I Thought I Knew Myself, Until I Found This

I’m single, recently divorced with no kids and am an active Republican voter and donor. I’m also interested in sweepstakes and contests, hunting and shooting sports and have an interest in grandchildren.

For those of you who know me, the information above is total garbage. Yet Acxiom will happily rent your company that nonsense if you’re looking to market to single, recently-divorced hunters.

I discovered all these wonderful facts when I registered on AboutTheData.com, which is Acxiom’s (poor) attempt to let us see and correct what they know about us. After you’ve jumped through the considerable hoops, you can see what Acxiom knows about you. I’m not surprised that it’s hard to get access. The data quality is generally poor and the mistakes are ludicrous.

The data on me ranged from very accurate (the value of my home and economic data about my household) to laughable (purchase history and household interest data.)

Further–and I never realized this–I actually have two birthdays! Depending on how you ask the question of Acxiom, you might get different dates.

The Practitioner Problem

I believe that some of the problem stems from the users of the data. If the practitioners aren’t detecting discrepancies and alerting the consumer data giants about inconsistencies–and demanding make-goods for shoddy information–then there’s no incentive to correct the data.

Do today’s online marketers even know to check the “grandchildren interest” flag for single people with no kids? It’s relatively easy to crosstab the file and flag inconsistencies for your data supplier. Database marketing 101, but nowadays I don’t run across many marketers who know what a clean and dupe report is, never mind how to analyze one.

The WTF Factor

When you dig deeper into each of Acxiom’s categories, you find real head-scratchers on how they’ve categorized the data. For example, in the ethnicity category, Acxiom offers the following:

  • Asian
  • African-American
  • Hispanic
  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • American Indian
  • Portuguese
  • Caucasian/White

You can only be in one category. So if you are of Japanese descent, you might be either in the generic “Asian” category or “Japanese.” Since all Asians share the same culture, close enough, right? Further, you get the weird category of “Portuguese” which is only weird because the number of US residents of French, Russian, Polish or whatever background probably greatly outnumbers those whose relatives hail from Portugal. Yet all those folks are presumably lumped into “Caucasian/White.”

Like some of the other categories, it looks like nobody’s thought this through particularly well.

Where It Gets Dangerous

Nobody would use consumer data giant information for credit screening, of course. That’s not allowed by the FCRA. Yet every day, companies select customers based on the files held on us by Axciom, Experian and the other and make offers based on those selections.

If the data giants believe I like dogs instead of cats, no big deal. If the data giants mess up my household income information, then I may only see offers for high interest rate credit cards. And I can only buy what I can see.

That mistake may cost a household hundreds of dollars a year because of a higher interest rate. Who has the incentive to fix the flaws? Not the consumer data giant–they got their fee for the license. A credit card issuer is perfectly happy too, reaping the rewards of a higher interest rate. (When’s the last time your credit card issuer proactively lowered your rate?)

What You Should Do

First, get access to your data. Check to see that it’s correct, particularly if you are interested in credit. While the information can’t be used in an FCRA sense to decide whether to grant you credit, you’ll at least make sure you’re seeing the right ads.

Second, decide how much you want the consumer data giants to know about you. You might consider choosing to not make certain information available for marketing. You might also consider spreading a little uncertainty about your habits.

Just some tips from a 38 year old self-employed retiree, who drives a 1989 Merkur XR4Ti.



Posted in Data, Direct Response, Marketing, Security | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Owning a Position

You can–and should–start with your “why.” Know what your organization stands for and communicate that. But if you want to own a position in the customer’s mind, there’s only one way.

Put out a product that does it.

Shipping > four box grids.
Shipping > fundraising.
Shipping > strategy.

Shipping wins.

Posted in Marketing, Philosophy, Product Development, Tactics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Be Blind To Domain Dependence

Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evilWhy did the auto dealers in New Jersey work to get Tesla’s direct sales model banned in the state?

Why do Uber and Lyft have to battle taxi and limousine commissions in order to do business?

And why didn’t Hilton or Marriott start Airbnb?

