Category: Supply chain

For real customer engagement, “social” is inadequate

In Social’s Value Measured in Engagement Over Sales, eMarketer provided this revealing graphic:

There are trends here too:

…consumer engagement and brand lift were the No. 1 goals of social media marketing, each cited by 67% of respondents. This was up significantly from 2011, when those goals were cited by about 50% each.

Last year, using social media marketing to garner positive sentiment was the leading goal, whereas this year it dropped to No. 4.

They add,

Marketers may be finding that it is less important that their posts get a warm reception from social users and more important that they keep consumers posting, “liking” and sharing social content.

That’s what marketers may think; but what about the parts of the company that make, sell and service the company’s goods? Let’s return again to an Oracle graphic of the “customer journey” that has been helping us focus lately:

Oracle Twist

Here’s what this illustrates about engagement:

  1. We’re not always buying stuff. We’re using it. When we have good ideas to feed back to companies, or when we want help with a company’s products or services, we shouldn’t have to go through “social” marketing. There, are, and should, be better means for that.
  2. Substantive engagement is not “posting, ‘liking’ and sharing social content”. It’s making direct connections with the parts of companies that want to help and learn from customers directly.
  3. Owning is what we do with the stuff we buy. Think about it. You’re owning 100% of the time, and buying far less, even if you’re a shopaholic. Yet the respect this fact gets from social marketing — and from marketing in general — is sub-minimal, even in our networked age.

Meanwhile spending on marketing budgets is going up, while other budgets are going down. Most of the increase is going to digital strategies, Gartner says (more here), and approximately none of that, outside “social”, is for direct engagement with the human beings who buy goods and services.

There is a reason for this, which I visit in The Intention Economy:

Back in the early ‘90s, when I was making a good living as a marketing consultant, I asked my wife—a successful businesswoman and a retailing veteran—why it was that heads of corporate Sales & Marketing departments were always from Sales people and not from Marketing people. Her answer: “Simple: Sales is real. Marketing is bullshit.”

When I asked her to explain that, she said this wasn’t marketing’s fault. The problem was the role marketing was forced to play. “See, sales touches the customer; but marketing can’t, because that’s sales’ job. So marketing has to be ‘strategic.’” She put air-quotes around “strategic.” She acknowledged that this was an over-simplification, and not fair to all the good people in marketing (such as myself) who really were trying to do right by customers. But her remark spoke to the need to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not, and to dig deeper into why the latter has become such an enormous part of the way we do business.

And now we have CMOs, Chief Marketing Officers, a title that barely existed two decades ago, graced with bigger budgets and increased political power within companies. And yet they still don’t touch the customer. Instead they want to follow the customer around with tracking beacons and to better personalize the “shopping experience” or whatever, and troll for “likes” on Facebook. In less delicate terms, the bullshit is out of control, with bigger budgets and fancier rationalizations than ever.

Want to see how far this goes? Check out the IBM/Aberdeeen “Big Datastillery”:

Look closely at this thing to see where you fit in. You’ll need to scroll down to the conveyor belt at the bottom. See those colored beakers, being filled with “customer interaction optimization” and “marketing optimization,” and then rolling off to oblivion after farting out “campaign metrics”? That’s you.

Your campaign metrics gas gets fed into the big hopper at the top from one pipe among many others. In rough order of decreasing size those are:

  • CRM
  • Social media
  • Clickstream data
  • Transactional data
  • Marketing history
  • SEO data
  • PPC (pay per click)
  • Email metrics
  • Campaign metrics
  • Ad impressions
  • Customer sentiment

None of this involves actual interactions with human beings except perhaps through social media. And even there, one CRM executive recently told me, marketing zealotry is “poisoning the well.”

We can’t fix this and shouldn’t try. It’s marketing’s house. Let them work on it. (Credit where due: according to the top graphic above, 56% of them want to use social media to “improve customer support/service”.)

What we can do is expand the owning experience to include helpful and productive interactions with companies that make, sell and service what we own, and what we use. Here’s one example.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear stories from non-marketing people inside companies about what it’s like to try engaging, in durable and substantive ways, with customers who are at the same time getting treated like the beakers in the graphic above.

Bonus link from @bobosphere.

VRM development work

I’ll be having a brown bag lunch today with a group of developers, talking about VRM and personal clouds, among other stuff that’s sure to come up. To make that easier, I’ve copied and pasted the current list from the VRM developers page of the ProjectVRM wiki. If you’d like to improve it in any way, please do — either on the wiki itself, or by letting us know what to change.

While there are entire categories that fit in the larger VRM circle — quantified self (QS) and personal health records (PHRs) are two that often come up — we’ve tried to confine this list to projects and companies that directly address the goals (as well as the principles) listed on the main page of the wiki.


Here is a partial list of VRM development efforts. (See About VRM). Some are organizations, some are commercial entities, some are standing open source code development efforts.

