Intent Engines, Sponsored Actions, and Internet Marketing (why Pinterest, Polyvore, and Personal et. al. matter)

Social services as intent engines, and why they are important to advertisers.
BY Taylor Davidson | December 5th, 2011
Past, present and future. NYC, NY, Oct 2011

A couple weeks ago I tweeted something like “what’s the end-state for the abundance of clip, save and share web apps?”

Returning to the thought, here’s the idea: they are intent engines, and they will power the golden age of Internet marketing. *

Each one of these apps come in different permutations: the bookmarking sites (delicious, trunk.ly, Pinboard, Instapaper), the personal expression engines (Pinterest, Tumblr, Posterous), the horizontal clipping apps (Diigo, Springpad, Evernote), the clipping platforms (Gimme Bar), the niche vertical clipping apps (Polyvore, Svpply, Want Worthy, Listly), the click-tracking apps (voyURL, SiteSimon), the personal data stores (Personal), the ad-saving apps (Adkeeper), the location-based services (Foursquare et. al.), all serve different customer need niches, but all of them are creating enormous data stores of intent. That intent may not be clear: a save, clip or a share doesn’t necessarily signal a purchase intent, and the value of each action isn’t consistent or easy to parse, but it’s a signal of interest and desire just like a search and a click.

The opportunity? Parsing that distributed intent and creating powerful, measurable, user-centric tools to allow brands to pull demand by accessing and attracting the right people, at the right time, in the right way.

As Andy points out, the key is for these tools to build native monetization tools that are “consistent with, and integrated into, the very fabric of those social services themselves.” This is not about pushing bottom-of-the-funnel targeting, this is about pulling top-of-the-funnel intent. These will not be standard IAB units: each of these intent engines are used differently, for different goals, in different ways, by different communities, with different ethoi. A Promoted Tweet is not the same as a Sponsored Story is not the same as a Brand Curator (Percolate) is not the same as Paid Discovery (StumbleUpon) or Social Content (Buzzfeed).

And they shouldn’t be standard.

But that’s what creates the opportunity for services to handle this maze of different monetization models, non-standard “ad units”, and effectively parse the intent out of all this data that people create every day.

Will each of these services figure out their native monetization tools? No, and the ones that don’t will fail. Or, perhaps someone will create a service, agency, or product development company specifically targeted at creating native monetization tools for each one of these social services. Perhaps they will build data analytics tools specifically made to identify and parse the unique intent in each of these services and communities. And perhaps they will then aggregate these services to provide an easy way for brands to buy media across each service.

Just like we have DSPs for display, social, and mobile, we’ll have a DSP for intent. A DSP for intent will help an advertiser understand the unique data and community in each social service, and will allow advertisers to deploy, track, test, and optimize their advertisements and interactions in ways unique to each service.

Will people revolt? Will users leave these social services in droves when the sponsored content and interactions start showing up? Some, yes. But if embraced right, and if the service allows people to stay in control of their purchase-intent data, then people will stay. And they’ll continue to clip, share and save. And amid this deluge of data, the opportunity emerges.**

  • Thanks to Darren to helping inspire a bit of this thought earlier this week.
  • For a long time, I’ve argued that the debate about privacy isn’t about privacy per se, but that it’s really about control. The first step is making people feel comfortable that they are in control of their data. The second step is building tools to help them monetize their own data.
  • Background reading: VRM and the power of pull.