI is also becoming a key way for advertisers to collect relevant information about their customers through big data and shared data. This allows them to personalize content and ad strategies according to each individual’s real browsing behavior. AI’s level of personalization outperforms, and perhaps even eliminates the need for, the personas of the past. Most buyers today simply don’t fit into such broader buckets anymore. AI can facilitate automated personalization so that customers can see more of what they actually care about. In a sense, it enables the creation of a persona for every online customer.

Blockchain as Marketing (BAM!)

Yep, made that one up too. Blockchain is an immutable, decentralized peer-to-peer ledger system. Although best known for its role in cryptocurrency and financial transactions, the blockchain also has powerful applications that enable adopters to cut out the middleman (and uncertainties) across industries. This can play a key role in facilitate trusting relationships.

I’ve had an increasing interest in this technology over the last few years, concomitant with its meteoric growth. A recent TED talk by Bettina Warburg piqued my interest. In an age when bitcoin, blockchain and cryptocurrency are tearing up the headlines, one thing is clear: blockchain could be the saving grace for digital marketing. The reason that blockchain is being eagerly adopted stems from humanity’s mutual distrust of itself.

Logging data on this immutable ledger protects the privacy of the user by putting data back where it belongs— into the hands of the user. Not only can the blockchain store large amounts of user data securely, but it does so through cryptographic means. Stored data is connected to a user, but anonymously unless a customer chooses to be known. In this “data-stream economy,” users (consumers and advertisers) can buy and sell the data they need. Giving data ownership back to the customers could result in consumers feeling more protected, knowing their information will never be available to just anyone without their express permission.


Despite the still nascent quality of AI and blockchain technologies, a number of companies are already using them. Amazon and Netflix are masters at AI automation and hyper-personalized advertising. By inconspicuously gathering customer data, they provide valuable recommendations to customers based on their preferences. Datum is a decentralized marketplace for social and IoT data that empowers users to share or sell the data they choose through the DAT Token and Smart Contracts. Papyrus, a decentralized advertising ecosystem, benefits users, advertisers and content publishers by putting data back in the hands of users.

By enabling users to share their data, review ads and receive compensation for their attention, advertisers and their AI companions can create more targeted ads and intermediaries. Users can rent their details out to publishers for a pre-determined time, and have it disappear again once the timer runs out. They may even be paid directly by the publisher via a blockchain cryptocurrency to incentivize data sharing. This would mean that what used to be a marketer’s cost per lead would actually be paid directly to the actual lead. Publishers will be able to avoid ad blockers and actually make money—all the while maintaining complete transparency and efficiency.

Incorporating the blockchain and AI into business practices not only keeps the consumer front and center, but facilitates real trust through transparency. The technology is still nascent, but could it be possible that the marketing of tomorrow is really as simple as exchanging value such as content, tools and services, through cryptographic identification?

I invite Matt Barby to discuss this with me.