March 12th, 2006

2.0 Needs to Help Me FIGURE OUT What I Want

by

Ever since I began my “2.0″ indoctrination, I’ve had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t right — I knew it had to do with the problem of too much choice and with the unclear returns on the effort of 2.0 participation. But despite much writing and reading, the hammer hasn’t found the nail.

Then, today, an unexpected mix of Doc Searls and Umair Haque led to a moment of semi-clarity:

Media 2.0 will fail without Marketing 2.0, and the evolution of Marketing 2.0 is being impeded by a fundamental principle of human nature — given infinite choice, most of us DON’T KNOW exactly what we want.

Everyone between the ages of 30 and 65 grew up in a mass-media, mass-marketing, mega-brand culture. There was a limited number of choices in media, products, and services.

Now, in a globalized, all-digital 2.0 world, the choices have become effectively infinite.

As a result, media and marketing attention has been scattered to the four winds, which has lead to the postulation of a new “Attention Economy.”

But no, Doc Searls argues — “intention,” not “attention,” is the right currency for the 2.0 economy:

The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don’t need advertising to make them.

The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don’t need marketing to make Intention Markets.

Umair Haque points out the problem with this:

The best, IMHO, probably Doc’s notion of the “intention economy”; but even this has a fatal flaw: it squares the marketing circle nearly bringing us back to the much-loved/much-loathed “persuasion”, and it’s logical consequences are nasty things like focus groups and intrusion wars.

Attention is not intention; nor should it be, because intention leaves a huge gap open for heavy-handed, ham-fisted, marketing 1.0 style “persuasion” (that’s when marketers begin thinking they should try to change your intention…)

It took me a while to grok Umair’s critique, but then the light bulb flashed on — an intention economy only works if most people know precisely what their intentions ARE. And because most people DON’T generally know what they want with any degree of precision, an intention economy is prone to marketing 1.0 inefficiencies.

I keep coming back to The Paradox of Choice (from the Publisher’s Weekly review):

The conclusions Schwartz draws will be familiar to anyone who has flipped through 900 eerily similar channels of cable television only to find that nothing good is on. Whether choosing a health-care plan, choosing a college class or even buying a pair of jeans, Schwartz, drawing extensively on his own work in the social sciences, shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us.

To put it simply: 1.0 constrained us with too few choices and too little control, but 2.0 is overwhelming us with too many choices and too much control.

In the same “intention economy” piece, Doc Searls had a blazing insight about the economics of Google’s search advertising:

Google has radically altered the whole advertising business. It’s results are far more relevant and personal than anything the old mass media ever came up with. And its system opens participation to countless businesses and categories, of all sizes. But it’s still about advertising. And advertising is woefully inefficient. Most of it is wasted. Even by Google.

Recently a friend placed some advertising on Google, and shared some of the report with me. While he only paid for a handful of click-throughs, these were bought at the expense of something like a hundred thousand “exposures”. While the costs of wasted exposures may be tolerably low to both the sell and the buy side, they are still real. They subtract value.

This is why I couldn’t bring myself to agree with all the smart people who argued that search marketing is hyper-efficient after I suggested that it isn’t.

Doc is right that Google search advertising is inherently inefficient — but NOT just because advertising is inherently efficient. Advertising that is target based on “intention” is inefficient because human “intention” is inherently inefficient.

Let’s say that I’m thinking about purchasing a new car (which I have thought about) — here’s what goes through my mind:

My old car still works. Do I REALLY need a new car? How much can I afford to spend? I’d like a luxury car, but can I justify that? We could use the room of an SUV, but it’s so environmentally unfriendly. A hybrid would be great, but I’ve heard that they aren’t as fuel efficient as they claim to be. Maybe I should just keep my old car. I read that there’s this great new tax credit for hybrids, but it’s supposed to phase out. Does that mean I should hurry up and get my hybrid? But should it be an SUV hybrid, or is that just silly?

Human “intention” is sloppy and inherently imprecise, even in Doc’s intention economy use case:

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.

That’s a lot of precision, but how negotiable are these criteria and how should they be weighted? What if Hertz has a great deal on a sedan — is the SUV requirement fungible? What if the best deal is from a company other than Avis, Budget, and Hertz? OR — what if Avis, Budget, and Hertz have deals that are indistinguishable based on these criteria? Does it come down to the same “evil” (to use Umair’s term) marketing 1.0 “persuasion” effort?

The end result of most purchase decisions is like pornography — you know it when you see it, but it’s difficult to pre-define it. The whole notion of building an efficient market around intention assumes that our decision processes have a machine-like precision — leave it to the 2.0 geeks to make that mistake.

I might go online today and come across some bit of marketing that finally puts me over the edge to buy that new car. Having decided to put off the purchase, I’m not officially in the market, so I’m not searching for a “hybrid” and I’m not going to fill out any “lead generation” forms, but I’m actually closer to the purchase decision than any marketer can easily glean from my online behavior.

This is why I come back to the same basic principle — life is complicated, and we need help figuring things out.

But getting help in 2.0 is not about prostrating to the power of media and marketing 1.0 — it’s about having the right tools, marketplace, and infrastructure to enable me to first FIGURE OUT what I want, and then to efficiently find it.

Maybe what I really want is a BMW 3, but I just haven’t “connected the dots.”

Remember, marketing has always been about creating images that appeal to us, that we aspire to. I don’t want to be beat over the head with ill-conceived, ham handed, irrelevant images — but I look to marketers AND my peers to discover, in this sea of infinite choice, the thing that fills the need I’ve yet to fully define.

