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Blockchain and Market Research: Hype or Hope?

A close look at the opportunity and hype around blockchain, potential applications, and emerging role in the market research industry.

A new area of exploration for this wave of the GRIT Report was the hot topic du jour: blockchain. Using the “Hype Scale” we have deployed previously to gauge industry views on other buzz topics, coupled with a general awareness screener, we wanted to understand what insights professionals think about the opportunity for this technology to impact the industry.

For the uninitiated, here is a definition from Wikipedia that sums up the model well:

“A blockchain is a decentralized, distributed and public digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers so that the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network. This allows the participants to verify and audit transactions inexpensively. A blockchain database is managed autonomously using a peer-to-peer network and a distributed timestamping server. They are authenticated by mass collaboration powered by collective self-interests. The result is a robust workflow where participants’ uncertainty regarding data security is marginal. The use of a blockchain removes the characteristic of infinite reproducibility from a digital asset. It confirms that each unit of value was transferred only once, solving the long-standing problem of double spending. Blockchains have been described as a value-exchange protocol. This blockchain-based exchange of value can be completed more quickly, more safely and more cheaply than with traditional systems. A blockchain can assign title rights because it provides a record that compels offer and acceptance.”

The issues of data privacy and sample quality have primarily driven consideration of how blockchain might (or might not!) be applicable to the insights industry, although many variations related to data management in general have also been discussed. We are witnessing the emergence of numerous startups working on blockchain applications related to the insights industry while there is a growing debate on whether the technology is even fit for purpose. We thought GRIT would be the ideal vehicle to get a sense of what the broader industry may be thinking.

First, only about 40% of GRIT respondents were even familiar with blockchain at all. Of that subset, we asked about general take on the technology. The short answer is that they are interested, but they feel it is too early to say much right now about its impact.  Only around 1 in 10 of the researchers familiar with blockchain were prepared to stick their neck out to say they thought that the opportunities it offered would be game changers for the industry. This was matched by a similar number of those who feel it is a much ado about nothing.

After ascertaining general perception, we next asked respondents to consider a few potential use cases that have been discussed publicly to see if anything caught their attention. Researchers believe the greatest potential for blockchain technology lies is how we use and access sample, potentially helping to improve our industry’s compliance with data privacy regulations and the opportunity to transform panels into personal data marketplaces. Many also feel that the real potential lies in new, as yet unconceived, platform solutions.

 

 

Personally, I think this is similar to previous disruptive technologies. If memory serves, over the past 20 years we saw similar initial low awareness and expectations around adoption of online data collection, DIY platforms, mobile, automation and AI and within 2-3 years they emerged as major trends changing the industry. I think blockchain is the next great disruptive technology. Why? a few reasons:

  1. Follow the money: The level of investment, especially by blue chip institutional investors and large tech companies, is exploding.
  2. Startups: By my count there will be close to a dozen early-stage companies with various applications of blockchain tech in insights at next month’s IIeX North America alone, four of them in the Insight Innovation Competition alone.
  3. Buzz: The topic of blockchain is becoming more and ubiquitous in various industry media, and we are seeing major events with thousands of attendees emerging that are focused on this technology.
  4. Zeitgeist: In the Post-Facebook/Cambridge Analytica and GDPR world, the ability to create not just owner controlled secure ledgers of transactions (including data), but to monetize that by the owners is a big topic. It’s one that we have talked about for a while here at GreenBook Blog, but it’s now become part of the mainstream conversation in society.

One of the Insight Innovation Competition finalist companies, The Opinion Economy, has produced a useful and interesting infographic (originally posted here) that details even more reasons why blockchain may be more hope than hype. It’s hard to ignore or dismiss the points here.

Am I correct in thinking we are on the cusp of the next great disruptive technology for research (and the world)? Only time will tell and ultimately market adoption will be the final arbiter, but it would be foolish for the insights industry to not pay attention to all these signals and data points and develop plans just in case.

 

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