One of the reasons is domain dependence, something Nassim Taleb covered in Antifragile. As humans, we tend to see things framed through our own experiences. And, as humans, we can’t experience very many things in relation to the opportunities available to us. So to an auto dealer in New Jersey, Tesla looks like an attack on their business model, while Uber and Lyft scare T&LC’s who fear loss of regulatory power and large hotel chains can’t understand why people would rent their homes to total strangers.

The old adage “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” is essentially what domain dependence is. Only in reality we don’t know the thing in our hand is called a hammer and that the thing we’re looking at might be a grapefruit. That’s because we have no familiarity with the concept of a grapefruit, because it’s never been in our domain to experience.

What’s the risk of domain dependence? You either miss a growth opportunity or get blindsided more quickly than you can react with either new products or regulations from your bought- and paid-for politicians.

Ideas for developing immunity to domain dependence:

  • Hire people from outside your industry. Sure, Marriott wants CMOs and CPOs from the hotel industry. But what if their product and marketing people had backgrounds from companies that relied on crowdsourcing for product ideas? I don’t think they’d have beaten Airbnb to the punch, but they may have reacted more quickly.
  • Hire for attitude and learning speed. Bring in people from outside your industry. Even if they don’t know much about what you do today, if they can learn quickly, they’ll figure out what you do and then add their novel experience. Your company’s domain can only get larger, which is a good thing.
  • Consciously exit your domain. Stop going to your industry’s trade shows. Only read the industry rag once a week. You’re already an expert in what you do, right? So study some other fields. Could they help you today? Who knows. But you’ll be more likely to notice that you have a hammer in your hand before you swing it at that grapefruit.



Posted in Career, Diversity, Education, Leadership, Organization, Product Development | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What’s Up With WhatsApp?

I haven’t had a lot of time to think about Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp. But my former IMP colleague Larry Solomon has been thinking about it. He recently emailed to ask my thoughts, which are published on his blog here.

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ID Theft – Be Always Diligent – Lesson from My Accountant


Good reminder from Mark Goldstein during tax time.

Originally posted on SafeSecurePrivate:

I am always careful of what information I give out. When the DMV was asking me for my Social Security number to put on my license I protested. Why does the DMV need this info? After a letter writing campaign, the DMV switched to a new ID system. When my health care provider sent me an ID card with my SS# on it I protested.  I was happy to get their first “fake-o” ID card as they called it. If there isn’t a good reason to give my info to you I will not give it.

I just filled out my tax return for my accountant. He looked it over and asked why am I putting the full account number of my financial institutions on my tax form. Good question. The IRS computers can match my tax return and my account info. Why put the full number on the form…

View original 51 more words

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What happens when everyone is a part-timer?

I’ve tried to live my business life following the adage “If my neighbor doesn’t have a job, sooner or later I won’t either.”

I believe that strong communities exist when there is mutual respect, free exchange of ideas (good and bad), a sense of safety and diversity of all types.

When I say “safety” I mean the very basic levels. The ability to provide food, shelter, and clothing for one’s family. That means good jobs that pay decently and have a modicum of security during turbulent times.

Decent jobs doesn’t mean living in fear that your position will be turned over to a freelancer at $10 per hour or outsourced to a semi-qualified temp halfway around the world. It doesn’t mean that you’ll be cut at the end of a quarter just to balance the books and justify the CEO’s bonus. It doesn’t necessarily mean making $100K or more, either.

Does that explain in part–although I can never condone violence–why taxi drivers in Paris are attacking Uber drivers? As Salon’s recent analysis of the situation put it:

What happens when everyone is a part-timer?

How safe do people feel when their existence boils down to how quickly they can get to an Uber hail? How will the rent be paid and the kids be fed if the driver is a little slow off the mark? Even if he gets the hail, what if the kids get sick? There’s no health insurance in freelance nation.

How safe should pedestrians and the rest of us feel? You see, if I don’t feel safe, I can’t help others feel safe. I’ll do anything I can to look after number one, even if that means potentially hurting others. Nothing personal, it’s just how biology works.

I’m not an expert in building technology-driven business models. But I know this to be true:

If my neighbor doesn’t have a job, sooner or later I won’t either.

