The Power Of Intention
Back in 1995, Microsoft had a tagline “Where do you want to go today?” – I thought it was pretty powerful because it asked the basic question of intent – what do you want to do? Since then, we have fallen so in love with wanting to empower individuals with the data and tools that they have never had access to in the past, that we have forgotten that, in general, not everyone wants to do everything.
My favorite case-in-point, travel. I remember a time when I used to simply call my travel agent to ask about booking a vacation. He asked me a few questions about what I’d like to do (sports vs lying on the beach) how much I wanted to spend, etc. We hung up and I went about my day. A few hours later, he called me back with the perfect trip at the perfect price. I had no insight into the process (nor did I care to have any) and I spent very little of my own time placing the order, so to speak. Fast forward to today, and we may now we more empowered, but the experience of booking travel has become an utter nightmare. What was once a 5-minute phone call has turned into days/weeks/months of looking at flights, hotels, destinations, combinations, permutations, and even with all of the access to all of the data, tools to process and predict future outcomes, I still can’t shake the feeling that I probably got ripped off when I booked something. We may be more empowered, but we are now awash in a sea of data which means little to us, and tools which get us only part of the way there. We still need to put in a lot of effort to book the perfect trip. The kicker? I remember looking at my travel agents invoice – he charged a $25 surcharge to make all of those bookings. Who of us wouldn’t pay $25 in order to not have to do all of the work ourselves?
What did my travel agent know which let him do his job? My preferences and intent. Why was it so cheap and easy for him to perform these actions? He had a deep knowledge of the industry, where to go, what to do, where to stay. He had already performed all of the filtering actions required in order to present me with my perfect trip.
The fact is: we have the systems in place to replicate my buddy the travel agent, only in algorithms. If we combine big data, predictive analytics, and automation, is there any real reason why we can’t simply to a web page or mobile app and tell it what we want, then let it do all of the legwork in finding the perfect trip? At the very least, give me good options. Why should I have to do all the sorting and filtering?
But I digress. We seem to have this fear that we can’t just ask the user for what they want. That we have to try to glean the user’s intent based on the way they use the system. This has, of course, gotten various people into a lot of trouble, when people’s actions point us in one direction towards one conclusion, that conclusion could be completely wrong. Do you recall the Target ad incident, where a woman started getting advertisements and coupons to celebrate the birth of her new baby when she wasn’t even pregnant (she had been searching and buying baby shower gifts for others) thus revealing not only poor targeting but also how much data is being collected and used by that retailer in order to send targeted offers? While asking that user (Hey, you’re buying baby stuff, is there a baby on the way?) might be jarring for the user once, at last having the answer to that question provides a much stronger data point than all of the implicit information that we collect.
So my point: don’t be afraid to ask. Grabbing explicit intent is probably the most powerful indicator or “where do you want to go today” that anything we will likely glean from just sorting through the tea leaves of a user’s internet trail. Sort of leads me to the next question: where is the official “demand engine” of the internet? We seem to have an endless supply of “supply” sites (any site which sells anything) but where is the site where I can say “I want this” and let people offer “this” to me?
If most of the high flying unicorns of today really are simply more focused services which started on Craigslist, then where is the “For Sale/Wanted” section?