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The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge By Doc Searls

posted Sep 15, 2013, 10:04 PM by Huynh Khoa   [ updated Sep 15, 2013, 10:06 PM ]

Product Details
The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge

The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge
By Doc Searls

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Product Description

While marketers look for more ways to get personal with customers, including new tricks with “big data,” customers are about to get personal in their own ways, with their own tools. Soon consumers will be able to:

• Control the flow and use of personal data
• Build their own loyalty programs
• Dictate their own terms of service
• Tell whole markets what they want, how they want it, where and when they should be able to get it, and how much it should cost

And they will do all of this outside of any one vendor’s silo. 

This new landscape we’re entering is what Doc Searls calls The Intention Economy—one in which demand will drive supply far more directly, efficiently, and compellingly than ever before. In this book he describes an economy driven by consumer intent, where vendors must respond to the actual intentions of customers instead of vying for the attention of many.

New customer tools will provide the engine, with VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) providing the consumer counterpart to vendors’ CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems. For example, imagine being able to change your address once for every company you deal with, or combining services from multiple companies in real time, in your own ways—all while keeping an auditable accounting of every one of your interactions in the marketplace. These tantalizing possibilities and many others are introduced in this book.

As customers become more independent and powerful, and the Intention Economy emerges, only vendors and organizations that are ready for the change will survive, and thrive. Where do you stand?

Editorial Reviews


Named a Best Business Book for 2012 in strategy+business magazine

“a must-read book…” — TechCrunch

“Doc Searls has written a very thoughtful book on the intention economy and the promises it holds for both vendors and customers.” — Forbes

“Searls’s vision raises provocative questions for companies and for marketers.” — strategy+business magazine magazine

“This is a thoughtful, well researched book with a compelling thesis and call to action for marketers.” — Decision

“a brilliant piece on free markets and the Internet” — Linux Journal

“Do yourself a favor. Read The Intention Economy by @dsearls. It’s a very quick study in what VRM means for both brands and consumers.” — Business 2 Community (

“The fine distinction between consumer and customer is at the heart of this insightful look at how some companies, like Trader Joe's, are moving in the direction of the "intention economy," where the desires and needs of individual customers primarily determine what the vendors offer.” — Fort Worth Star Telegram

“it’s fun, insightful reading for anyone interested in becoming “self-actualized, liberated customers.” —

“Finally a thoughtful, hype free book worth reading about digital marketing, the relationships we have with vendors, and a vision for a better future where we have greater control of our personal data.” — ZDNet

ADVANCE PRAISE for The Intention Economy:

JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist,—
“‘Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data companies collect from them and how they use it.’ That’s the way the draft of the US Government’s planned Privacy Bill of Rights begins. If you want to understand what this really means, then Doc’s book is the place to start. In fact, if you want to understand anything about what’s really happening with customers, this book is for you. An excellent read.”

Seth Godin, author, We Are All Weird—
“Profound, far-reaching, and one of those books people will be bragging about having read five or ten years from now.”

John Hagel, Co-Director, Center for the Edge; coauthor, The Power of Pull—
“This book provides a much-needed road map for a profound shift in global markets. Vendor Relationship Management will turn markets as we know them inside out. Searls, as the key architect of this new movement, provides a compelling view of both why and how these changes will occur. You cannot afford to ignore this book."

Esther Dyson, angel investor—
“From Doc’s mouth to vendors’ ears! Doc Searls describes the economy the way it should be, with vendors paying attention to individuals’ wants and needs. I see a few such business models emerging, and I hope Searls’s book will incite a rush of them.”

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D., co-authors of Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage—
“Deliciously skeptical of today’s business models, Searls paints a compelling picture of the future. And if you’re a business manager, The Intention Economy is essential reading. Think of it as an API for dealing with empowered customers. ”

Clay Shirky, author, Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus—
“No one has a better sense of the changing relationship between vendors and the rest of us than Doc Searls. In The Intention Economy, he explains the networked economy and your place in it, whoever you are—buyer, seller, advertiser, user.”