SOFTWARE and SERVICES
Intentcasting
AskForIt † – individual demand aggregation and advocacy
Body Shop Bids † – intentcasting for auto body work bids based on uploaded photos
Have to Have † – “A single destination to store and share everything you want online”
Intently † – Intentcasting “shouts” for services, in the U.K.
Innotribe Funding the Digital Asset Grid prototype, for secure and accountable Intentcasting infrastructure
OffersByMe † – intentcasting for local offers
Prizzm †- social CRM platform rewarding customers for telling businesses what they want, what they like, and what they have problems with
RedBeacon † – intentcasting locally for home services
Thumbtack † – service for finding trustworthy local service providers
Trovi intentcasting; matching searchers and vendors in Portland, OR and Chandler, AZ†
Übokia intentcasting†
Zaarly † intentcasting to community – local so far in SF and NYC
Browser Extensions
Abine † DNT+, deleteme, PrivacyWatch: privacy-protecting browser extentions
Collusion Firefox add-on for viewing third parties tracking your movements
Disconnect.me † browser extentions to stop unwanted tracking, control data sharing
Ghostery † browser extension for tracking the trackers
PrivacyScore † browser extensions and services to users and site builders for keeping track of trackers
Databases
InfoGrid - graph database for personal networking applications
ProjectDanube - open source software for identity and personal data services
Messaging Services and Brokers
Gliph †- private, secure identity management and messaging for smartphones
Insidr † – customer service Q&A site connecting to people who have worked in big companies and are willing to help when the company can’t or won’t
PingUp (was Getabl) †- chat utility for customers to engage with merchants the instant customers are looking for something
TrustFabric † – service for managing relationships with sellers
Personal Data and Relationship Management
Azigo.com † – personal data, personal agent
ComplainApp † – An iOS/Android app to “submit complaints to businesses instantly – and find people with similar complaints”
Connect.Me † – peer-to-peer reputation, personal agent
Geddup.com † – personal data and relationship management
Higgins - open source, personal data
The Locker Project - open source, personal data
Mydex †- personal data stores and other services
OneCub †- Le compte unique pour vos inscriptions en ligne (single account for online registration)
Paoga † – personal data, personal agent
Personal.com † – personal data storage, personal agent
Personal Clouds - personal cloud wiki
Privowny † – privacy company for protecting personal identities and for tracking use and abuse of those identities, building relationships
QIY † – independent infrastructure for managing personal data and relationships
Singly † – personal data storage and platform for development, with an API
Transaction Management
Dashlane † – simplified login and checkout
Trust-Based or -Providing Systems and Services
id3 - trust frameworks
Respect Network † – VRM personal cloud network based on OAuth, XDI, KRL, unhosted, and other open standards, open source, and open data initiatives. Respect Network is the parent of Connect.Me.
Trust.cc Personal social graph based fraud prevention, affiliated with Social Islands
SERVICE PROVIDERS OR PROJECTS BUILT ON VRM PRINCIPLES
First Retail Inc. † commodity infrastructure for bi-directional marketplaces to enable the Personal RFP
dotui.com † intelligent media solutions for retail and hospitality customers
Edentiti Customer driven verification of idenity
Real Estate Cafe † money-saving services for DIY homebuyers & FSBOs
Hover.com Customer-driven domain management†
Hypothes.is - open source, peer review
MyInfo.cl (Transitioning from VRM.cl) †
Neustar “Cooperation through trusted connections” †
NewGov.us - GRM
[1] † – Service for controlling one’s reputation online
Spotflux † malware, tracking, unwanted ad filtration through an encrypted tunnel
SwitchBook † – personal search
Tangled Web † – mobile, P2P & PDS
The Banyan Project- community news co-ops owned by reader/members
TiddlyWiki - a reusable non-linear personal Web notebook
Ting † – customer-driven mobile virtual network operator (MVNO – a cell phone company)
Tucows †
VirtualZero - Open food platform, supply chain transparency
INFRASTRUCTURE
Concepts
EmanciPay - dev project for customer-driven payment choices
GRM: Government Relationship Management - subcategory of VRM
ListenLog - personal data logging
Personal RFP - crowdsourcing, standards
R-button - UI elements for relationship members
Hardware
Freedom Box - personal server on free software and hardware
Precipitat, WebBox - new architecture for decentralizing the Web, little server
Standards, Frameworks, Code bases and Protocols
Datownia † – builds APIs from Excel spreadsheets held in Dropbox
Evented APIs - new standard for live web interactivity
KRL (Kinetic Rules Language) - personal event networks, personal rulesets, programming Live Web interactions
Kynetx † – personal event networks, personal rulesets
https://github.com/CSEMike/OneSwarm Oneswarm] – privacy protecting peer-to-peer data sharing
http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/persona/ Mozila Persona] – a privacy-protecting one-click email-based way to do single sign on at websites
TAS3.eu — Trusted Architecture for Securely Shared Services - R&D toward a trusted architecture and set of adaptive security services for individuals
Telehash - standards, personal data protocols
Tent - open decentralized protocol for personal autonomy and social networking
The Mine! Project - personal data, personal agent
UMA - standards
webfinger - personal Web discovery, finger over HTTP
XDI - OASIS semantic data interchange standard
PEOPLE
Analysts and Consultants
Ctrl-SHIFT † – analysts
Synergetics † – VRM for job markets
VRM Labs - Research
HealthURL - Medical
Consortia, Workgroups
Fing.org - VRM fostering organization
Information Sharing Workgroup at Kantara - legal agreements, trust frameworks
Pegasus - eID smart cards
Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium (PDEC) – industry collaborative
Meetups, Conferences, and Events
IIW: Internet Identity Workshop - yearly unconference in Mountain View
VRM Hub - meeting in LondonNOTES:
† Indicates companies. Others are organizations, development projects or both. Some development projects are affiliated with companies. (e.g. Telehash and The Locker Project with Singly, and KRL with Kynetx.)
A – creating standard
B – Using other standards
1 – EventedAPI

When consumers become media for themselves

I was talking recently with Edi Immonen of Glome about the idea behind it: turning users into publishers. He used the word “media,” but I’m going with “publishers” for now, because that’s the word used in this graphic (one of many like it — all amazing and excellent) from LUMA partners:

That’s the marketer’s view. But how about yours, as the consumer over there on the right. In fact it’s actually more like this:

Because all you do is consume. You have no direct influence on all that intermediary stuff; so it just presses down on you.

But what if you become the publisher — a form of producer, and not just of consumer? Then the system, simplified, would look like this:

This is in alignment with what Tim Berners-Lee designed the Web to look like in the first place, but in in a commercial setting. (Remember that Sir Tim was then working in high energy physics at CERN, looking for ways to share and edit documents across the Internet as it existed at the turn of the ’90s.) It is also what blogging, as originally conceived, also did. If this blog were commercial (which it is not, on purpose), that would be me (or us) on the right.

Now, if we, as publishers, look at our data, or of our personal space — our state as a medium — as a platform for selling and buying stuff, including services, a whole new horizon opens up.

What Edi and his colleagues at Glome envision is a way for you, as a medium, to sell your space (however you chose to define that word) to:

  1. brands with which you already have a relationship;
  2. brands in which you have an interest; or
  3. brands in which you might have an interest.

From the traditional marketing perspective, #3 makes you “qualified lead,” for which the brand should be willing to pay. But that’s a far too reduced view of what you really are, or might be, to that brand.

Think of this marketplace frame from a CRM+VRM perspective. Between those two rectangles, inside the black two-pointed arrow, are cycles of buying and owning, of use and re-use, of live interactions and of long periods of idle time where neither is paying much attention to the other. Lots of stuff can go on within the boundaries of that two-way arrow.

What Glome proposes here is not zero-basing the marketplace, but instead to re-start our thinking, and our work, atop three well-understood existing roles: brand, publisher (or medium) and marketplace. The main re-characterization is of the individual, who is now a publisher or a medium, and not just a consumer.

Obviously much can get disintermediated here, including all the stuff between the marketer and the publisher in the graphic up top.