Takeaway: Build value by extending the circle of safety to more people in your community, not by taking it away.

Posted in Behavioral economics, Leadership, Marketing, Media, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,800 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 47 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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They still publish phone books


Yellowbook has a strange business model. It goes like this: you sell ads to companies that don’t fully realize the Internet has been invented, then chop down trees and pulp them into little books. Then, waste a lot of gas and litter them all over the place–including shopping malls–and let the recipients pay to dispose of your litter.

Sounds like a model for growth, for sure!

More soon-to-be recycled books:


Posted in Analysis, Communications, Marketing | Tagged | 2 Comments

Lost on the Shelf? Build a Category of One.

When I start a consulting engagement, I ask my new clients “what’s a Company X?”  This is shorthand for “what do you stand for, how do you do it, and why should anyone care?”

When I hear “Uber for pet food” or “Airbnb for cupcakes” or “YouTube killer for soccer moms” my conclusion is that they’ve decided, perhaps unintentionally, to compete in a category that already exists. The strategy is to disrupt the existing category with a novel twist.

The problem is it doesn’t usually work. Seth Godin’s piece today talks about being lost on the shelf in a digital world where the number of SKUs is theoretically infinite and the ability of the customer to put options side-by-side for comparison is instant and free. Lots of choice, lots of pretty similar products, many with novel twists.

Categories with lots of players tend to become a market of a dominator, a strong second, a distant third, and everybody else. Everybody else competes on the price set by the market dominator, except without the same economies of scale as the top two or three players.

Al Ries has been writing about categories for years and suggests at least two options. You can either become a category killer or create a new category. In the former, you create something that’s so obviously better that it kills the existing category and attracts the customers to the new category. To demonstrate this, he uses the classic example of P.R. Mallory creating Duracell and the alkaline battery market. The result was that the carbon battery market was killed and drained of growth and profits. (How many non alkaline batteries do you have in your house?)

Category creation is a variant of category killing. Like Uber and Airbnb, operating in this fashion results in creation of an entirely new category–a category of one–where you have the opportunity to become the dominant player. Creating new categories is at the core of building new, strong brands. Al Ries provides a number of classic examples in his AdAge post earlier this year.

Takeaway: Worried about being lost on the shelf? Don’t build “Uber for…” Build a category of one, where your brand is the category.

Posted in Branding, Marketing, Product Development | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Leaders Eat Last

“The cost of leadership is self interest.”

Says Simon Sinek in his remarkable talk “Why Leaders Eat Last” at a recent Behance conference. The talk is based on his upcoming book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, which will be released on January 7th.

In the book and in this talk Sinek talks about how the chemicals in our body–the very chemicals that enabled homo sapiens to thrive–can be used to help or hurt our organizations and our very lives. Importantly, our leaders play a key role in how those chemicals are distributed in our body.

Endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and cortisol are important to our survival. We need them, in balance. When unbalanced, they not only create physical and psychological problems in us, but in our corporations. And our leaders have a direct bearing on the amount of those chemicals in our bodies.

Alas, most of our “leaders” are failing us. They are violating the very contract that put them in the position of leadership.

We’ve all been asked the question “what is leadership?” at some point. Or we’ve asked ourselves how we might become better leaders. Simon Sinek provides the best definition of leadership I’ve heard.

“If you decide to look after the person to the left and to the right of you, you have become a leader.”

That’s it. When you extend the circle of safety, you become a leader. Not when you balance the books of your company on the backs of your employees by laying them off to make the numbers. While you collect a massive bonus for yourself and justify it as “increasing shareholder value.”

And then wonder why your employees aren’t innovative. Or why they don’t get it when you give them a pittance of restricted stock units. Or wonder why employees bolt for the doors at the slightest hint of trouble or for just a few more bucks. When we’re not safe, we tend to look out for number one.

The saddest thing about our leaders’ failure is that humans are not wired to look out for number one. We’re built to look out for each other and to help each other succeed. We just need real leaders.

The talk is worth watching. Oh, I happen to really like it because the title has been my #1 leadership value for a number of years!

Posted in Leadership, Organization, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments