Are your marketing dollars wasted on attention instead of intention?

Summary:Back when I was in business school, I can distinctly remember a professor saying that there's no proof that advertising works.  I was crushed.

Back when I was in business school, I can distinctly remember a professor saying that there's no proof that advertising works.  I was crushed. I felt completely vulnerable.  In an attempt to find a more interersting (to me) outlet for my creativity, I had just switched my major from architecture to marketing and here was this professor basically telling me I was getting ready to build my future on a house of cards.  It seemed almost blasphemous for a marketing professor to say such a thing.  What was he thinking? Did he want all his students to change majors?  I did.  To computer science (back in the early 80's, everyone said "computers is the place to be").  As I eventually came to learn (after being in the workforce for a couple decades), he was right.

When someone parts with their money, it's pretty much impossible to prove that an advertisment is solely responsible for making that happen. Did it play a role? Maybe.  Even that's hard to prove, although many people try.  For example, have you ever seen an 800 number on print ad for Dell Computers? Go find the same ad in another magazine or a Dell catalog and it will be a different 800 number. By tying 800 numbers to specific advertisements and then tracking how many times that 800 number gets called, Dell is trying to figure out which advertisements are more effective.  But, was it the ad that did it? I know of people who already knew they wanted to buy a Dell and who borrowed one of my computer magazines knowing there'd be a Dell ad with an 800 number on it. 

So, here at the Identity Mashup Conference at Harvard University, when Doc Searls started talking about how billions of ad & marketing dollars are being wasted chasing after the attention of potential buyers because advertising doesn't work, my marketing professor's words were echoing in my head.  And if you're a marketing professional or a business person that oversees a marketing budget and you believe what Doc has to say (which I do), then it may be time to reinvent yourself.  That's because a lot of that wasted money (and the people behind it) should be rerouted to harnessing the intention of purchasing dollars, rather than the attention of them.  Here at the conference and in my podcast interview of him at the event, Doc refers to this as the intention economy.   Said Doc in response to my first question about what the Intention Economy is:

It's everything that follows the intention of somebody to buy something. It's everything after marketing's work is done.  In other words, I intend to buy a Ford Focus four-door wagon and I want to let the market know that and see what comes to me. It's what begins with a finished intention on the part of the customer. And it's expressed that way in part to get attention out of the room because marketing is basically in the attention business.  I want to pay attention to what your doing.  I want to look at your attention stream. I want to find a way to capture your attention, skewer your eyeballs and be sticky and all that other stuff that marketing wants to do.  The intention economy is the economy that begins with the fact that customers have money to buy something.  How do you get that respected? What's the infrastructure we need for that, how do we build on that?

In fact, as evidenced by his use of the word "respected," Doc is practically offended by advertising and thinks that if more businesses could learn how to harness the intention of purchasing dollars (instead of the attention of them), that it's actually a much more respectful way to treat customers (in addition to being a more efficient use of marketing and advertising budgets).  What's the difference between intention and a request for proposal? "Nothing" according to Doc.  It's just that the infrastructure isn't there to take the friction out of expressing intention. Especially for consumers that typically don't issue RFPs or RFQs when then buy something. Doc covered a bunch of other ground too, including a discussion of how far along the intention infrastructure he speaks of is, and what if any role the Higgins Technology Framework that was introduced here at the conference can play in that.  You can download the interview manually or, if you're subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, they'll be downloaded to your system or MP3 player automatically (see ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in).

Topics: Dell

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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