But much new intermediation is now possible, especially if the individual has a personal cloud through which one (or one’s fourth party) can program interactions, for the individual, among API-based services (in the manner of IFTTT, or using KRL) and the “Internet of things”. (For developers, I believe Singly fits in here too.)

So we are looking here at a whole new market for information and relationships, within the larger marketplace of everything else. This isn’t complicated, really. It’s actually what markets looked like in the first place:

This is the context we meant by “Markets are conversations” in The Cluetrain Manifesto.

LUMAscapes (such as the top one above) brilliantly depict the ecosystems of marketing as they have evolved so far, down different branches of discipline. The tree from which they branch, however, is the old advertising and direct marketing one, now operating inside the Internet . (“Big data” and analytics in marketing are hardly new. They were what direct mail was all about long before it evolved into direct marketing and then spread into online advertising.)

So this is a shout-to —

— as well as all the VRM developers in the world (and it seems there are more every day).

The last graphic above is our new frame. It helps that it’s also the oldest frame.

I also look forward to the day when Terence Kawaja and his colleagues at LUMA partners draw up VRM+CRM and other new ecosystems that are bound to evolve, once enough of us get our heads out of the old marketing frame and into the oldest marketplace one. So this is a shout-out to them too. :-)

Can we each be our own Amazon?

The most far-out chapter in  is one set in a future when free customers are known to be more valuable than captive ones. It’s called “The Promised Market,” and describes the imagined activities of a family traveling to a wedding in San Diego. Among the graces their lives enjoy are these (in the order the chapter presents them):

  1. Customer freedom and intentions are not restrained by one-sided “agreements” provided only by sellers and service providers.
  2. — service organizations working as agents for the customer — are a major breed among user driven services.
  3. The competencies of nearly all companies are exposed through interactive that customers and others can engage in real time. These will be fundamental to what calls .
  4. s (now also called intentcasts), will be common and widespread means for demand finding and driving supply in the marketplace.
  5. Augmented reality views of the marketplace will be normative, as will mobile payments through virtual wallets on mobile devices.
  6. Loyalty will be defined by customers as well as sellers, in ways that do far more for both than today’s one-sided and coercive loyalty programs.
  7. Relationships between customers and vendors will be genuine, two-way, and defined cooperatively by both sides, which will each possess the technical means to carry appropriate relationship burdens. In other words, VRM and CRM will work together, at many touch-points.
  8. Customers will be able to proffer prices on their own, independently of intermediaries (though those, as fourth parties, can be involved). Something like EmanciPay will facilitate the process.
  9. Supply chains will become “empathic” as well as mechanical. That is, supply chains will be sensitive to the demand chain: signals of demand, in the context of genuine relationships, from customers and fourth parties.
  10. The advertising bubble of today has burst, because the economic benefits of knowing actual customer intention — and relating to customers as independent and powerful economic actors, worthy of genuine relationships rather than coercive — bob will have became obvious and operative. Advertising will continue to do what it does best, but not more.
  11. Search has evolved to become far more user-driven and interactive, involving agents other than search engines.
  12. ‘s will be taken for granted. There will still be businesses that provide connections, but nobody will be trapped into any one provider’s “plan” that excludes connection through other providers. This will open vast new opportunities for economic activity in the marketplace.

In , Sheila Bounford provides the first in-depth volley on that chapter, focusing on #4: personal RFPs. I’ll try to condense her case:

I’ve written recently of a certain frustration with the seemingly endless futurology discussions going on in the publishing world, and it’s probably for this reason that I had to fight my way through the hypothesis in this chapter. However on subsequent reflection I’ve found that thinking about the way in which Amazon currently behaves as a customer through its Advantage programme sheds light on Searls’ suggestions and projections…

What Searls describes as the future for individual consumers is in fact very close to the empowered relationship that Amazon currently enjoys with its many suppliers via Amazon Advantage…  Amazon is the customer – and a highly empowered one at that.

Any supplier trading with Amazon via Advantage (and that includes most UK publishing houses and a significant portion of American publishers) has to meet all of the criteria specified by Amazon in order to be accepted into Advantage and must communicate online through formats and channels entirely prescribed and controlled by Amazon…

Alone, an individual customer is never going to be able to exert the same kind of leverage over vendors in the market place as a giant like Amazon. However individual customers online are greater than the sum of their parts: making up a crucial market for retailers and service providers. Online, customers have a much louder voice, and a much greater ability to collect, organise and mobilise than offline. Searls posits that as online customers become more attuned to their lack of privacy and control – in particular of data that they consider personal – in current normative contracts of adhesion, they will require and elect to participate in VRM programmes that empower them as individual customers and not leave them as faceless, impotent consumers.

So? So Amazon provides us with a neat example of what it might look like if we, as individuals, could control our suppliers and set our terms of engagement. That’s going to be a very different online world to the one we trade in now.  Although I confess to frustration with the hot air generated by publishing futurology, it seems to me that the potential for the emergence VRM and online customer empowerment is one aspect of the future we’d all do well to work towards and plan for.

From the start of ProjectVRM, Iain Henderson (now of The Customer’s Voice) has been pointing to B2B as the future model for B2C. Not only are B2B relationships rich, complex and rewarding in ways that B2C are not today (with their simplifications through customer captivity and disempowerment), he says, but they also provide helpful modeling for B2C as customers obtain more freedom and empowerment, outside the systems built to capture and milk them.

Amazon Advantage indeed does provide an helpful example of where we should be headed as VRM-enabled customers. Since writing the book (which, except for a few late tweaks, was finished last December) I have become more aware than ever of Amazon’s near-monopoly power in the book marketplace, and possibly in other categories as well. I have heard many retailers complain about “scan and scram” customers who treat brick-and-mortar stores as showrooms for Amazon. But perhaps the modeling isn’t bad in the sense that we ought to have monopoly power over our selves. Today the norm in B2C is to disregard that need by customers. In the future I expect that need to be respected, simply because it produces more for everybody in the marketplace.

It is highly astute of Sheila to look toward Amazon as a model for individual customers. I love it when others think of stuff I haven’t, and add to shared understanding — especially of a subject as protean as this one. So I look forward to the follow-up posts this week on her blog.

Scaling business in parallel

Companies and customers need to be able to deal with each other in two ways: as individuals and as groups.

As of today companies can deal with customers both ways. They can get personal with customers, and they can deal with customers en masse. Without the latter capability, mass marketing would not be possible.

