Facebook has our attention. Google has our attention. And they are monetizing it, either through selling us stuff directly, or selling our attention to others.
Our attention has both scarcity and value, and as a result it is under siege. Everyone wants a piece of it, and as the clamor of those who would claim it grows ever louder, it becomes harder and harder to be heard above the ruckus.
But there is a breaking point -- and we’re nearing it. The breaking point is when we have no more attention left to give. When the cacophony of ads becomes so much noise that all hope of signal is lost. When we install ad blockers and turn off trackers and collectively withdraw our participation in the battle -- a battle over us, whether we wanted it or not.
Without the mass contribution of our attention, the economy crumbles. When everyone has an ad blocker, the traditional publishing model falls apart. When you can no longer buy eyeballs to get new customers, everything falls apart.
We need a new model, one that doesn’t rely on spending money to shout louder to get more people to pay attention to you to force them to buy your stuff. We need to move away from the attention economy, and toward the new intention economy.
In 2012, Doc Searls wrote a book called “The Intention Economy”: “an economy driven by consumer intent, where vendors must respond to the actual intentions of customers instead of vying for the attention of many.”
It’s a start. But I’m talking about a different kind of intention economy. Instead of being concerned with consumers’ intention, the new intention economy revolves around suppliers’ intentions: Why do they do what they do? Do they care about their customers as people? Do they care about their staff, about their supply chain, about the planet? Are they paying lip service or are their actions consistent? What, in short, are their intentions?
These questions are unquantifiable, almost unknowable -- yet this is the economy of the future.
It may seem some kind of hippie pipe dream. “Tra la la, you will win if you truly care.” But this is the business model that will survive when Facebook stops sending you traffic and the publishing industry collapses. This is the sustainable way forward.
Take the case of Poshmark. In a recent interview with Pando, Poshmark CEO Manish Chandra described the decision to slash his marketing budget by 80%. It saved the company.
“We still do some paid advertising,” said Chandra, “but it’s a seed engine that drives the whole thing. It’s all about community and social principles. That’s where we started, but for a couple of quarters we strayed because we got caught up in the hype. Oh my God we could be….! Then we went back to the principles and grew.”
A large marketing budget is for shouting, for paid acquisition, for aggressive growth. It covers a multitude of sins. But Poshmark strategists brought their budget in line with who they wanted to be: a company aggressively focused not on acquisition, but on community. A company asking not what they can do for themselves, but what they can do for the people they serve.
An insight from Chandra is the very definition of the new intention economy: “If you focus on love, money comes. If you focus on money, nothing comes. It’s how our whole system works.”
In the new intention economy, the companies that truly care will win. Will yours?