Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Post VRM: Towards a consumer-led economy

Last week at VRM Hub I spoke for 10 minutes about my thoughts on the interplay between retail, community and data and how they relate to my own vision of VRM etc.

These are the summary notes I made to speak from. It was recorded too so am sure that will pop up at some point. Curiour to hear any thoughts.
Business takes all the credit but the web and more recently the social web as Adrianna recently commented happened without the help of business. In fact you will recall business had a hard time finding the revenue models on the web as they are now with the social web so why do businesses try and take the credit for driving innovation?

The answer is the establishment of a desirable power dynamic: if we tell them we're in charge they will mostly believe us.

A quick look at the global economy absolutely reinforces this point: If we live in financial times as the FT would have us believe then how do we reconcile the public bailouts, the need for business to come crying to mummy? Let's face it: business is the petulant teenager and wider society is the parent in this relationship. But like most parent-teenager relationships the teens often believe they are in charge. We have gone wrong by letting that paradigm dominate and define. Where's supernanny when you need her eh? We need to re-establish the true power dynamic and for me VRM is the best chance we have of doing it.

If the currency of business is data, and it so is, then VRM is the Robin Hood come to redress the imposed imbalance of wealth and to restore to the people what is rightfully theirs.

Now this may sound revolutionary but it is not anti-business. Far from it. One thing the recent economic strife has proven is that false economy will out. You can run but you just can't hide. So VRM is the true bringer of sustainable (not in the environmental sense mind) business.

Ironically for me the environment & VRM actually do fit together as both seek to address externalities. Again as Adrianna has previously pointed out, data is a positive externality, pollution is a negative externality. Both need to be internalised, valued and paid for. Enter VRM.

My experience in eco retail for Natural Collection is that one tries to take as many relevant social and environmental externalities and address them responsibly. There is clearly immense value to be found in being respectful in this manner. The rise of fairtrade and organic supports this view.

Let me just paint a vision of how the logical intersect between business and people might look in a world where VRM has been a success. Post VRM if you will. What impact will VRM have had? Am curious to explore what a post VRM world might look like...

Why are we called end users? How patronising is it to be the end of the process? It's not about what we are called. It's the fact that we are placed at the end of the chain by business. We are the start of the process. Not then end. No need = no business. At best we are equal partners in a transaction based economy. But this expression by the business world of us being subject to them flies in the face of reality really and is quite telling psychologically, which reinforces the point above about 'the establishment of a desirable power dynamic'.

Lets call businesses end-users for a moment. Imagine that. Consumer needs and wants driving businesses. The opposite of marketing would be sourcing. That's what I want: let businesses come to me! And how do you gain my trust to be able to know what I want? To be privy to my needs? Be respectful and trustworthy. I want to live in a world where I can be friends with a business, where they can be a valued part of my world instead of something to be shunned and inherently distrusted as they have sadly all too often become.

I will end with another quote from Adrianna: "It may actually be cheaper and more effective to treat people with respect and establish relationships with them, so the data they share is of quality that makes a difference to businesses."

What is happening is that the cost of data is being established, the balance of power is shifting and VRM seeks to create the first tools to do the job. Just as the triple bottom line is gaining in market relevance so is respect for data. VRM will accelerate that respect and empower data owners i.e. you and me. As with the environment so with data. Those businesses that embrace this spirit of respect stand to gain the most. Those that don't will die out in time.

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