Move Over, Doc Searls: It's Time For A New Intention Economy

We live, so they say, in an attention economy. Attention is the fundamental scarce resource we’re fighting over, the key unit of value, the One True Ring.

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?

1 comment about "Move Over, Doc Searls: It's Time For A New Intention Economy ".
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  1. Doc Searls from Customer Commons, November 14, 2015 at 9:53 a.m.

    Hi, Kaila.

    I'm flattered. I'm also not moving anywhere. :-) And the Intention Economy ( won't move far enough to satisfy customers until those customers themselves get scale.

    Companies on the sell side can't give them that. At best they can make community and be nice in other ways. But every one of them is a silo, and that's a problem silos can't solve.

    Scale for customers means being able to deal with many companies the same way, and to issue signals to whole markets in one move. We don't have that yet, though there is lots of development work going on. At ProjectVRM ( we list 22 startups in the Intelligent Personal Assistant ( intentcasting ( businesses — but so far only one project (the Indie Dash Button for giving people (and companies helping them) an open source way scale across multiple vendors with the same signaling method. (If there are more, please let me know and we'll list them too.)

    Some business problems can only be solved from the customers' side. Creating a true Intention Economy is one of them.

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