Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Social Shopping? Think Conversations of Intent

Social Shopping seemed to be all the buzz at last week's AdAge conference in New York. I wasn't there, but my self-selecting trusted news filter (that'll be blogs and twitter) kept me up to date moment by moment.

And as I mentioned in a throw-away line previously there is some sense in this because it combines the social tools/media/networks where all the 'eyeballs' happen to be, with the intention to buy (which is demonstrably lacking from most 'social networks').

Example? Bloomingdales in New York offers booths in which you can get a snap taken of you in the clothes you are thinking of buying. Does my bum look big in this? The wisdom of the crowds will pass judgement thanks to pictures sent instantly to your friends.

This kind of real time validation of choice has its place, no doubt. But it seems little more than a surface scratcher against the many opportunities which arise if you look at your consumer as someone rather more than a spending machine ( think converged buying/selling/marketing/creating/designing/inspiring individual).

I've been talking about two key elements of marketing recently: Conversation and Intention.

We often talk about "cutting through the clutter" and the "battle for attention" created by the proliferation of channels.

I'm thinking it is now less about the battle for attention and more about Conversations of Intent. Being the place where intention is expressed could be incredibly valuable.

My posts about trying to buy a car illustrate part of this, the part where I am expressing intent (apparently into an echoey void, as it happens - but there are fixes for that).

My post about buying an Asus EEEPC illustrate another part, the part where I am not only expressing intent, I'm seeking advice and navigation.

In both cases not one single advert was clicked. I had conversations (in the case of the car I tried and failed to initiate one with dealers... they have a long road to travel).

Both beg questions about the traditional role of the (even in-context, related, uber targeted) ads, especially online.

The value has been created by the fact that conversation within trusted networks is enabled.

All very Facebook Beacon, you may argue. But there is a crucial distinction. The initiation of the conversation is with the person who intends to make the purchase. It is a Conversation of Intent. And that's more in tune with Vendor Relationship Management thinking, as proposed by Doc Searls.

Social networks - any group within them - only create value you can easily measure when they self-organise with purpose. Groups that just have a bit of a chat don't create that instant value - the members don't even click on those carefully targeted ads. (They do, of course, create a longer term 'social ties' value which may be activated when 'the purpose' dawns on the group...)

Within twitter, those I follow and who follow me have a certain level of trust in each others ideas and opinions - it's writ large in how you go about deciding who you will follow. You find them interesting because they are interested in things you are interested in...

When I ask a question of that group another self-forms within it - one which is available right now (there's that value of synchronous communication and the value of those in a group who are willing to drop everything to help out that Stowe Boyd references).

What we end up with is a self-forming group which, by its very actions, defines a value-creating purpose.

The purpose in the case of my EEEPC purchase was to help me buy a small wireless device. It could as easily have been to find a good hotel, restaurant, car, piece of software, or to force down the level of tax on UK petrol!

And this all happens in a very fine conversation enabler ( conversations of intent, after all, require the easy ability to initiate conversation).

The self-forming group of purpose has three other important elements for 'social shopping'.
It has to:

a) be interested in me
b) be interested in what I'm expressing intent about
c) drop everything (no matter how briefly) to join in a conversation about it right now.

These may be the key factors in enabling the social shopper, provided we allow the 'consumer' to take the lead - for them to initiate the Conversation of Intent.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?