Does the Rubber Meet the Road on the Path to Purchase? Thanks for nothing digital ecosystem.

Let’s start at the end. I’ve been riding on brand new Nokian WR-G3’s for the past few weeks in the very changeable NYC weather. Suddenly, driving is “way more fun”. My car, a 2001 Subaru Outback H6, is reinvigorated and I am attributing it all to the tires, the actual tires.

How did I discover the tires I really wanted?

Word of Mouth and phone calls were the only things that worked.  Every other aspect of the digital ecosystem that surrounds the path to purchase for a set of tires is horribly broken. Failures. Full stop.

The entire ecosystem has failed at providing me any value at all points along the path to purchase.

  • Make me aware that I might want to buy a new set of tires and why – I just thought you waited for the treads to wear down.
  • Know that I was due for new tires – I should have bought them a year or two ago – so many folks – from the dealership I bought it from to the various services stations and garages – to the ecommerce sites where I have bought parts and especially to the tire shop I had used previously
  • Get me relevant information about what is available – the search engines do not help you get to useful information, the return a bunch of SEO friendly pages that are simply ads.
  • No direct useful info from the brands themselves.

I’m a brand new Nokian brand loyalist and Nokian doesn’t know I exist or how I found them. If you think I am beating up on Nokian, you are missing the point.

The entire ecosystem failed itself. As I went down the entire path to purchase, not a single entity that I touched collected any actionable information from me. They don’t know what MY path to purchase was. They weren’t helpful in any of my “moments of truth”. They don’t even know I made a purchase.

The number of missed opportunities is staggering.

Think this is limited to tires? I am having the exact same situation purchasing a replacement dishwasher. This sorry state of affairs is everywhere.  In every “industry”. In every “vertical” It’s in B2B, B2C, B2B2C, Bricks & Clicks, physical & digital.

For 30 years, I’ve been professionally neck deep at the bleeding edge of what we now call “Digital”. Despite the blistering pace of technical achievement and adoption, despite huge investment and effort by the various brands and channels in the ecosystem, buying tires (or dishwashers) today is more horrible than ever.

Having participated in hundreds of digital marketing initiatives aimed at improving this situation with some very talented and well intentioned people, the goals are far from being achieved. Looking back, a handful of fundamental principles have emerged as persistent blockers to successfully seizing the opportunity.

Individually, these principles are simple. They are not new. They are well researched and documented. However, it is the connection of these principles into a coherent approach for establishing digital brands that have real impact and lasting value. To be clear – this is not about “the Uberization of X” – it is much more than that.

You may already have some of the principles in your mission statement – the point is how those words are turned into action. It is how the principles are applied to all aspects of the organization. It gets to the very heart of organizational culture and what your brand wants to be known for, in 50 years.

Those who are brave, who reconsider their place in the ecosystem, and make a sustained investment, the opportunity remains.

Yes, a story about tires can lead to turning point.

Algorithmic Attention – The new face of personal data and why brands need to catalyze the creation of Personal APIs

You want to build a personal relationship with your customers, become a constant companion and trusted advisor. Your customers deserve the professionalism embodied by the best coaches, concierges, maître’s d, doctor, teacher, and bartenders – well informed and impeccably discreet. However, this level of human attention simply does not scale.

Fortunately, the ubiquitous mesh of digital devices, applications, services, and connectivity is here capturing every aspect of a person’s life. All this data, coupled with accelerating advances in computational techniques and ever falling compute and storage costs, mean the algorithmic attention you can lavish on your customers is boundless.

The quality of the experience provided by an algorithm, however, depends on factors shared with the humans they emulate:

1) The capability of the person or algorithm to take in a set of disparate information and synthesize it into meaningful insights.

2) Sufficient, up-to-date, accurate information describing a wide swath of the customer’s life – their context – for the algorithm to process. The data available through social networks may be helpful, but is insufficient.

For illustration, let’s consider a hypothetical service called MyBabyBlends.

MyBabyBlends is a nutrition program for babies. Subscribers will receive direct shipment of locally grown, seasonal ingredients that can be, following our carefully curated recipes and meal plans, prepared into fabulous baby foods. The selection of ingredients tailored for your babies through the use of a sophisticated child development and nutrition algorithm. Tracking the daily activities and developmental progress of your babies, it’s like having a dedicated nutritionist shopping and menu planning for you.

To deliver on this promise, the algorithm will require the following information, updated regularly:

  •   Baby’s names – for families with more than one, you need to create a profile for each child.
  • Baby’s vitals – birthdate, weight, height, known allergies or sensitivities, current ailments or medication, blood type, etc.
  • Dietary restrictions – vegan, kosher, halal, paleo, etc.
  • Developmental milestones and challenges
  • Current location – if you go away – the shipment will meet you and be adjusted to your new location.
  • Log of recipes liked and not liked
  • Parental eating preferences so we can get baby on track to join you in a hearty kale salad or a bowl of pork and habanero chili.
  • Genetic information – a DNA sample will provide the best results, in lieu of that the parents can answer a comprehensive questionnaire about the baby’s heredity.

