Harvard Business Review ran three interesting short pieces in this month’s magazine, under the misleadingly timeless title “Tackling Business Problems.” The three essays are actually guest submissions from business radicals, the final of the three being from social media luminary Doc Searls.
Traditional Customer Relationship Management is dead meat, Searls argues. Companies should stop collecting data about their customers. Right now, before the customers revolt! This populist vision of revolt is balanced out a little by Searls’ vision of what’s likely to come next. You can get the picture from the title of his forthcoming book, The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge. It seems crazy, but his view of what the future will bring with regard to customer data is fascinating to consider.
Writing about the massive collection of consumer data, Searls writes:
“Customers naturally see this trend as a gross invasion of their privacy and are starting to resist providing accurate information–or any information at all.
But the main reason for vendors to quit this practice is not that it’s bad manners. It’s that businesses soon will no longer own the data anyway–customers will. And when that happens, vendors will end up reaping greater benefits than they do now.”
As someone fascinated by the possibilities for innovation, I am very hesitent when I read people cheering the revolt of users against the collection of their data. I hope that data collection will be done in a positive way and will lead to big wins for everyone.
It’s not clear that’s going to happen though. Behavioral marketing trailblazer and Tacoda founder Dave Morgan once told me that no one had yet found a way to articulate the value proposition of aggregate data analysis to end consumers because there wasn’t one yet. No one had really built it, people were generally focused on sleazy short term wins at the expense of the consumer. It is the job of startups to build something compelling, he says.
Searls believes this will happen when consumers are in control over their own data. He thinks that’s going to be a net win for the consumer and the companies that sell to them.
“Here’s why,” he writes. “When customers own and control their own data, demand will drive supply more efficiently than supply currently drives demand.”
By that he means that satisfaction of real consumer demand, demand felt my consumers in control in a market that strives to delight them, will be more efficient than demand that gets manufactured by manipulative advertising driven by supply that must be sold.
Customers not only will collect and manage their own data but will be equipped with tools for declaring their intentions directly to the whole marketplace, without having to flit from store to store or website to website looking for what they want.”
That does sound more efficient, but it’s sounding more far-out too.
In this ‘intention economy,’ customers will determine the products they want, the prices they pay, and the terms of engagement they require. Those terms will include both permissions and restrictions regarding the use of their data.”
And I suppose dogs will be friends with cats, lions will kick it with lambs, etc. I don’t know.
This is reminiscent of the Lean Startup philosophy, which emphasizes building products that serve demonstrated market needs, in response to working closely with customers.
That works, so many this will too. What will it look like? Understanding that better could make the whole thing feel more real.
Will users opt-in to participating in bucket targetted advertisements on Facebook? Is that an example of what Searls is discussing? Surely if I choose not to offer up an introduction to myself for conversation, vendors will instead continue to shout at me as I walk by them in the market.
There has certainly never been as much data recorded about each of us and our lives as there is today and will be tomorrow – but will that really be able to change the directionality of power projections between consumer and producer? That’s a very, very tall order. I can imagine the dynamic changing, of course. A radically changed dynamic between the individual and the market seems like something the web would be capable of facilitating. It already has in many ways – but can the consumer really ever be in control? I’m not so sure.