Customers, on the other hand, can only deal with companies as individuals, one at a time. Dealing with companies as groups is still a challenge. Consider the way you engage companies in the marketplace, both online and off. Your dealings with companies, on the whole, are separate and sequential. Nothing wrong with that, but it lacks scale. Hence: opportunity.

We can arrive at that opportunity space by looking at company and personal dealings, each with two kinds of engagement circuits: serial and parallel.

Start with a small company, say a store with customers who line up at the counter. That store  deals with customers in a serial way:

business, serial

The customers come to the counter, one after another, in a series. Energy in the form of goods goes out, and money comes back.

As companies scale up in size, however, they’d rather deal with many customers in parallel rather than in series. A parallel circuit looks like this:

business, parallel

Here customers are dealt with as a group: many at once, and in the same way. This, in an extremely simplified form, is a diagram of mass marketing. While it is still possible for a company to deal with customers individually, the idea is to deal with as many customers as possible at once and in the same ways.

I use electronic symbols in those circuits because resistance (the zig-zag symbol) adds up in series, while it goes down in parallel. This too is a virtue of mass marketing. Thus one-to-many works very well, and has proven so ever since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

Over on the customers’ side, the marketplace on the whole looks like this:

customer, serial

The customer goes from one company to the next. This is not a problem on the vendors’ side, except to the degree that vendors would rather customers not shop elsewhere. This is why vendors come up with loyalty programs and other schemes to increase “switching costs” and to otherwise extract as much money and commitment as possible out of the customer.

But, from the customer’s side, it would also be cool if they could enjoy scale in parallel across many companies, like this:

In the physical world this is all but unthinkable. But the Internet makes it very thinkable, because the Net reduces nearly to zero the functional distance between any two entities, and presents an open space across which many connections can be made, at once if necessary, with few limits on the number or scope of possibilities. There is also no limit to the new forms of interaction that can happen here.

For example, a customer could scale in parallel by expressing demand to multiple vendors at the same time, or could change her contact information at once with many companies. In fact this is basically what VRM projects are about: scaling in parallel across many other entites. (Not just vendors, but also elected officials, government agencies, churches, clubs, and so on.)

It is easy to see how companies can feel threatened by this. For a century and a half we in business have made a virtue of “targeting,” “acquiring,” “capturing,” “managing,” “locking in” and “owning” customers. But think about the free market for a minute. Shouldn’t free customers be more valuable than captive ones? Wouldn’t it be better if customers and prospects could send many more, and better, signals to the marketplace, and to vendors as well, if they were capable of having their own native ways of dealing, consistently, across multiple vendors?

We have that now with email and other forms of messaging. But why stop there?

Naturally, it’s easy to ask, Could social media such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter provide some of what we need here? Maybe, but the problem is that they are not ours, and they don’t work for us — in the sense that they are accountable to us. They work for advertisers. Email, IM and browsing aren’t owned by anybody. They are also substitutable. For example, you can move your mail from Gmail to your own server or elsewhere if you like. Google doesn’t own email’s protocols. No browser company owns HTTP, HTML or any of the Web’s protocols.

The other problem with social solutions is that they’re not personal. And that’s the scale we’re talking about here: adding parallel capabilities to individuals. Sure, aggregation is possible, and a good thing. (And a number of VRM projects are of the aggregating-demand sort.) But the fallow ground is under our own feet. That’s where the biggest market opportunity is located. Also where, still, it is most ignored. Except, of course, here.

[Continued in VRM/CX + CRM/CX.]

Let’s fix the car rental business

Lately  (@ronlieber), the Your Money editor and columnist for the New York Times, has been posting pieces that expose a dysfunction in the car rental marketplace — one that is punishing innovators that take the sides of customers. The story is still unfolding, which gives us the opportunity to visit and think through some VRM approaches to the problem.

Ron’s first piece is a column titled “A Rate Sleuth Making Rental Car Companies Squirm,” on February 17, and his second is a follow-up column, “Swatting Down Start-Ups That Help Consumers,” on April 6. Both stories are about , a start-up that constantly researches and re-books car rentals for you, until you get the lowest possible price from one of them. That company wins the business, at a maximized discount. The others all lose. This is good for the customer, if all the customer cares about is price. It’s bad for the agencies, since the winner is the one that makes the least amount of money on the rental.

In the second piece, Ron explains,

The customer paid nothing for the service, and AutoSlash got a commission from Travelocity, whose booking engine it rented. This was so delightful that it felt as if it might not last, and I raised the possibility that participating companies like Hertz and Dollar Thrifty would bail out, as Enterprise and the company that owns Avis and Budget already had. I encouraged readers to patronize the participants in the meantime to reward them for playing along. Well, they’ve stopped playing. In the last couple of weeks, Hertz and the company that owns both Dollar and Thrifty have turned their backs on AutoSlash — and for good reason, according to Hertz: AutoSlash seems to have been using discount codes that its customers were not technically eligible for.

On its site, AutoSlash put things this way (at that last link):

We’re disappointed that these companies have now chosen to reverse course and adopt this anti-consumer position, after having participated in this site since its launch in mid-2010. Apparently, with more customers booking reservations through our service, they felt they could no longer support our consumer-friendly model of automatically finding the best discount codes and re-booking when rates drop. AutoSlash will not waver in our objective to help people get a great deal on their rentals. We have exciting product plans on the horizon to make our site even more useful to you..

On the same day as his second column, Ron ran a blog post titled “AutoSlash, AwardWallet, MileWise and the Travel Bullies,” in which he points to airlines as another business with the same problems — and the same negative responses to rate-sleuths:

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have made it clear that they do not want any third party Web site taking customers’ AAdvantage or Rapid Rewards frequent flier balances and putting them on a different site where people can view them alongside those from other loyalty programs. This comes at a loss of convenience to customers, and the airlines make all sorts of specious arguments about why this is necessary. Meanwhile, sites like  and  are less useful than they would be otherwise without a full lineup of airline account information available. But there’s a the bigger question here: Why can’t the big travel players simply fix their archaic business models and add these nifty features to their Web sites and stop spending energy ganging up on start-ups who unmask their flaws?

The answer comes from , of Dilbert fame. By Scott’s definition, the big travel players are a “confusopoly.” They see what Ron calls a “flaw” — burying the customer in a snowstorm of discounts intended both to entice and to confuse — as a feature, rather than a bug. Here’s Scott:

A confusopoly is any group of companies in a particular industry that intentionally confuses customers about their pricing plans and products. Confusopolies do this so customers don’t know which one of them is offering the best value. That way every company gets a fair share of the confused customers and the industry doesn’t need to compete on price. The classic examples of confusopolies are phone companies, insurance companies, and banks.

