The Internet of Things connects, well, things together, but what about people? With everyone increasingly online and interconnected, could there be a sea change in how people manage their own data – and could that radically reshape marketing?Paul Skeldon reports
You can’t have too much of me, can you? It seems that in this day and age, you can. No, not me, personally, but all the digital mes – or I guess yous – that now haunt the web. There is messaging me, social me, work me, home me, dating me, adult me, parent me, partner me… the list is endless.
Each of these ‘mes’ is a separate data entity, with different habits and likes and needs, and as such should be looked at separately. Today’s marketing technology seeks to make everything ‘personal’, but it fails to address this basic issue: there are many personal mes, each one different.
“There are myriad privacy and data issues caused by this,” says journalist and ‘internet of Me’ (IoMe) expert Tim Green. “The data any organisation has is often incomplete and the picture it paints is certainly incomplete. What we have now works, but is creepy and a little weird.”
Green gives the example of buying a vacuum cleaner on Amazon. “Your Hoover breaks, so you search Amazon for a new one, buy it and have it delivered and once again have a nice clean home. But Amazon now thinks that you are some sort of vacuum aficionado or hobbyist – rather than just someone that needed a new Hoover – and repeatedly tries to tempt you with Hoovers.”
It is a pain and, in the era of mass personalisation, it is increasingly something that consumers see as a drawback and potentially a reason to go and shop elsewhere. It is, in short, a deal breaker.
Bad for companies
This massive data gathering idea simply doesn’t work anymore. Not only is it making the personalisation offering distinctly impersonal and annoying, it is starting to be counter-productive.
Businesses want as much data on their consumers as possible, but they aren’t looking at the people as people, just as data – data that, since it is generated by all the different mes, is often contradictory and gives the wrong impression. I needed a Hoover, I am not a vacuum cleaner collector.
While this leads to poor marketing, it is also bad for companies. They have to invest in massive servers and data farms at great expense. They also then run the risk of data breaches and the attendant bad publicity and clean up charges.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, they now have to deal with increasingly legal costs as all that data comes under GDPR.
And, as we have seen, despite keeping all this data at great expense, it doesn’t really do the job. A lot of it is inaccurate – or certainly paints an inaccurate picture of the customers – and increasingly, leads to poor marketing, poor personalisation and puts consumers off a brand, rather than engaging them.
Something has got to give.
Revving up VRM
There is an idea that is gaining ground that could see the way consumers and brands interact – vendor relationship management (VRM). This idea has been around since the 2000s, but only in the age of IoT and true web ubiquity has it started to be seen as something that can be deployed – and it turns the way brands and consumers interact on its head.
“Say I want to buy a baby stroller,” says Green. “Rather than searching the web for strollers and getting endless stroller ads each time I open websites, I put out into the world that I am looking for a stroller and the vendors come to me?”
The idea was first mooted by Doc Searls, who believes that VRM will help create what he calls an intention economy.
“The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers,” says Searles. “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.”
In May 2012 Searl’s book titled The Intention Economy was published by Harvard Business Press. Searls also sees VRM addressing some of what he calls the “unfinished business” of The Cluetrain Manifesto, which he co-wrote in 1999 with Christopher Locke, Rick Levine and David Weinberger. Here he refers to Cluetrain’s preamble, which says “We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings—and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it.”
This idea of people being treated as people and being able to choose who and how they interact with brands is radical and potentially hugely disruptive.
“Using tools such as Personal Information Management Systems (PIMS) – such s CozyCloud or DigiMe, which are available right now – the user takes control of their data,” says Green. “Using these tools the person shows what they want to show to which brands they want to see it – so you may show certain data to an insurance company, but a different set of your data to Amazon.”
In this way, the user is in control of ‘who’ they are online and how that data can be used.
And the implications are enormous. Take the insurance company example: by sharing the right data with an insurance company there can be instant onboarding, instant claims, slashed costs and more relevant engagement.
They would know, for example, that my windscreen has been cracked when it happens – since I socially shared the fact and dissed Drivefly parking who broke it – and would instantly contact me about repair.
Similarly, when I need to buy a new Hoover, I can ask the vendors – telling them or sharing with them, my needs and specification – and let them fight over giving me a good deal.
While this is great for the consumer, it has good and bad implications for vendors. Where this to be taken up in a mainstream way, at a swoop, it would level the data playing field. Companies such as Amazon and Facebook that can afford to keep masses of data on individuals suddenly find themselves no better off than a small independent start up with no data base.
The consumer holds all the data and shares it with whomever they want to share it with, not the other way around. This has the power to totally transform ecommerce and retail. And if that isn’t enough, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the internet sees this a the next era of the web, no less.
PIMS: what is on offer?
The key to reshaping the data economy and instigating the era of ‘me’ lies in Personal Information Management Services (PIMS). These are apps that users populate with all their data and then choose who to share what of it with.
There are several already on the market, but one of the immediate opportunities for the telemedia sector lies in developing PIMS and getting them to market. They are going to be huge.
So what is available right now?
One of the leading PIMS in the Apple App Store, Digi.me automatically gets all your data from thousands of different sources and then lets the user decide how it can be used. The key thing is that Digi.me – like any good PIM – does not hold any of the data, it just manages it for the user. Primarily focussed on the US (and, oddly, Iceland) Digi.me is a a great example of how these things can work.
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