Today I decided it was time to buy a new printer. This is not an activity that I want to spend too much time doing and yet it is an important purchase. I largely work from home, or cafes, or bookstores. It is an enviable way to work for the large part but it does require good support technology to maximise the upside without getting the downsides that come with minimal office support. The right printer, I have discovered, is critical. I know exactly what I want: a smallish unit, colour printing, scanning, copying, and wireless to print from any of my mobile devices. All I need is to be matched with the printer that meets my needs. Simple? Not so. Our Business-to-Consumer (B2C) retail model requires me, the customer, to do all the work. You see, the brand decides what to make, the retail network decides how it will be distributed, and the marketers decide what they will tell me about in the way they think that I want to hear it. This leaves me, the customer, to sift through all the messages of all the brands to find a printer that meets the needs that I have already determined. And apparently this is “customer focussed” retailing! Not so.
Doc Searls, alumnus fellow of the Berkman Centre for Internet & Society at Harvard, suggests that the capabilities of the new digital landscape will shift the power of the buying process to the consumer…a process he called Intent Casting. Rather than me having to search through the plethora of product to short-list my printer, I would simply lodge my intent to purchase on-line and the appropriate printer would find me. Suppliers of printers that met my set of criteria would compete for my business either by being first or the best matched respondent. The intent casting model suggests a dramatic shift not only for traditional business models in the distribution of products and services, but also for how companies are organised and communicate internally in order to make this shift. The B2C model is flipped on its head to become C2B and with it comes a new way of thinking about customer relationships.
We have already seen shifts in this direction as users engage with digital platforms and new business practices emerge. Two industries that have seen intent casting disruption are recruitment (e.g. Linkedin) and taxis (e.g. Uber). Traditional recruitment processes started with a company posting a job description and waiting to see who applied. Applicants would either be those in the market already for a new role or someone who found the job ad by chance and was persuaded to think about making a change. Linkedin provided a marketplace where those seeking employment could cast their intent by positioning themselves in the market using key words, blog posts, and network connections thereby creating connections that build relationships and job opportunities. Equally those seeking to employ have access to search mechanisms that enable them to cast very targeted propositions. Not only has this disrupted the recruitment industry by significantly reducing the need for many of the traditional recruitment agent’s activities but it has also created a significant shift in the way recruitment practices are constructed and organised. Uber is based on a very similar model that places the customer at the forefront of the process with capabilities to select the type of taxi service based on their pre-constructed cost or service quality parameters and then cast their intent to a community of service providers who then connect with the customer to deliver the product. Delivery is then monitored by the customer and product satisfaction is co-created with both the customer and the driver having the capability to post descriptions of their experience. Uber drivers have a relationship with the customer from the moment they respond to the cast intent until completion of the service.
In addition to changes at the C2B level, we are starting to see organisations such as Quivers disrupting the B2B market by introducing intent casting models to change the relationship between the owners of the brands and the retail network. Traditionally the brand (e.g. Nike, Prada) distributed their product through retailers who then in turn developed the relationship with the customer leaving the brand at arms length. Quivers is a channel disrupter focused on “Conscious Commerce” that enables the customer to determine their product choice from the brand website and cast their intent to buy via Quivers to a predetermined group of retailers giving them all the opportunity to respond and fulfil the order. This preserves the brand’s relationship with their retailers but gives the brand control over the customer experience by collecting purchase data that can then be used to deliver better outcomes for the brand. Rather than retailers being the centre of the buying process and able to offer a range of brands to the customer, the brand takes control of the decision process but then casts the customer’s intent to the retailer who in-turn fulfils the order direct to the customer. Retailers in this B2B intent casting model have to be constantly connected and capable of instant responses to claim the order ahead of competitors, which requires new skills, mobile technologies and new priorities.
So back to my printer. Had I been able to engage with an intent casting platform I would have framed the perfect cast, waited quietly on the riverbank and waited for the fish to bite. Now that sounds like the way to shop.