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Ariadne’s Thread

Posted on: Monday 29th of August 2011

In the Greek myth the only way Theseus can survive the dreaded Labyrinth is to rely on the thread given to him by Ariadne: a thread that lets him navigate the maze successfully. I think understanding the new market for decision support – helping individuals make (and implement) better decisions – is playing a similar role as we navigate our own maze: the confusing transition from an industrial to an information age.


Helping people make better decisions is rising to the top of the value food chain and changing the way markets work in the process. The ramifications seep into every nook and cranny of our commercial system. For example, we are seeing:

  • The decline of retailer power as retailers relinquish their former status as the best place to research and make purchases. It’s not just about a shift from ‘bricks and mortar’ to ‘bricks and clicks’. The clicks are migrating too, following the logic of recommendations and advice as much as that of range and price (remember, a better decision leads you to a better choice anyway, so the decision service comes before the retail service).
  • The decline of media power as media owners relinquish their role as the best means for sellers to reach buyers with commercial messages. The current crisis of ‘traditional’ media is only superficially about the shift of advertising from TV and the printed press to the Internet. Underneath this lies the shift of consumer attention to sources of commercial information they find interesting and useful. The two are not the same.
  • A reappraisal of the commercial future of social media.  Online peer to peer conversations provide one crucial component of decision-support – but they form just one small part of the total online conversation, much of which is resolutely non-commercial. This raises important questions over the form of future social media business models.


By the way, please note ‘decline’ doesn’t mean ‘death’. Media owners still have important roles as providers of news and entertainment and will still be important vehicles of advertising focused on building brand awareness. It’s just that the decisive elements of the decision-making process are moving to other forums. Likewise, retailers will continue to play a key role in distribution. It’s their status as monopoly gatekeepers to the customer that’s in decline.


The challenge all these different players – brand owners, media owners, retailers, and  social media platforms alike – now face is to answer one simple question: in a world where the high point of commercial value is ‘help me make and implement better decisions’, what role can or should we play in this ecosystem?


Alan Mitchell