(Besides — do you really think marketers are going to be relegated to selling us what we’ve already decided we want? Here, have a bottle of carbonated sugar water — and smile. There will ALWAYS be persuasion — sorry, Umair.)

This is the same problem I have with Web 2.0 as Media 2.0, and why I want an “idea filter” — maybe what I want is a product/service idea filter? I get a rudimentary version on Amazon, but I don’t just want product reviews, I want images, lifestyles, visions of myself as I am and as I might be — all the things that marketers specialize in, but I want the 2.0, peer-enhanced version — Umair’s “connected consumption.”

OK, so where is it?

It’s so 2.0 that I’m still struggle to articulate what I want out of 2.0 — can’t someone just whip something up in AJAX to help me out here?!

The most intriguing visions of a 2.0 market/economy that I’ve seen are Seth Goldstein’s /ROOT Markets and, of course Umair’s Media Economics.

As you can see from this post, I’m still groping in the dark for the nail. I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t have the answer — iteration is my only recourse. If the blogosphere serves me well again (i.e. the think-o-sphere), some great minds will appear below and help me take it a step further.

When will the 2.0 revolution be ready for prime time? When it can help me figure out what I don’t already know.

  • First of all I'm really uncomfortable with this melding of attention and intention. The (surprisingly well-covered) notion of Intention that's been doing the rounds these last few days is a) not at all fresh or revelatory (interestingly close to an old "wow! e-commerce!" view - surely a handy, certainly challenging to build, front end for good old demand aggregation) and b) a major distraction in the attention debate.

    As for joining the dots - imho there will always be a causal gap in the "media>advertising>purchase-or-not" sequence. It's called The Way We Behave.

    I believe that a solution to our current uncertainty will require a) a much deeper incision into the changing nature of attention as a phenomenon, b) evolved forward to articulation of the corresponding new forms of media value (or lack thereof - a distinct possibility), c) mashed across to the inevitable POS data to connect the circle.

    I say connect the circle, but - and long may this continue - if I don't even know what I want to buy, and if the factors that influence me one way or the other are impossible to bottom out (in order to ditch that pesky other 50% of the advertising budget, for example ...) then I feel ... very human!

  • ....This is why I come back to the same basic principle — life is complicated, and we need help figuring things out.

    But getting help in 2.0 is not about prostrating to the power of media and marketing 1.0 — it’s about having the right tools, marketplace, and infrastructure to enable me to first FIGURE OUT what I want, and then to efficiently find it.

    Maybe what I really want is a BMW 3, but I just haven’t “connected the dots.”...

    Thanks to all the technological innovations in content creation and publication, there are no real content consumers left in the traditional sense. We have all become publishers. The net has evolved to become a big 2-way medium for human communication.

    By focusing on human defined intentions, Otavo gives its users just enough structure to form a meaningful dialog. We call each dialog a quest, and as each quest proceeds, users 'connect the dots' with the help of others in a natural fashion as in a communication medium.

    I think the problem Scott and others keep running into is continuing to see the web 2.0 as a publishing medium when it really has transformed into a communication platform.

    Otavo - The Intention Engine

  • grumpysecretary

    All of this discussion reminds me of the "rehabilitation" scene toward the end of The Shawshank Redemption. Web 2.0 & Media 2.0 are "made-up words" so young fellas like you all can go to cool Web 2.0 parties and write blogs. *smile*

    In the end, those companies that are successful with a product or service must do two things, at least in the US. First, they must skillfully tap into our hope. Then they must carefully not challenge our denial. The entire US economy runs on the hope/denial equation. More denial right now. Apple & eBay does this brilliantly. So do many others.
    Actually I see Web 2.0 as a process platform.A platform to sell ideas and innovation to folks who already know how to run a business. Media 2.0 is the same. The process platform of developing and selling "new content brands" to people who already know how to run a business.

    What's a "process platform?"

    I define it as a impermanent business cycle aberration that enables corporations to bypass the normal corporate behaviors of fear and resistance to innovation.

    That's my pile of hooeey for the day *smile*

  • You're connecting with some of the most powerful concepts in advertising. Marketing--in general--is just a probability problem: Given the environment, what are the chances of my product being chosen. The problem is to a) understand the environment; b) be capable of reacting to the situation; and c) shifting the environment to a place where you're chances are better than the other guys'.

    Web 2.0 solution? Maybe. A few of the candidates for a) enhanced web analytics packages, such as today's WebTrends announcement. Candidates for b) behavioral targeting. Check out Revenue Science. Candidates for c) clever creatives.

    I think you're looking for some structure to the world. This is essentially it. To put it another way, you can always look at advertising as a balance between differentiation and relevance. Every new technology, tool, or tactic should drive one of those factors. Search, for example, does a great job with relevance, but nothing for differentiation. That's the compounding problem with Google, btw. 2 million results, many of which are simply redundant.

  • Murray

    I think you need an ant trail. That is something that shows you what other people like you chose.

    You can assume that other people are going to make the best decisions they can. If those other people have a similar background to you and are interested in similar things then they will probably make a similar decision to the one you would make if you went through the whole research process.

    So instead of going through a laborious research process you can just find other people like you who bought a car and buy the car they bought. Or at least make your decision from the most popular cars with that group.

    Maybe this is a review site that matches user profiles?

    Of course advertising and branding has always tried to persuade us that we should buy product X because people like us (only better) bought it.

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