Will Data Collection on User Behavior Be Forced to End Soon?

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.

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