We are reaching the age of consumer counter-intelligence!

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There are many ways, companies analyze and monitor consumers. They know what you buy, how much money you spend, where you move, what products you search for, what your preferences are and many other things. If we compare this to the military world, it is like one party spying and using sophisticated intelligence to monitor another party in order to identify them, determine what to do next, what is the right timing to do something and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the other party.

But in the military world it is normal that both parties try to collect information, gather intelligence and also have counter-intelligence, otherwise the situation significantly favors the party that dominates information. In the consumer market it is very much that only one other party uses sophisticated intelligence and benefits. How could we change that?

Based on customer data, businesses typically try to understand, for example, the following aspects:

  • Who are the best targets for a marketing campaign?
  • What is the best next offer and action for each customer?
  • How to keep the existing customers and prevent churn?
  • What is the price sensitivity for different products for different customer segments?
  • Who are the most relevant customers for a company or product to get the best value from the business?

At the same time consumers have many questions too, how they should buy products and services and where, for example:

  • Where do I get a product for the best price?
  • Which product is the best value for my needs and preferences?
  • When should I leave an existing service provider and change to another one?
  • What is the best time to buy a product or service?
  • Does a loyalty program make sense to me?

Consumers think of these questions quite often and try to find answers to them, but it is typically based on very limited data, analytics and processing capacity. They might have seen a few offers, don’t have all details, then quickly try to make some conclusions in their heads. At the same time, the other side, businesses, use smart algorithms, a lot of collected and purchased data and a lot of cloud computing power to get a consumer ‘on the hook’.

It sounds like an unfair situation. Isn’t it also against a main principle of free markets, that each party should have all relevant information, otherwise the market cannot function properly? At least, if we think of the military example, a military organization would quickly spring to action if the other party dominated the intelligence frontier.

Fortunately, we have now arrived at a situation where consumers could really start their own counter-intelligence action. Only 5 to 10 years ago this would have been very difficult. Technology, regulation and business changes have enabled this, for example:

  1. Consumers can now get enough storage and computing capacity for a reasonable price to analyze data.
  2. Data and finance regulation (e.g. GDPR, CCPA, PSD2) have entitled consumers to collect their own data from many services.
  3. More business and information available online, e.g., product prices with product details. 
  4. Machine-to-machine type buying and transactions are becoming possible.
  5. Many businesses also see opportunities in more balanced data and analytics models, when now the data giants can easily start to dominate the market.

But we are not there yet. There are some missing components and this is still too complex for consumers. They need better services and user experiences to really achieve it, because it currently requires too much proprietary data collection and technology building.

They need better tools to collect the data from multiple sources and tools consumers can use to manage their own data and find relevant information from businesses. They also need data models that can interface with businesses and better algorithms, especially to fight for consumer’s interests. And we are very close to seeing these tools. 

The last 15 years have made data the epicenter of business, but it hasn’t been balanced development. It has meant the dominance of businesses over consumers, but also on the business side it has been dominance of some companies that have got much more data than others. When enough parties that don’t like that dominance get together things start to change and technology and services are developed to challenge the dominance. We are now at that point – it is the time of consumer counter-intelligence.

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