The boom of the cheap and trendy bus service that links our cities together is old news to most of us East Coasters. You can’t bring up the BoltBus in a New York City office without inadvertently starting a lively Bolt/Mega debate. Everyone has opinions and these opinions – qualitative bits of data – are often what we’re relegated to evaluate before we choose. Based on the opinions of friends whose tastes are most in line with mine, I chose to take the BoltBus, on which I now sit, to Washington DC.
But what if this little heuristic of relying on the opinions of my likeminded chums leads me astray? Well, I could eliminate the risk of a bad decision by researching extensively. The research would involve screening potential advisers on myriad criteria for my travel preferences and general expectations. Thorough? Sure! Data-informed? Absolutely. Efficient? Not in the least.
In the January-February edition of the Harvard Business Review, Richard H. Thaler and Will Tucker explore this idea of data-driven decision making from the consumer side. The authors predict that the movement towards “Smart Disclosure” (i.e. “the timely release of complex information and data in standardized, machine-readable formats in ways that enable consumers to make informed decisions”) will have profound effects on policy, economy, and businesses. Incidentally, this movement will enable consumers and business alike to make better-informed decisions that are not only thorough and data-informed, but also are efficient. Based on their hypothesis, the authors anticipate the rise of the choice engine, a platform that will store consumer’s personal data and spew recommendations that are based specifically on the data the consumer provides.
Let’s consider for a moment that I’m using a choice engine for my trendy bus search. Within my choice engine, I’ve stored granular data about my past trips, financial statements that provide information about where I shop and eat, and access to my social networks. My choice engine will consider all of these inputs, select an option for me, and explain the rationale behind the decision. Expecting to see Bolt, Mega, or Greyhound, the three bus services that I’m familiar with, I’m matched with a bus company I’ve never heard of. As I buy the rationale, I decide to embark upon this no-name bus, and completely enjoy my trip. See? My choice engine matched me with just what I sought but couldn’t find through word of mouth and a cursory Google search alone.
Here at Forrester we imagine that, not unlike the idea of the choice engine, search will be replaced by discovery concierge engines. These engines will match seeking consumers with new products and services that make the most sense for them based on their unique data profiles. Search marketing will evolve to multichannel discovery marketing.
Later this month, I’m publishing a report that explores this idea of discovery marketing. The idea in brief is that consumers discover brands via multiple sources, brands acquire consumers via multiple sources, and marketers are missing out on incremental opportunities by putting all of their acquisition eggs in the search basket. Spreading out these eggs would precipitate the shift to discovery marketing – the idea of enabling your brand to get found by consumers, wherever they may be. To prepare for this future, channel-based silos must blur and society will have to collectively decide that it’s time to leverage the big data we’re all adding to daily. Once this happens, markets will be more efficient, consumers will reach the apex of customer satisfaction, and every individual’s interactive experience will be completely their own.