About the Author 

Doc Searls is senior editor of Linux Journal, coauthor of The Cluetrain Manifesto, and one of the world’s most widely read bloggers. In The World is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman calls him “one of the most respected technology writers in America.” Searls is a fellow at the Center for Information Technology & Society (CITS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an alumnus fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, where he continues to run ProjectVRM.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful.
5Good advice for customers and the companies they keep 
By Daniel N. Miller 
Customer Care is at a crossroads. Doc, in his highly conversational writing style, provides rapid-fire, highly personalized insights into both how things are and how they ought to be. For enterprise executives, he exposes many of the common promotional, marketing, sales and merchandising practices that help businesses achieve well-defined "KPIs (key performance indicators) like customer retention, increased marketshare, mindshare and, ultimately sales. At the same time he shows (just as he and the originators of the Cluetrain Manifesto did at the turn of the century) how these practices show disdain for customers and prospects and often make it impossible for them to recognize what their customers and prospects are trying to get across in real time.

As the originator of the "Vendor Relationship Management" (VRM) concept, Doc used his tenure at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, to foster several development initiatives designed to provide individuals with tools, resources, and fourth-party agents to help them ("us" actually) do a better job of acting on our own behalf while carrying out everyday commerce. In this book, he takes stock of many of those efforts and also gives credit to a handful of retailers, public broadcasters and other businesses who actively seek to serve their customers without gimmicks, deception of sleight of hand.

Doc recently pointed out that IT and CRM specialists think they are solving "the problems of the future" when they are, in fact, just stuck in the "now." Today they address specific problems that arise as social networks foment a groundswell of criticism, smartphones have become the personal shopping tools of the mobile masses and "The Cloud" has become the repository for voluminous amounts of data along with enough compute power to generate a never-ending stream of marketing reports and analytics.

Data aggregation and analytics are activities that big companies do to a fault and it makes it increasingly difficult for customers to carry out genuine conversations in real time with the community individuals within the firm or without, who can support good decisionmaking and, ultimately, a sense of satisfaction.

While he sounds critical of today's practices, Doc is (with hope) initiating a dialog (dare I say a conversation) among members of a community that spans corporate executives, CRM aficianados, social media mavens, interactive agencies, contact center agents and managers, and (oh yeah) customers. All of whom are vested in the current way of doing things, but moving inexorably and unavoidably into the connected world.

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful.
5Pay attention to intention economy 
By milofox 
A must read book for anyone who is concerned about the arrogance of social media and its expropriation and sale of our personal information. Doc Searl's exhortations that the customer can and should be empowered, if heeded, will transform the internet into a vehicle for liberation and make it truly consumer centric. Hopefully, thinkers like Doc, will allow us to realize our personal and collective power and rights as consumers and true relationship to the web. His novel concept that, in the new economy, our personal data is currency that we own and control should strike fear into both Google and Facebook. Doc's arguments are compelling. By asserting our rights as customers, we can create vendor relationship that serve our interests rather than exploit and manipulate us for marketing purposes. The alternative is impoverishment and a disconcertingly bleak future. We cannot afford to ignore his message.

Dr. Milo Pulde
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful.
5The Wealth of Internets 
By Kelly Mackin 
The Intention Economy
When Customers Take Charge
by Doc Searls
Review by Kelly Mackin, editor, Personal Data Journal.
Reprinted with Permission.

Before the middle of the last century, economics was called political economy. With the rise of computing and advanced statistical techniques after World War II, political economy gave way to econometrics and the rise of quantitative analysis. Political economy was always a broader, and in my opinion better, subject than its descendants for it allowed writers to connect economic thinking to the broader societies and issues that it directly affects.

Working on a four-year fellowship at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Doc Searls, an award-winning writer and journalist, has been spearheading a deep and important project on the role of intention in the structure of human action. His project centers on the development of an intellectual and technology consensus to further an improved political economy of the web. The internet was created by engineers who cared more about creating things and worried less about making money. That's why they favored open systems over closed ones.

Searls points out that the "open" internet is now overshadowed by the web as a sort of a Blade Runner "shopping mall." Relationships in this commercial web are governed by an essentially feudalistic rubric where sellers - in their crush to maximize revenue streams - essentially control all the material terms of a relationship. This feudalistic model developed in the absence of a technical infrastructure that would support other models.

