Collecting personal data obsolete? Three ideas for the Intention Economy

A potential tsunami of liability looms for businesses that routinely collect personal information. The recent rise in data security breaches, coupled with the complex web of privacy regulations, could spell disaster for many businesses that rely on archaic hosting agreements. A provocative article by Doc Searls describes a future where customer data collection is obsolete.

Searls discusses the “Intention Economy,” a shift in the relationship between businesses and their customers, in the January/February issue of the Harvard Business Review.

In this new economy, customers who own and control their own personal information will declare their intentions to the marketplace, says Searls, and vendors will reap the benefits. Here, customers are outfitted with the means to determine and announce their desired products, prices, permissions and restrictions for engagement. Instead of lobbing manipulative messages based a customer’s data droppings, businesses following these terms will participate forefront in sincere market conversations.

If Searls’ predictions come true, and an Intention Economy prevails, then businesses will need to prepare for rethinking their images. To prosper in such an economy, Sequel predicts businesses may need to adopt the following philosophies:

  • Enable your customers to define interactions: provide meaningful and granular choices for engagement and honor these decisions.
  • Embrace social media: give your customers a platform to express both desires and serious grievances about your products or services. Respond in-kind; sincerely and respectfully.
  • Encourage licensed user-generated content: Allow customers to create and spread honest celebrations or criticisms of your brand.

The Intention Economy, Searls predicts, will cultivate new business methods to better satisfy demand, inform development, and build mutual loyalty. Sequel notes that a balanced customer relationship is more likely to lead to a customer providing informed consent as to how their data will be used, particularly if it leads to improved products and services. Informed consent, combined with loyal customers, will likely offset some of the continuing risk associated with collecting and hosting personal information.

You can read the article, with a discussion thread including remarks by Searls, on the HBR website (subscription required). HBR also provides the highlights of a recent interactive chat on the topic. You can read more Doc Searls’ insight in his forthcoming book, The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge.

To learn more about managing data security, or for help auditing your content-use and privacy conditions for the new economy, contact Sequel at