User Owned Product Preferences

Interesting piece from Kim Cameron and Dave Winer of the scripting news

Doc talks about a Vendor Management Systems, to balance the other side’s Customer Management Systems. I, of course, like. A prototype for this is a movie review system where I own and control my data. Today, I rate movies on Netflix and Yahoo, but I can’t get them to share the data with each other, so they make recommendations without info the other one has. If I had a place where I kept my movie ratings and gave each of them a pointer to it, they could read it and I would control the data. It would be very easy to set up, the technology is no trick at all. The hard part is getting enough users to do it this way to gain critical mass. This is also the idea behind Edgeio and Marc Canter’s People Aggregator. Open systems, users own the data, silos smell of sulfur.

The user’s ownership of her or her own data sounds like a great idea. It will work great for a number of interactions, where the services provided by the vendors are commoditized and the users preferences are well established. E.g. travel preferences (E.g what kind of seat you prefer (Aisle), what airlines etc.), on-line shopping for clothes, shoes (sizes, colors, cuts), movie rentals, computer upgrades etc. This would lead to user advertised needs rather then suppliers generated demand…

Doc Searls frames the problem:

We need to serve market (not marketing) relationships that arise from decisions customers have already made to buy something. They have money in hand, and the intention to book a hotel, rent a car, buy a basketball backboard. Whatever they want, marketing’s job is done. Sales needs to show up now. But how? That’s the question. And the answers that work can’t come from the sell side. We need new means to the buyer’s ends, coming from the buyer’s side.
What I want is for vendors in an open and free market (not a proprietary silo like eBay or Amazon or Travelocity or some other intermediator with a walled garden) to respond to the intentions (or gestures, or expressions, or whatever) of the customer. On customers’ terms. I want to turn the tables on the lame customer management systems every big vendor has, and which have no idea how to relate. Especially to humans who would rather not be “managed”, thank you.
To be fair, until now the full burden of customer relationship management fell on vendors. They had no choice about being lame, because they had to relate to everybody, and to limit the variables involved. I want to change that, from the customer’s side, with a Vendor Management System under the customer’s control that is so richly useful, and capable, that vendors have no choice but to relate to it — on customer terms that will prove mutually beneficial out the wazoo.

Doc’s model sounds great for fulfilling demand for simple products, but how do businesses make money in such an environment? Typically businesses want to create product/service differentiations so that they can charge a premium. How will complex products, where multiple trade-offs are involved, be sold? And how did the demand get created in the first place? My guess would be that some business invested money for creating the demand. Would they have invested the money if they did not expect to be able to recoup that investment via higher margins and premium pricing for their unique features? And without the marketing arguments for new products that can improve people’s lives, would we have the Internet or even the telephone?

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