Car rental agencies are clearly confusopolies. So are airlines. Dave Barry explains how it is that no two passengers on one airplane pay the same price for a seat:

Q. So the airlines use these cost factors to calculate a rational price for my ticket?
A. No. That is determined by Rudy the Fare Chicken, who decides the price of each ticket individually by pecking on a computer keyboard sprinkled with corn. If an airline agent tells you that they’re having “computer problems, ” this means that Rudy is sick, and technicians are trying to activate the backup system, Conrad the Fare Hamster.

There are a few exceptions. One is , which competes through relatively simple seat pricing and unconfusing policies (e.g. no seat assignments and “bags fly free”). But even Southwest plays confusing games. For example, I just went to Southwest to make sure the URL was right (it used to be iflyswa.com, as I recall), and got intercepted by a promo offer, for a gift card. So, for research purposes, I filled it out. That got me to this page here:

Note that there is no place to take the last step. The “Your Info Below” space is blank. Everywhere I click, nothing happens. Fun. (Is it possible this isn’t from Southwest at all? Maybe somebody from Southwest can weigh in on that.)

So, a confusopoly.

What can we do? Governments fix monopolies by breaking them up. But confusopolies come pre-broken. That’s how they work. There is no collusion between Hertz and Budget, or between United and American. They are confusing on purpose, and independently so. No doubt they have their confusing systems fully rationalized, but that doesn’t make the confusion less real for the customer, or less purposeful for the company.

Let’s look a bit more closely at three problems endemic to the car rental business, and contribute to the confusopoly.

  1. Cars, like airlines and their seats, have become highly generic, and therefore commoditized. Even if there is a difference between a Chevy Cruze and a Ford Focus, the agencies mask it by saying what you’ll get is some model of some maker’s car, “or similar.” (I’ve always thought one of the car makers ought to just go ahead and make a car just for rentals, and brand it the “Similar.”)
  2. The non-price differentiators just aren’t different enough. For example, I noticed that Enterprise lately forces its workers to go out of their way to be extra-personal. They come out from behind the counter, shake your hand, call you by name, ask about your day, and so on. Which is all nice, but not nicer for most of us than a lower price than the next agency.
  3. The agencies’ CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems don’t have enough to work with. While Enterprise is singled out here and here for having exceptional CRM, all these systems today operate entirely on the vendors’ side. Not on yours or mine. Each of is silo’d. How each of us relates to any one agency doesn’t work with the others. This is an inconvenience for us, but not for the agencies, at least as far as they know. And, outside their own silo’d systems, they can’t know much, except maybe through intelligence they buy from “big data” mills. But that data is also second-hand. No matter how “personalized” that data is, it’s about us, not directly by us or from us, by our own volition, and from systems we control.

A few years ago I began to see these problems as opportunities. I thought, Why not build new tools and systems for individual customers, so they can control their own relationships, in common and standard ways, with multiple vendors?  And, What will we call the result, once we have that control? My first answer to those questions came in a post for in March, 2006, titled The Intention Economy. Here are the money grafs from that one:

The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. 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. The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don’t have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. Simple as that. The Intention Economy is built around more than transactions. Conversations matter. So do relationships. So do reputation, authority and respect. Those virtues, however, are earned by sellers (as well as buyers) and not just “branded” by sellers on the minds of buyers like the symbols of ranchers burned on the hides of cattle.

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or “capturing”) buyers. In The Intention Economy, a car rental customer should be able to say to the car rental market, “I’ll be skiing in Park City from March 20-25. I want to rent a 4-wheel drive SUV. I belong to Avis Wizard, Budget FastBreak and Hertz 1 Club. I don’t want to pay up front for gas or get any insurance. What can any of you companies do for me?” — and have the sellers compete for the buyer’s business.

Thanks to work by the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) development community, The Intention Economy is now a book, with the subtitle When Customers Take Charge, due out from Harvard Business Review Press on May 1. (You can pre-order it from Amazon, and might get it sooner that way.)

Having sellers compete for a buyer’s business (to serve his or her signaled intent) is what we now call a Personal RFP. (Scott Adams calls it “broadcast shopping.”) What it requires are two things that are now on their way. One is tools. The other is infrastructure. As a result of both, we will see emerge a new class of market participant: the . It’s a role AutoSlash can play, if it’s willing to play a new game rather than just gaming the old one.

The new game is serving as a real agent of customers, rather than just as a lead-generating system for third parties such as Travelocity, or a pest for second parties such as Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty. Fourth parties are businesses that side with customers rather than with vendors or third parties. Think of them as third parties that work for you and me. In this post, of (a VRM developer), represents the four parties graphically: Fourth parties can also serve as agents for improving actual relationships (rather than coercive ones). The two magnets are “r-buttons” (explained most recently here), which represent the buyer and the seller, and (as magnets) depict both attraction and openness to relationship. They are simple symbols one can also type, like this:  ⊂ ⊃. (The ⊂ represents you, or the buy side, while the ⊃ represents vendors and their allied third parties, or the sell side.) Here is another way of laying these out, with some names that have already come up: 4 parties As of today AutoSlash presents itself as an agent of the customer, but business-wise it’s an accessory to a third party, Travelocity. While Travelocity could be a fourth party as well, it is still too tied into the selling systems of the car rental agencies to make the move. (If I’m wrong, tell me how.) Now, what if AutoSlash were to join a growing young ecosystem of VRM companies and projects working on the customer’s side? Here is roughly how that looks today: AutoSlash is over there on the right, on the sell side. On the buy side, in the fourth party quadrant, are , , , MyDex, and . All provide ways for individuals to manage their own data, and (actually in some cases, potentially in others) relationships with second and third parties, on behalf of the customer. If you look at just the right two quadrants, on the ⊃ side, the car rental agencies fired AutoSlash for breaking their system. That’s one more reason for AutoSlash to come over to the ⊂ side and start operating unambiguously as a pure fourth party.

I believe that’s what already does. While their service is superficially similar to AutoSlash’s (they book you the lowest prices), they clearly work for you (⊂) as a fourth party and not for the agencies (⊃) as a third party. What makes them unambiguously a fourth party is the fact that you pay them. Here are their rates.

