Academic journal article The McKinsey Quarterly

Who Will Benefit from Virtual Information?

Academic journal article The McKinsey Quarterly

Who Will Benefit from Virtual Information?

Article excerpt

How online marketing could shift the balance of power loan scenarios

A key issue information liquidity

Future competitors will include these who might capture information you want

The history of consumer marketing during the past two decades reflects a growing realization that information about customers is a key competitive asset. Airlines have spearheaded the development of loyalty programs, which offer valuable incentives to airline passengers in return for the ability to capture much more detailed profiles of frequent flyers. Banks have invested heavily to integrate information systems that facilitate access to broad activity profiles of customer across the major product categories offered by a bank. Credit information bureaus have compiled detailed credit histories of individual consumers. And retailers have developed point-of-sale information to track product movements and improve merchandising and promotion programs.

Yet much of the information marketers want most about consumers has nearly always been out of reach. When is a consumer going to make a purchase? What is the precise impact of advertising on that decision? What (and how much) are consumers buying from competitors and across categories?

Online markets (e.g., the World Wide Web or proprietary online services such as America Online or CompuServe) hold the potential to allow consumer marketers to answer these questions for the first time. They can provide better visibility of what consumers are buying, when they're buying it, and from whom they're buying it. They can give transparency to consumers' intent to purchase, and to their "demonstrated preference" for certain categories and brands over others. Best of all, they can bring information to marketers in real time, while it is still of use.

Companies best able to capture this information and use it strategically will see market power shift their way as improved information flows allow them to select the most desirable customers and to better target them when they've signaled an intent to purchase. Already a new breed of network-based intermediaries is positioning to accomplish this information capture by aggregating people and resources on networks. Once these aggregations reach critical mass, the new intermediaries will be well positioned to create and capture value by leveraging rich profiles of consumer and vendor activities. Customers may also play an important role - to the extent they begin to reclaim ownership of their own information - thereby transforming what is today a "free" asset into an increasingly expensive asset to acquire. The implication for companies of all stripes is that they must begin to pursue explicit information-capture strategies addressing issues of targeting, capturing, leveraging, and competing for information about consumers. These strategies must in turn reflect a thorough understanding of the range of potential scenarios by which a still immature online marketplace is developing.

Information constraints in physical marketplaces

The competitive value of information has long been limited by the types and amount of information actually available in physical marketplaces. Vendors in physical markets, for example, often find that their "window" on transaction histories tends to be limited to their own customers. For example, United Airlines can identify a business traveler who flies extensively on United and selectively upgrade service to that traveler to increase loyalty to United. It has much less ability to identify an American Airlines frequent flyer who happened to book a flight on United. From United's perspective, this passenger appears as a relatively uninteresting passenger because she doesn't appear to travel much; therefore she would not receive special attention or service. If United had access to integrated travel profiles of all its passengers (even people who have never flown United before), it could be much more effective in targeting and serving highly profitable business travelers. …

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