In brands and blockchains we trust

CHRISTIAN PURSER EXPLORES WHETHER THE NEXT GENERATION OF INTERNET TECHNOLOGIES HERALDS A NEW ERA OF TRUST FOR BRANDS

I became a part of the internet revolution in 1995 with a dial-up modem, a newsgroup reader and Netscape 1.0. It was a brave new world – a magical universe of technology, transparency, freedom of expression and shared human experience.

More than twenty years on, the utopian vision for the internet has given way to more of a dystopian reality, with mass government surveillance, bulk collection of personal data, constant data breaches, burgeoning fake news and rampant commercialism. And rather than creating a system of trust, the economic incentives of the current internet have created a system where privacy and profitability are in conflict. We’re no longer the users … we’re the product.

The utopian vision for the internet has given way to more of a dystopian reality

Trust is in decline everywhere you look. Multiple studies have shown an ongoing decline in trust between people and governments, NGOs, media and corporations for a number of years. In a recent global study, when consumers were asked about their expectations of a company CEO they overwhelmingly prioritised ‘ensuring trust’ over all other factors, including the quality of products and services.

Trust is the foundation of commerce and a critical factor in building strong brands, yet it’s at an all-time low. The internet is in some ways partially to blame for this implosion of trust but, as is often the case, technology is both the problem and the solution. The next generation of internet technologies is already gestating and is based on blockchain technologies – technologies that will hopefully start to rebuild trust in our institutions, precisely because they are more ‘trust-less’.

A blockchain is simply a digital ledger, a record of transactions and data. The clever part is when these digital ledgers are public, decentralised and permission-less, which means there’s no central authority that has the power to change transactions and data within the ledger. Bitcoin is a good example of a decentralised permission-less ledger. Nobody owns bitcoin and, due to the difficulty involved in the blockchain’s cryptography and the power required to mine a block, it’s currently impossible to change records on the bitcoin blockchain. The bitcoin ledger is immutable.

So what’s the connection with trust? Well, blockchain technologies and these immutable ledgers are now being applied to many industries where trust is a factor in value exchange and value creation. From supply chain integrity to social media, finance and artificial intelligence, there are hundreds of blockchain projects being worked on right now by the next wave of disruptive startups with trust at the core.

Wherever there’s a potential trust issue, blockchain can provide the trust layer

Closer to home, in the advertising space there are projects dedicated to finding ways to rebuild trust in the media industry, using blockchain to tackle problems such as ad fraud, brand safety and viewability through blockchain verification. Wherever there’s a potential trust issue, or an application where trust makes a product or service more valuable, blockchain can provide the trust layer. In many cases the user will have no idea that they’re interacting with a blockchain, only that the data they’re seeing is tamper proof and has been verified as correct by multiple parties: bridging the gap between a brand’s claims and the evidence that these claims can be trusted to be accurate and correct.

It takes many years to build a trusted brand but just a few short days or weeks to damage that trust. Trust 2.0 will be powered by blockchain, bringing growth opportunities for those brands that seize the trust agenda, along with a new wave of disruptors with trust built into the core of their business model.

In brands and blockchains we trust.

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