For controlling multiple relationships, however, you still need tools other than straightforward one-category services (such as AutoSlash and RentalCarMagic). One circle around those tools is what KuppingerCole calls Life Management Platforms. Another, from Peter Vander Auwera of SWIFT is The Programmable Me These (among much more) will be the subject of sessions at the European Identity and Cloud Conference (EIC) this week in Munich. (I’ll be flying there shortly from Boston.) I’ll be participating in those. So will Phil Windley of Kynetx, who has detailed a concept called the “Personal Event Network,” aka the “Personal Cloud.” Links, in chronological order:

  1. Ways, Not Places
  2. Protocols and Metaprotocols: What is a Personal Event Network?
  3. KRL, Data and Personal Clouds
  4. Personal Clouds as General Purpose Computers
  5. Personal Clouds Need a Cloud Operating System
  6. The Foundational Role of Identity in Personal Clouds
  7. Data Abstractions for Richer Cloud Experiences
  8. A Programming Model for Personal Clouds
  9. Federating Personal Clouds

This is thinking-in-progress about work-in-progress, by a Ph.D. computer scientist and college professor as well as an entrepreneur and a very creative inventor. (By the way, KRL and its rules engine are open source. That’s cool too.)

If I have time later I’ll unpack some of this, and start knitting the connections between what Phil’s talking about and what others (especially Martin Kuppinger of KuppingerCole, who will be writing and posting more about Life Management Platforms) are also bringing to the table here.

In particular I will bring up the challenge of fixing the car rental agency market. What can we do, not only for the customer and for his or her fourth parties (the ⊂ side) but for everybody on the third and second party (⊃) side?

And what changes will have to take place on the ⊃ side once they find they need to truly differentiate, in distinctive and non-gimmicky ways? What effect will that have on the car makers as well?

When I started down this path, back in 2006, I had a long conversation with a top executive at one of the car rental companies. What sticks with me is that these guys don’t have it easy. Among other things, he told me that the car companies mostly don’t like the car rental business because it turns drivers off to many of the cars they rent, and the car companies don’t make much money on the cars either. Can that be fixed too? I don’t know, but I’d like customers and their fourth parties to help.

How about through true personalization, in response to actual demand by individual customers, such as I suggested in 2006?

How about through new infrastructural approaches, such as the ?

Hertz, Budget’s and Enterprise’s own CRM and loyalty systems are not going to go away. Nor will the ways they all have of identifying us, and authenticating us. How can we embrace those, even as we work to obsolete them?

There are two worlds overlapping here: the one we have, and the one we’re building that will transcend and subsume the one we have.

The one we have is a “free market” with a “your choice of captor” model. It is for violating this model that AutoSlash was fired as a third party by the car rental agencies.

The one we’re building is a truly free market, in which free customers prove more valuable than captive ones. We need to make the pudding that proves that principle.

And we’re doing that. But it’s not a simple, an easy, or even a coordinated process. The good thing is, it’s already underway, and has been for some time.

Looking forward to seeing you at EIC in Munich, and/or at the other events that follow, in London and Mountain View:

Meanwhile, a last word, in respect to what Bart Stevens says below. Clearly the car rental business needs to move out of the confusopoly model, and to differentiate on more than price. To some degree they already do, but price is the primary driver for most customers. (And I’d welcome correction on that, if it’s wrong.) We have a lot to learn from each other.

Circling Around Your Wallet

To get our heads all the way around Google+, it helps to remember Microsoft’s Hailstorm initiative from ten years ago. Think of Google+ as Hailstorm done right, or at least better. (That is, for Google.)

googlepluswallet

What Microsoft wanted with Hailstorm was less “social” than personal. (“Social” in 2001 was years away from getting buzzy.)  What Google wants with Google+ is very personal, or Google wouldn’t be so picky about the “real names” thing.

One difference from Hailstorm is that Google isn’t playing all its cards yet. Microsoft laid all theirs on the table with Hailstorm, and its identity service, Passport. What they wanted was to be the iDP, or IDentity Provider, for everybody. Is that what Google has in mind too? In 2005 John Battelle said Google was “angling to become the de facto marketplace for global commerce.” That might be a stretch, but it’s the vector that counts here, and Google+ points in that direction.

Let’s connect the dots.

  • Google’s “real names” policy (they actually say common names) for Google+ is freaking people out, sparking “nym wars“, on the other side of which are my.nameis.me, Kathy Gill, Kevin MarksSkud (who unpacks the whole thing extensively) and many others. (Here’s the latest from Kaliya.)
  • Google+ has just started. The big type on the current index page says “A quick look at the first pieces of the project.” Brad Horowitz, who runs Google+, in an interview with Tim O’Reilly (Google’s main defender at this point) says the project is “unfinished”, in “limited field trial” and not “launch ready”, meaning some people aren’t being served, and getting going for others is still “hard”. Specifically, Google+ cannot serve “tranches” of users who, for example, a) work inside enterprises that “bet their businesses on Google”, b) are minors, c) are brands, and d) wish to use pseudonyms or otherwise uncommon names. (That last group includes many early adopters of Google+ who are now being rejected.)
  • The common names policy wasn’t there for Gmail or any (or many) of Google’s many other services. Why this one? An answer came from Eric Schmidt, who told Andy Carvin that Google+ was being built “primarily as an identity service.”
  • Google has many services, none of which are truly “finished,” and some of which are just getting started. On the finished end of that spectrum is Google Checkout. At just-started end is Google+. Not out yet but announced is Google Wallet. What matters is that they can all both iterate and connect.
  • Google makes most of its money from advertising. That’s different than being an “advertising company.” Google was launched as a search company, and found a way to make money through advertising. They surely wish to diversify their income streams. One way is to support actual commercial activities, at the point of engagement between buyer and seller: to support the Intention Economy that starts with buyer volition, and not just the Attention Economy of which advertising is a part. In other words, to work where the demand chain meets the supply chain.
  • The first source of revenue in markets is customers: ones that have real names on their drivers licenses and credit cards. Pseudonyms, handles and nicknames — such as IdentityWoman, @Skud, FactoryJoe and Doc — might appear on business cards, but not on the bank- or government-issued plastic cards in those folks’ wallets.
  • To Google, Twitter and Facebook, pseudonyms, handles and nicknames are for users. Real names, or common names, are for customers. And real names tend to be what we have on our credit cards and government-issued identification cards and documents, such as drivers licenses and passports. When a seller wishes to authenticate us, that’s what they ask for.
  • Note carefully: Most users don’t pay. All customers pay: that’s what makes them customers.
  • Facebook is already the de facto iDP for perhaps hundreds of millions of people. (Pete Touchner unpacks that nicely in a slide deck, especially starting here.) The ubiquitous Facebook Connect button testifies to that. (As does Marc Zuckerberg calling the name you use in Facebook “your online identity.” But…
  • Facebook Connect lacks infrastructural legs that Google can put under the market’s table — legs like Google Checkout, Android and Google Wallet, as well as Google’s own physical network, back-end processing power and engineering knowhow, spread across many more business and technical disciplines than Facebook can pull together.

