The Intention Economy

by Bryan Menell 27 May 2010 Blog Post

The Intention Economy is a phrase first coined by Doc Searls (@dsearls) in an article in the Linux Journal in 2006. While people were discussing attention scarcity, Doc argued that knowing peoples intentions was far more important to marketers than getting their attention. An earlier reference to consumer intention was described by John Hagel (@jhagel) in his 1999 book Net Worth as well. If you look at the trend in social consumer websites you can see that their thoughts are starting to seem visionary, and there are some corollaries in the enterprise.

The Rearview Mirror

Many companies have built their livelihood on dealing with consumers and the past. Bazaarvoice has built a nice business based on rating and reviewing past purchases. Amazon and NetFlix use previous behavior to attempt to predict future interests and purchase probabilities. This is all great, but it’s barely actionable. Informative, yes, but highly actionable, no.


Some of the hot consumer websites these days work with geolocation, including Foursquare, Twitter, and Gowalla. They are all about the present, and the immediate. The present is actually a really great business, and there is disruption going on. If I want to search for anything in the world, I use Google. If I want to know how long the line is at the SXSW Facebook party, I use Twitter search (which must really piss off Google).

All this is great, but it’s still not terribly actionable. If I just checked in at a restaurant on Foursquare, it’s pretty useless to try an instant coupon to lure you to another restaurant.

The Future

The intention of consumers (planned future consumption) is incredibly valuable. If I could somehow broadcast to the interwebs that I intend to go downtown with my wife, have a nice dinner somewhere, catch a movie, and I’d like to meet up with friends for drinks after that — that is like gold for a savvy marketer. This is when it all starts to have shades of Net Worth.

Suddenly, instant coupons are really interesting to me, as are packaged deals, or additional discounts if I can convince my friends to make it a table for 8 instead of a table for 2. Combine this information with a little past behavior, like a bunch of check-ins at another upscale restaurant, and you’ve got the makings of some persuasive social marketing. Intention Economics are powerful, and one of the few companies I see going after this market is Plancast.

The Enterprise

We’ve written a little bit about Foursquare in the enterprise, but we’re probably 18-24 months away from seeing larger adoption of game mechanics to drive the hivemind in larger organizations. Which means we are probably 48 months away from seeing the beginnings of intention in the leading companies. The idea, however, is powerful.

How could you be more impactful and proactive in your organization if you knew what people were doing this upcoming week (the future), rather than reading their status report (the past)? How could you help close more business if you knew who the sales organization was pitching this week, rather than reading the monthly sales report?

What ideas does the power of intention spark for your organization?

  • Trish Morrison

    Hey Bryan:

    I hope you are well.

    Love, love, love this post. We talk about instant gratification and how we want everything immediately. Where do we go once we’ve received instant gratification? To the future. Intentions driving the market.

    I am interested in how different this would be for the consumer from what’s out there. Some people use FB for this purpose. And of course, Plancast pulls from FB. And as for the location element, that’s satisfied right now by checking in on Gowalla or FourSquare, etc…

    So many questions. It’s an interesting concept and I look forward to seeing what happens with it.