This is the new face of personal data. It is not about cookies, or purchase history. It is not about traditional CRM . It’s more than social media.  Quantified self and the Internet of Things are a part of it.

This is the Personal Data Ecosystem that the World Economic Forum, Boston Consulting Group and others have estimated will create trillions of dollars of value stand in the next 4-5 years. These estimates have also asserted that 2/3 of that value will be left on the table if a viable solution to digital identity and data access is not established.

Getting the data required poses a number of challenges for both the user and the brand.

  1. Effort – How much effort is required to get started and then maintain the program? Will the user be willing to manually input this data just to try this one service? Can that data entry be leveraged for other products and services?
  2. Trust – Why would I provide all of this information to a high-tech grocery service? Who else will have access to my child’s data? How do I know it is being handled appropriately?
  3. Liability – What liability is a brand exposing itself to as it collects more intimate information about its customers? If working with partners to provide the service, how does that impact the liability question?
  4. Infrastructure and Governance – Does the brand have the appropriate systems, staff and procedures in place to manage this sort of information?
  5. Policy & Legislation – There has been increasing public policy and legislative action activity globally with respect to personal data. Some of the initiatives have found that existing terms and conditions agreements in use do not meet the privacy rights of their citizens. Others are looking to insure that data regarding their citizens remains within their borders.

The solution lies in the establishment of Personal APIs, a means for a user to aggregate their digital information, wherever it may live and then provide, on their own terms, programmatic access to that data. This gives users a single place to keep up to date information and manage who has access to what and when. It also gives brands a simple way to access user while respecting both the users’ terms and the legal constraints of the market they are operating in. Furthermore, it may reduce liability because it allows for the development of application that use the personal information, but do not store it.

There has been a tremendous amount of work done establishing the foundation for Personal APIs under a variety of names including: IdM (Identity Management), Project VRM (Vendor Relationship Management), UMA (User Managed Access), Trust Frameworks, Privacy by Design, Personal Clouds, Data Vaults, Personal Data Markets, and Identity Ecosystems.  These initiatives have failed to gain widespread adoption, because the value proposition for both sides of the market (users or the brands) has not been strong enough, until now.

This is the moment for a few leading brands to step forward and catalyze the Personal API movement and realize the dream of meaningful personalization.

For those interested in getting involved, the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) is a great place to start. This un-conference has been convened twice a year since 2005. IIW 18 will be happening October 26-28 at the Computer History Museum in the heart of Silicon Valley.



The first email from my 12 year old – a harbinger of the Personal Data Ecosystem’s rise

Last week, I was in Mountain View participating in the Internet Identity Workshop #17 working with luminaries like Doc Searls (@dsearls), Craig Burton (@craigburton), Kaliya Identity Woman (@identitywoman), and Phil Windley (@Windley), leaders from likes of Google, Microsoft, HP, Yahoo, AOL, and Amazon, plus a slew of entrepreneurs and policy folks.

So when my 12 year old sent me a email for the very first time, it was shining example of what this conference is all about. Allow me to explain.

At IIW, lots of conversation centered on the fundamental building blocks of the Personal Data Ecosystem (the tremendous market opportunity based on personal data estimated to create over 1Trillion Euros in value by 2020 – and that’s just in Europe).

The key ingredients are:
1) Solid, simple digital identity solutions – OAuth2 and OpenID Connect fit the bill.
2) APIs to interact with products and services, programmatically.
3) Free, simple access to, or better yet full control over, your personal data from any app or service you use.
4) Commitment to simple interoperability – its all about the interop.
5) A bias toward action.
6) Connecting things – digital or not – to the internet.
7) A systematic approach to trust and privacy by design.

So here is the kicker – my 12 year old who sent me an email… is my 2001 Station Wagon. Yes my car emailed me. When it emailed me, there was no one in the car with a smart phone. The car experienced an error code (P0113 – Intake Air Temperature Circuit High Input) and it let me know – all by itself.

How did this happen? I am using a product/service called Carvoyant coupled with proof of concept software from Family Fleet Manager Phil Windley’s company Kynetx (this POC, was built on their SquareTag platform, is part of a great new project up on kickstarter called Fuse)

I have the OBD2 device plugged into my car all the time. It talks to the internet via its own cell connection. Carvoyant gets the data and makes it available to the Kynetx’ software. Totally cool.

The Personal Data Ecosystem is real, The Internet of Things includes more than just digital devices (Phil says potholes should be included)  and putting this all to work for you is simpler than you think. When you get to know PICOs (Persistent compute objects) you will see the boundless opportunity.