Everybody’s Going Nuts for ‘Big Data’

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Click to enlarge.

You can acquire it, but as a marketer you probably don’t need it

Eighteen years ago—shortly after I took over as editor of Target Marketing—I was granted an interview with the smartest list person I ever met, the late Rose Harper of the Kleid Company. She said:

With increasing concern about ‘invasion of privacy,’ those of us in the list business must do all we can to recognize and address this concern. The truth is we are not dossier compilers or personal investigators. But in today’s world, what one is, is often less important than what one is perceived to be.

The Massive Electronic Dossiers—on All of Us
Rose Harper was regurgitating the party line of the Direct Marketing Association that was deeply fearful of anti-snoop legislation by privacy advocates in government and do-gooder organizations. Over the years I have caught hell from the database industry for using the term “electronic dossiers.”

Electronic dossiers are the whole point of consumer (and business) databases—recording demographic and psychographic information on each person, household and company. Back in the antediluvian days of direct mail, Sears Roebuck kept sales records by punching little holes in the metal Addressograph plates of its customer list. If management decided to do a mailing offering a special on men’s socks, the marketing folks would stick a long rod through the holes that indicated the customer had bought shoes. These chosen plates would be turned into labels for the sock mailing.

Today, the individual electronic dossiers are humongous. Data miners know more about you and your family than you do.

  • Acxiom Corporation in Conway, Ark. maintains dossiers on 500 million consumers worldwide with roughly 1,500 “data points” per person. Of this total, 190 million are in 126 million U.S. households. It’s 23,000 servers record and process approximately 50 trillion transactions a year including purchases, illnesses, social media activity, home values, finances and debt.
  • The National Security Agency is building a $2 billion data storage facility in Utah one-third larger than the U.S. Capitol to house “the collection and analysis of various forms of communication—trillions of phone calls, email messages, and data trails plus Web searches, parking receipts, bookstore visits, and other digital ‘pocket litter.'”
  • InfoUSA has dossiers on 14 million businesses and 210 million consumers with a vast array of data points. Fill in the various specs of your ideal prospect, give InfoUSA a credit card number, push a button and you have your list.

According to The New York Times article “The Age of Big Data” by Steve Lohr, to deal with the upcoming data flood, “the U.S. needs 140,000 to 190,000 more workers with ‘deep analytical’ expertise and 1.5 million more data-literate managers, whether retrained or hired.”

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

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  • Barry Dennis

    Data is static, for the most part. Informed analysis, speculation and testing against the database is active, and, no matter how brilliant you are, is speculative. Otherwise, why would a 1-2% "hit rate" be acceptable.The Who, the What, the Where, the How are relatively known and discernible.
    Pursue the When and the Why my fellow marketers, for therein lies the key.

  • Will Ezell

    Rule #9: Pay attention to Denny. And thank him for his generosity and brilliance.

  • Gerold Braun

    buying big data is often the easy way out, if there is a weak offer or no painpoint to adress: We did what we could do, we even bougt big data.

  • http://www.thegmedia.com/ Gylliayn

    Thank you! As I do a lot of guerrilla marketing- this was a very timely article for me. Took notes!

  • http://www.larklandmorley.com morleyl

    The issue is not the big data but how you actually use it.. It is very unlikely that someone that just buy a car would be a candidate for buying a new car in the next two years or so.. However, you could offer car related products to this person in any way.. After 3 years, you can not offer ways to upgrade to a new car. Also data on other purchases for that person may help to make other offers..