Power surge to keep individual information close and personal

As information and knowledge become more personal assets, management services catering for individual needs will change the marketing equation

At the time, this distance issue wasn’t central. But soon, new central electricity generating stations sprang up, enabling the establishment of new factories powered only by electricity. These factories could organise their machines according to the logic of efficient production rather than logic of power transmission (closeness to the steam engine).

Suddenly, the plants that had first embraced electricity became outmoded. Established incumbents that had embraced the new technology as an incremental add-on to their existing business model were up-ended by upstarts that used the same technology to create a new model.

Something similar is happening with the information revolution and the relationships between individuals and organisations. Companies have been quick to embrace information technology to increase their access to and improve their use of information and knowledge; to reduce interaction and transaction costs; to improve ability to plan, arrange and coordinate activities; to redesign and streamline processes and generally improve the efficiency and profitability of the enterprise. The customer database is one result.

But now the information revolution is migrating to the personal sphere. Where would we be today without our mobile phones and BlackBerries to interact, organise and co- ordinate our activities? Without searching the internet for information? Without online banking or online shopping – all of which involve significant changes to consumer processes?

Birth of the me-manager

So here’s a thought. We are witnessing the birth of a “Personal Information Management Services” industry. What would a fully-fledged PIMS provider do?

The first thing it would do is protect individuals’ data security and integrity, so that they feel confident their information is safe and protected from prying eyes. This is an increasingly important part of ISP services, for example. Next step along this trajectory is individuals’ increasing ability to hide behind anonymity walls, so that they are able to go about their business without their every move being stalked by third parties they neither know nor care to know.

A second core ingredient of PIMS would be helping individuals search for and obtain the information they want and need to achieve their goals. Nowadays everyone recognises the power of search. Just look at the Goliath Google. But search as we know it is a pretty limited beast. We have a long way to go before we are able to specify exactly the information we want, and even further to create services that help us efficiently to sift, assess, slice and dice, and use the resulting data.

A third service offered by PIMS is blocking, filtering and editing services/ both the information that comes in to, and flows out from, the individual. Using increasingly sophisticated firewalls, PIMS will enable individuals to choose which personal data they wish to make available to which organisations for what purposes. At the same time, they will help people specify which messages they wish to receive from whom, about what. (Recent Yankelovich research shows 69 per cent of US consumers now want services that enable them to “block, skip or opt out of” receiving marketing messages.)

PUt the personal into publishing But search is just one form of personal publishing. Blogs, personal websites, podcasts and chat rooms are all growing in popularity. And over time, personal publishing will grow more sophisticated and codified. Right now, for instance, Pureprofile.co.uk offers a service which lets individuals anonymously post details about their circumstances, interests and purchasing intentions, and to receive targeted messages from sellers trawling these profiles for likely sales leads. Pureprofile pays its members &£1 for each message they view.

Finally, PIMS will develop software and services that integrate these currently separate functions of protection, search, filtering and publishing so that individuals can gather, store, access and communicate all the information they need to better manage personal departments such as “my home”, “my personal finances”, “my health” or “my hobbies”.

As PIMS evolve, they will become the first port of call for going to market for non-impulse, non-routine items. The challenge for marketers will be how to provide information that flourishes in a PIMS environment: information that people search for, request and consider when going to market.

Today’s marketing environment is based on three assumptions. First, that information and knowledge is primarily a corporate asset. Second, that connections between buyers and sellers are best made by sellers publishing information about their offerings and drawing prospects’ attention to this information. Third, that the content of this information should therefore be designed to help meet the seller’s purposes of attracting and acquiring customers.

The first flush of the information revolution helped to sustain, deepen and extend these core assumptions. But in the second flush, information and knowledge are increasingly becoming personal rather than corporate assets, and the processes and content of information exchanges revolve increasingly around the individual’s purposes: “my search for best value” rather than “your search for best customers”.

In the long run, electrification raised productivity to unheard-of levels and made a whole range of new products and services possible. But organisations had to live through a period of sustained disruption and adjustment. The information revolution is going to do the same for marketing. But the real period of disruption is only just beginning.

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