As in the case of proprietary email systems, the need exists to develop interaction methods that support a 1:1 correspondence between buyers and sellers. In the current model, by promoting adhesion, where sellers enforce a take-it-or-leave-it model that attempts to control the customer, the consumer is disempowered, as adhesion strongly encourages or even enforces customer actions that benefit the seller more than the buyer.

In Searls' view, the commercial web arose as a consequence of the Taylorist viewpoint that the holistic person or entity that is seeking something matters only for behaviors that support the goals of the seller. This model creates all manner of problems and he devotes over 150 pages of the book to tracing the history of networking and the evolution of commerce in the last century to show how we arrived at this point.

Searls does a superb job laying out the development of the quiet technologies that underlie the web and convincingly shows that the nature of these open systems enables players on the web endpoints to share without the permission of players in the center who supply connectivity. The bright group of developers and thinkers who animate this quiet internet, who create the structures that the success of the internet relies upon, are now bringing these principles into operation at the service level.

Examples abound, but one of the best is Personal's approach to fourth party services. Personal declares in their legal agreement that the customer is the owner of their data. Alan Mitchell of CNTL-Shift, the founder of MyDex, led the charge in Britain to embody similar principles and has gotten the support of many companies and government officials in England. [Personal is a PDEC member -Ed]

Searls'model is an attempt to reform the commercial web with technologies and services that enable the internet's open systems principles to rise to the level where they can change the dynamic between customers and sellers, between publishers and readers, and any other scission where the balance of control rests squarely in the laptop of the more powerful interest.

Personal Vendor Relationship Management is tightly defined in the tract with a set of principles that follow from a belief that the `free' customers are more valuable than captive ones. For those new to pVRM, the principles (from the project's website) are:

* Customers must enter relationships with vendors as independent actors.
* Customers must be the points of integration for their own data.
* Customers must have control of data they generate and gather. This means they must be able to share data selectively and voluntarily.
* Customers must be able to assert their own terms of engagement.
* Customers must be free to express their demands and intentions outside of any one company's control.

In the book, these principles are described at the end of the chapters. On the future relationships of customers to sellers, he says:

"Relationships between customers and vendors will be voluntary and genuine, with loyalty anchored in mutual respect and concern, rather than coercion. So, rather than "targeting," "capturing," "acquiring," "managing," "locking in," and "owning" customers, as if they were slaves or cattle, vendors will earn the respect of customers who are now free to bring far more to the market's table than the old vendor-based systems ever contemplated, much less allowed."

There exists an intense social meme recently that fairness has to be the basis of any sustainable political system. The question and the rub is always how fairness is to be achieved. Is fairness to be achieved by the actions of government to regulate, control, (and thereby distort) economic activity? Or is it better achieved by enabling participants to thoughtfully manage their participation by giving them tools and services that allow them to have an equal seat at the market table? This of course leads to a discussion of the commons.

The venerated economist Adam Smith, in his book of political economy, "The Wealth of Nations" was promoted as an intellectual tour de force at the time of its publication and thereafter. But, as many economists have pointed out, Smith's distorted and incorrect analysis of the "problem of the commons" was used to justify and cement control mechanisms of monied interests that were opposed to self organization and the concept of the commons. Searls correctly points out that in the UK, the commons has altogether disappeared; replaced by private control. To a great degree, says Searls, the web in the commercial sphere has itself fallen victim to feudalistic structures in a similar way; although at the network and protocol layers, this openness still mostly operates.

"For free markets to mean more than 'your choice of captor,' we need new systems that operate on the principle that free customers are more valuable--to both sellers and themselves--than captive ones. Improving slavery does not make people free. We need full emancipation. That's the only way we'll get free markets worthy of the name."

Intention Economy is a groundbreaking work, full of mentions of fellow travelers and of earnest work designed to help people participate fully as sovereign individuals on the internet surface. It would not surprise me if one day this book will be as venerated in internet circles as Adam Smith's was in the temples of the elite. Perhaps another title could have been, "The Wealth of Internets."