Markets for intent data?

This is an extended version of a question that I want to ask the participants at VRM Day 2016.

An idea that keeps coming up is the suggestion that prospective buyers should be able to sell purchase intent data to vendors directly. I'm having trouble thinking about how this would work.

Here's an offline example. It's a summer weekend, and I'm walking through an anchor store at the mall, looking at khaki trousers.

Here are two pieces of intent information.

  • "I'm cutting through the store on the way to buy something else. I wonder if there are any decent clothes on sale, since I could probably use some extras."

  • "I ripped my last pair of pants and I have a meeting on Monday morning. I have a lot of stuff to get done and I'm not leaving this store without a new pair."

On a hypothetical intent trading platform, what's my incentive to reveal which intent is the true one?

My intent information is worth something to me as confidential information going into a negotiation. The value could be low (I'm just looking) or high (I ripped my last pair). If a vendor is willing to pay me some price for my intent information, then in order for me to accept it, that price has to be greater than the value of the intent information to me plus the transaction costs to me of selling the information.

If I'm "just looking" and don't need the product right away, I'm willing to sell intent information for almost any price. But it's of little value to the vendor, because it just tells them that my intentions are to only accept an incredible bargain. I even have an incentive to spoof my intentions. If I can convince a vendor that I'm not interested, I might get a better deal. And a fraud perpetrator has an incentive to simulate a serious buyer. It seems that in any market for user intent data where the user gets paid, wrong data will be over-represented.

So where's the market for purchase intent data?

I can think of a few possibilities.

  • Consultative sales: Some sellers are willing to do valuable work for me if I'm serious. Taking my measurements at a clothing store, or supporting an evaluation for a business IT product.

  • Controlled circulation: The basic exchange here is an old magazine model. Give a free magazine to people who do something to prove that they're in the market for a certain product. On the Internet, you can make this as fine-grained as you want. Give the user the ability to share some attribute in exchange for some content. (For example, a local news site might let you read the music and theater section free, if you can share the fact that you recently bought a ticket for a show—then the site's ads can command a higher price because they reach known buyers.)

It's not rational for users to "leak" purchase intent data without compensation, and therefore it's rational to block or spoof any kind of asymmetrical data collection. But are there special cases where a trade for purchase intent data can happen?

  • In consultative sales, the sales person can set priorities based on purchase intent—the more the customer appears likely to spend, the more time and other value he or she can get. There's no up-front payment for intent data, but an ongoing exchange of value for data.

  • In controlled circulation, the marginal cost of adding a subscriber is small. The 1,001st subscriber costs much less than 0.1% of the total budget to serve. This is different from directly paying for intent data, where all 1001 prospects (or 1001 copies of the same fraudbot) cost the vendor the same.

So I guess I'm still a Big Data optimist. Remember, when email marketing started, most of the people who used email for marketing were spammers. Today, most of the marketing email in the world is still spam, but most senders are legit, opt-in email newsletters work, and we have a set of technologies and norms to separate the two. But pay-to-spam concepts never really worked out.

Are there any other examples of how a market for intent data can work?

Bonus links

Don Marti · #