The Intention Economy – Pulling Demand from the Edge

I’m distilling my takeaways from this week’s eTech conference at, of all places, Disneyland. The vacation schedule of my son’s school afforded us a long weekend down here to the land of characters in big, overstuffed heads.

In such a commerce-driven atmosphere, you really begin to appreciate all the different ways that a machine like the theme park business grabs you by the shoulders to tell you why you and your dinero should part ways. Chats with other parents in the various queues confirm that Disney’s got this down to a science.

By the end of the day, the assault on the senses had even got though to my 6 year old. "I feel like I watched too much television," he said while we were riding the elevator back to our room in the hotel. Everyone in the elevator laughed out loud – he nailed it.

Doc Serls posted a good summary of the eTech conference and how it’s theme, "The Attention Economy," didn’t quite sit right with him. His point resonates with me. Describing the situation we are in as an economic opportunity in which a company only needs to harness attention is one-sided and leans too heavily on the perspective of the seller of goods that is vying for our attention. This is too reminiscent of the "aggregated eyeballs" of the we’s salad days. and not a place anyone really wants to return. If it was just a matter of getting and holding your attention, then companies would all be updating their approach to user acquisition with clever uses of games and social networks to engage prospects and move them down the conversion "funnel." I think there’s more to a sustainable long term relationship than blink tags and nudges.

If commercial activity is what you’re really after, better to state this up front as part of the contract and build the service around that goal. Doc goes on to say what this really means is that the focus should not be on just "attention" but "intention" as in, "intention to buy."

The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don’t have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. Simple as that.

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The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or "capturing") buyers.

In The Intention Economy, a car rental customer should be able to say to the car rental market, "I’ll be skiing in Park City from March 20-25. I want to rent a 4-wheel drive SUV. I belong to Avis Wizard, Budget FastBreak and Hertz 1 Club. I don’t want to pay up front for gas or get any insurance. What can any of you companies do for me?" — and have the sellers compete for the buyer’s business.

I immediately started to think that this was what Priceline and Lending Tree did – state your intent to buy and let the sellers compete for your business. But, as Doc goes on to say in the comments of his post, the flaw in these models is that they require you to go to their site and put all your intent to buy parameters into their silo and receive offers from their partners.

This is where the edge comes in. What really needs to happen to make the Intention Economy hum is an ability to broadcast your intent to buy on your own site, be it a blog, or other hosted homepage and, this is key, that site is open to the world to see and aggregate dynamically. In much the same way that Edgeio pulls classifieds information from an indivdual’s own blog post through the use of tags, Intention to buy data needs to reside outside any silo so that anyone with a product that can fulfill a stated need can offer to fulfill it.

Done properly, I could envision the day when any vendor can go to the net and determine pricing demand and quickly offer goods at prices that are far below standard prices because they will, after consulting the net, have much better data on the potential demand. If you’re in the market for a new refrigerator, you should be able to fill out a few fields into a wishlist with your published "strike price." A warehouse, facing a surplus of refrigerators as they get ready to place orders for next year’s model, should then be able to pull in all open requests with a series of tags, say, wanted:refrigerator:kenmore:sidebyside:>$1000

This warehouse could then sort on these wishlists which exist in blogs and homepages all over the net and filter by a zip code or geo-location tag and get a clean list of demand. Faced with a list of 20 pretty solid leads, they could then contact each potential buyer with a bulk discount price based on this explicitly published demand.

Build a commerce platform around the aggregated demand for goods and services and allow people to express this demand in a non-interruptive way and I think you’ve got something way more powerful than an advertising engine. You have a commerce engine built on or predictive market demand.

Advertising and Attention are about impulsive purchases which are fleeting, low-margin transactions. Wishlists and Intention are about carefully considered desires and long term customer relationships. While the former is a quick shot at user acquisition, the later is more sustainable and, if I were running a business, desirable.

The majority of a supermarket’s business and shopping experience is from the aisles in the heart of the store and not the racks or candy, batteries, and gossip magazines right next to the register.

2 Replies to “The Intention Economy – Pulling Demand from the Edge”

  1. Thanks for this posting about eTech and all of the links to other commentary on blogs.

    I like that you highlight intention (instead of attention). This makes a lot more sense because I went to eTech with the intention to learn, to meet interesting poeple, to get inspired by their creativity, to figure out if I still care about technology, and to figure out where my talents as a designer fit in with emerging technology.

    My attention should have been a funtion of what my intentions were.

    When my attention was being demanded by things that didn’t align with my intentions (like when I was in session that were not as impressive as their titles implied and I knew there must be something more interesting going on) was when I got frustrated. But when my attention and my intentions aligned, like they did in Kathy Sierra’s tutorial on Creating Passionate Users, I felt inspired.

    It would have been great if I could have broadcasted to the schedule and to everybody else there, what I was interested in, what I was there for, what kind of connections I wanted to make … even though the unplanned meetings turn out to be the most intersting and valuable any way (like who take a cab with from the airport) … but it would be cool to be able to see who might be interested in what knowlege and skills I have to offer and let people with knowledge and skills offer be able to know more clearly what I’m intersted in.

    Something tells me it will be more like that next year. A friend of mind did something like this for the TED conference, it would be cool to see that type of technology used at conferences like eTech.

    But in general, intention is the master of attention and aligning the two is a key to passionate users.

    I’m imagining what my site where I say what I want looks like … I like the idea a lot.

  2. I like your idea! A lot of the IRC chatter was about what was going on in each session and which one had good discussion, enough seats, or juiced up powerstrips. While that was a messy way of conveying information, I think that in the short timeframe during each session, it was the most efficient. Likewise, the plain paper bulliten board advertising the Birds of a Feather sessions and other call for discussion seemed to work to get like-minded folks together.

    You should check out Placesite – they’ve been working on a project that takes wifi and allows people to broadcast their interest – hopefully he can get a Placesite set up at an upcoming conference – it’d be interesting to see it in action and see if it can improve on existing technology.

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