Back in May, I posted Google’s Wallet and VRM here. In it I posed eleven reasons why Google Wallet is potentially a development of profound importance. Here’s one:

Reason #9: Now you can actually relate. When a customer has the ability to shop as well as to buy, right in his or her wallet — and to put shopping in the context of the rest of his or her life, which includes far more than shopping alone — retailers can discover advantages other than discounts, coupons and other gimmicks. Maybe you’ll buy from Store B because you like the people there better, because they’re more helpful in general, because they took your advice about something, or because they help your kid’s school. Many more factors can come into play.

Such as when your circles intersect.

The earliest thrust for Google Wallet has been NFC (Near Field Communication), for doing mobile payments. From a Google post back in May:

Because Google Wallet is a mobile app, it will do more than a regular wallet ever could. You’ll be able to store your credit cards, offers, loyalty cards and gift cards, but without the bulk. When you tap to pay, your phone will also automatically redeem offers and earn loyalty points for you. Someday, even things like boarding passes, tickets, ID and keys could be stored in Google Wallet.

At first, Google Wallet will support both Citi MasterCard and a Google Prepaid Card, which you’ll be able to fund with almost any payment card. From the outset, you’ll be able to tap your phone to pay wherever MasterCard PayPass is accepted. Google Wallet will also sync your Google Offers, which you’ll be able to redeem via NFC at participating SingleTap™ merchants, or by showing the barcode as you check out. Many merchants are working to integrate their offers and loyalty programs with Google Wallet.

With Google Wallet, we’re building an open commerce ecosystem, and we’re planning to develop APIs that will enable integration with numerous partners. In the beginning, Google Wallet will be compatible with Nexus S 4G by Google, available on Sprint. Over time, we plan on expanding support to more phones.

Two months after that, in July, Google acquired punchd, “a better solution for loyalty cards”. (More here.) And now it seems that one of the first retailers with the NFC devices required at checkout is going to be Radio Shack. (Google’s list of signed-up “single tap™” partners is quite long.)

Pause now to think about supply and demand.

Most of Google’s commercial work so far has been on the market’s supply side, especially with advertising. (Nearly all their customers are sellers, not buyers.) Google Wallet, however, works on the demand side, because it goes on your phone, which lives in your pocket or your purse.

Your electronic wallet is the point of contact between your demand chain and the sellers’ supply chain. With electronic wallets, we get many new ways for these two to dance. And, therefore, many more commercial opportunities.

Wallets are also instruments of independence. (As are, say, cars.) As the Intention Economy grows (and electronic wallets will help with that), so must the things we as individual customers can do with them — and behind them, back up our demand chain, in our personal data stores. This is where we need to be the point of integration for our own data, which should include data collected by and about us.

Don’t think about how and why we should sell our data, especially to marketing’s guesswork mills (of which Google is the largest). Think about what services we might buy, to help us apply intelligence to the use of our data.

Think about new and different ways in which we might save and spend our money — ways that have nothing to do with today’s defaulted vendor-run gimmicks (loyalty cards, “sales,” coupons, “rewards”…) meant to trap us, herd us and shake us down for more money. Think about having more control over how, why, and where we spend (or actually save — as in a bank) our money. That’s what we start to see when we think about electronic Wallets beyond the near horizons of point-of-sale connections and better come-ons from sellers. That’s what Google will start to see when they start talking with us, and not just with big companies looking for more and better ways to sell.

If our electronic wallets are to become instruments of independence, we need a choice of interchangeable ones that work the same with every seller — much as we have a choice of cars that work the same way with every driveway, highway, gas station and parking lot. This means Google’s can’t be the only wallet. (I’m sure they know and welcome that.)

Presumably, Google Wallet will be open source. In fact, that would be a good way to fight Isisa new competitor to Google Wallet, funded by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile — and whatever Apple comes up with if it wishes to fight Google Wallet and/or Isis. Says Mashable (at that last link), “Isis was born last year, and aside from allowing mobile payments, it’ll also give you the ability to redeem coupons via their mobile payment service. It’s planned to debut in several unnamed major cities next year and will monetize by charging marketers a fee for sending offers to consumers’ phones.”

Earth to Big Boys: We’ll pay for value, including services that make our wallets serve us, and not just the marketing mills of the world.

When we have full independence, we will also have the ability to engage as equals in agreements and contracts. The legal dance online will need to resemble the legal dance offline, which is in the background. In the same way that we don’t need to “accept” a written “agreement” to enter and shop at most stores in the physical world, we shouldn’t need to do the same online. We should be able to bring agreeable terms with us, match them with those of sellers, electronically, without the intervention of lawyers or forms to sign, and do business. In other words, freedom of contract needs to obsolete contracts of adhesion, and the calf-cow system of asymmetrical non-relationships we’ve had online since the dawn of the cookie.

Listening to Brad Horowitz talk with Tim O’Reilly, I sense that Google is also tired of the old cookie-based paradigm of e-commerce. Helping make the customer independent, starting with his or her own wallet, is a great way to start breaking that paradigm.

The problem, as Google is discovering though the “nym wars”, is identity. People take that one personally.

To get a better angle on the issue, let’s look more closely at Microsoft’s Hailstorm. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time. Here’s a much longer piece by Clay Shirky, also from back then.

Microsoft saw Hailstorm as (among other things) a way to compete with AOL, which was the Facebook of its time. Hailstorm’s main feature was Passport: a then-new single-sign-on authentication service. The idea was to have Passport login buttons appear everywhere, like Facebook buttons do now (though far less securely than Passport, which didn’t spill your social guts by default). Such buttons provided Single Sign-On, or SSO.

Joe Wilcox’ unpacked Hailstorm and Passport in March 2001 for CNET. An excerpt:

HailStorm is a group of services, using Microsoft’s Passport authentication technology, meant to provide secure access to e-mail, address lists and other personal data from virtually anywhere via PCs, cell phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants). The catch? Users of the services will be required to pay a fee to use them. Analysts said that if the HailStorm model is widely adopted–and if people will pay a premium for security–the days of ad-subsidized Internet services, such as free e-mail and messaging, may be over.

“HailStorm is absolutely the test of can you make money on the Web,” saidGartner analyst Chris LeTocq. “But to get there, you have to offer people something they are willing to pay for. That will be the test for Microsoft.”

Microsoft executives are confident that the time is right for HailStorm. “There’s been a lot of stuff (on the Internet) in the last couple of years that was free and interesting, but people weren’t actually willing to pay for it,” said Charles Fitzgerald, director of business development in Microsoft’s platform strategy group. “We want to pursue a model that lets us deliver a lot more value in an economic fashion so that we all can get paid every two weeks like we’re used to.”

One big difference: Google isn’t looking to make money with fees here. In fact they say clearly that they are not. But Google is looking to make money their old-fashioned way, which is with “second and third order effects” that will manifest in due time.

Here’s what’s the same: Passport was an identity service. Which Eric Schmidt says Google+ is now.

Microsoft failed because they thought their platform (Window plus .Net) was bigger than the Net and the Web. (In the now-gone Hailstorm white paper, they talked about “moving the Web” in a new direction.) Google knows better.

Still, the game is the same. That game is turning users into customers.

In competitive terms, Facebook and Google will both have users. But Google will have the customers — even if they’re not customers of Google’s services directly. Google will be helping customers use their wallets, while Facebook will be stuck at SSO.

But Google vs. Facebook, or anybody vs. anybody, is the wrong way to look at the market opportunities opening up in the Intention Economy. Because the Intention Economy isn’t a supply-side game. It’s a demand-side game. The slate is fresh, but not blank. Two groups are already there:

  1. VRM developers, working to equip customers with tools of both independence and engagement. (Automobiles, rather than seats on railroad cars.)
  2. Fourth parties, working on behalf of customers, helping them build out their personal demand chains. These can include any service company an individual employs — that is, pays, to help work with the third and second parties of the world (numbered from the customer perspective). We’re talking here about banks, insurance companies and anything called an agency, plus all the new companies coming into the personal services and personal data store businesses. These might include parties the individual doesn’t pay, but that clearly are in business mainly to help individuals (first parties) rather than second and third parties. That qualifies Google, should they wish to join.

There is a lot happening with VRM here that we’re not ready to talk about yet. (No, none of it involves Google Wallet, at least not yet.) But demand chain (Craig Burton‘s term) hints strongly at where we’re going.

Investors take note.

Working for you

As more native VRM tools come into the hands of individuals, what happens to the whole supply chain? Or, put another way, what happens to supply in general when there are more and better ways of expressing demand?

I was talking a couple days ago about that with Michael Stolarczyk, one of the world’s leading authorities on supply chains and logistics, when he brought TaskRabbit up. He pointed to this piece in Wired, and it got me thinking about fourth parties.

Right after that conversation I had lunch with Jose B. Alvarez of Harvard Business School, and a former CEO of Stop & Shop/Giant-Landover. One of the points he made was this: “The original purpose of a merchant was to serve as an agent for the customer.”

In other words, second parties (vendors) were also what we’ve been calling fourth parties. That is, agents for the customer.

I think this is where Cluetrain was going in the first place with “Markets are conversations.” In Customer Loyalty Programs That Work, in Working Knowledge (also from Harvard Business School, and published that same day), Maggie Starvish probes Jose’s work on loyalty programs, and concludes with these paragraphs:

“We’re at a place where technologies allow for retailers to have two-way, back-and-forth interactions with customers,” says Alvarez. “With smartphones, you have location-based information, so you can communicate with customers where they actually are.”

Successful loyalty schemes require advanced technology—and age-old techniques. “It’s about going back to the basic roots and origins of retailing,” says Alvarez. “Talk to the customer, listen, find out what they want, and get it for them.”

VRM tools are ones that are the customer’s first, serving individuals as independent actors in the marketplace. In that sense neither TaskRabbit nor current loyalty schemes qualify as pure VRM tools. But the movements here are very friendly toward VRM, and I believe will welcome (or help toward) the emergence of pure VRM tools. Those would be ones, for example, with which the customer arrives with their own means and devices for saying “Hi. Listen. Here’s what I’m looking for.” If real conversation follows — even if it’s between digital agents for both sides — our goal with VRM will be met.

Link roundup

The hot edge of VRM right now is in South Africa, where TrustFabric (@TrustFabric, also mention ed in the prior post) is answering that country’s approach to personal privacy concerns with TrustFabric Connect. Let’s help them out. Note also that they’re helping the rest of us by making their code free (GPL v2) and therefore also open source.

Also on the move is getable, based here in Boston, which has a personal RFP approach. Evan Pritchard points to it here. Commenters to that post correctly point out that Buyosphere and Zaarly are also in the space, though coming at it from different angles. Let’s help all them out too.

Jeremiah Owyang puts VRM squarely in the center of his radar with VRM Systems Put Power in Hands of Buyers –Disrupting Sellers.

Just ran across Sparksheet‘s Freeing the Customer with VRM Part I and Making Business More Human, a pair of interviews from last Fall. Haven’t changed my mind about anything since. (I also get a few seconds at the 3:09 point in the Future of Facebook trailer. Venessa Meimis and friends also give me the final word there, starting at 4:06.)

The older B2B meaning of VRM may start blurring with the newer C2B one, if we follow the thrust of Laura Cecere’s Spice it up? post at Supply Chain Shaman.

Beyond Bullwhips

In the Pardalis Data Ownership Blog @Steve Holcombe has an interesting and important pair of posts titled The Bullwhip Effect Part I and Part II. An excerpt:

… isn’t this already happening on Facebook? Can’t the Customer, Producer, Wholesaler, Retailer, and even the Government Regulators all become Facebook friends and experience right now this mashed-together vision of VRM and whole chain traceability? And isn’t this what Social CRM is all about?”

No, no and … no.

The challenge is not one of fixing the latest privacy control issue that Facebook presents to us. Nor is the challenge fixed with an application programming interface for integrating Salesforce.com with Facebook. The challenge is in providing the software, tools and functionalities for the discovery in real-timeof proprietary supply chain data that can save people’s lives and, concurrently, in attracting the input of exponentially more valuable information by consumers about their personal experiences with food products (or products in general, for that matter). Supply chain VRM (SCVRM)? Whole chain VRM (WCVRM)? Traceability VRM (TVRM)? Whatever we end up calling it, we know we will be on the right track when we see a flattening out of the Bullwhip Effect, won’t we?

Yep.

He promises more in Part III. Watch for it.

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