Big Data: Cheap MIPS and Bot Marketing
In 1992, Peggy and I sold our cranky little newsletter—WHO'S MAILING WHAT!—to North American Publishing Company and moved to Philly. We were hired as a husband-and-wife team to run Target Marketing. At the time, the publication was on life support. We saved it.
In the world of consumer and business publishing is a so-called "Chinese wall" between editorial and advertising. Under the doctrine, editors and journalists who have anything to do with advertisers are ipso facto whores.
In trade publishing, the Chinese wall is a load of crap.
We're all in this thing together. As the new president and editor, I traveled the country with editors and sales people to rescue Target Marketing. My job:
- Get my journalists to ferret out stories about companies and people whose products and services could make money for my readers.
- Make sure editors and journalists adhered to the dictum of legendary newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane (1864-1936) who said: "Good writing is easier to read than to skip."
- Work with the sales team to pry advertising dollars out those suppliers who should be reaching our readers.
- Guarantee advertisers they were reaching the right readers who should know about their products and services and could afford them.
The taboo: Never agree to publish a story in return for advertising dollars. That is being a whore.
The Acxiom Conundrum
In those early days I made two trips to visit data giant Acxiom in Little Rock, Ark. Both times we were given guided tours of the facilities. One image etched in memory was the description of a vast underground dungeon filled with giant computers operating in tandem and churning out data.
I never saw these computers, because they operated in the dark. The only time a people went down there was to install additional computers.
On both occasions I left Acxiom mystified. The guides talked techie gibberish. I had no idea what the company did, or why or what the benefit was to anybody.
Tim Prunk to the Rescue
After my second trip to Little Rock, I flew to Denver and had buffalo burger lunch with Tim Prunk, a tall, bespectacled former Acxiom guy and database whiz. I told him I had been twice to Acxiom and could not figure out what the company did.
"That's easy. I can tell you in two words," Prunk said. "Cheap MIPS."
Prunk went on to describe MIPS—"Million Instructions Per Second"—the (then) measurement of computer power. Corporate CEOs who craved affirmation wanted the fastest and most fashionable hardware available and were willing to invest millions to acquire them.
Theirs was a "mine-is-bigger-than-yours" mentality rather than sound business practice. When I ran book clubs for Meredith Corporation, management gloried in the dual IBM 360/65s running in tandem. They let everyone know their installation was the third largest on Long Island—with only Grumman Aircraft and Literary Guild ahead of them.
It made no nevermind that the guys who ran it were in way over their heads and the place was a wreck. Mistakes were common and tapes were lying around in shoeboxes while customers and clients were continually pissed off. In disgust, Meredith shut the whole thing down and moved the entire business back to headquarters in Des Moines.
This was not the case with Acxiom. It was happy to buy up the older, slower discarded hardware at bargain basement prices and install it in the Little Rock black-ops basement. Dozens of older, slower computers tied together produced far more output than the outrageously expensive hot new models.
Hence Tim Prunk's line, "Cheap MIPS."
Today Cheap MIPS is more like Cheap TxTIPS (trillion times a trillion instructions per second).
The "Big Data" file in my archive of news stories contains 82 entries. Additional stories of Big Data appear in my files of facebook.com (65), amazon.com (15), google.com (80), yahoo.com (9), Surveillance, spying and snooping (248), NSA (20) and Snowden (8).
From The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2013:
These Are Great Tools, but Who Has the Skills to Use Them?
Big Data. It's the latest IT buzzword, and it isn't hard to see why. The ability to parse more information, faster and deeper, is allowing companies, governments, researchers and others to understand the world in a way they could only dream about before.
Getting people qualified to work in such data-analytical tools as Hive, Pig, Cassandra, MongoDb or Hadoop is only the first layer of this onion. Few companies have in-house experts who can even make a business case to justify the cost of hiring big-data experts, let alone assess the quality of the applicants. Many managers also lack basic numeracy, so getting decision makers who can grasp more sophisticated statistical mechanics can be a challenge.
Standard databases have been around for about 35 years, so a substantial body of experience makes these tools relatively easy to understand and use. Big Data, by contrast, is just being invented, so the techniques for organizing and understanding the underlying meaning are still in their infancy. —John Jordan
Big Data and Protection Against Crime, Cybercrime and Terrorism
I have no problem with the NSA/CIA seeing anything in my computer and financial records or monitoring my phone calls. Peggy and I have nothing to hide. And if collecting metadata ("data about data") on every person in the U.S. and abroad prevents a nuclear or sarin gas bomb from going off in the middle of Philadelphia, I say, "Hey, go for it Uncle Sammy!"
My message to Big Bro: Spend time snooping on me and you'll be bored out of your gourd. I'm a great cure for insomnia.
Using Big Data for Marketing and Sales Is Preposterous.
The new fad grabbing CEOs and the media by their egos: Big Data. With Cheap TxTIPs available, secret spiders and bots are scraping all possible online interaction for wisps of information to add to the electronic dossiers maintained on all of us. In their craze to discover the inner person, the surveillance dudes are tracking our musings and gossip on Facebook, Google searches and all the other online ephemera of our lives.
A World of Bots Tracking You and Bots Trying to Sell you
I was a victim of this idiocy and wrote about it.
- I went on the Zappos site to look shoes, whereupon Zappos chased my ass all over the Internet, with Zappos ads popping up on every site I visited.
- When Peggy and I went to Europe, Zappos turned me over to Zalando shoes who chased me into Switzerland, France and Germany. Showing me endless pictures of shoes—men's and women's—with no offer, which was stupid and creepy.
- When I was the victim of a home invasion I looked into LifeLock and did not like what I found, so I abandoned the shopping cart. Suddenly LifeLock was advertising on every website I visited.
The Snoop Lady
This past October in the back corner of the Direct Marketing Association exhibit hall in Chicago, I met an oh-so-earnest lady who proudly touted her system of going deep into everyone's life online, warehousing the data and storing relevant copy. Using Big Data, her bots would spit out offers to the victims of her peep-hole-in-the-shower surveillance system.
What the CEOs, techies and bots do not reckon with is the 800-pound gorilla: WHEN.
Traditional data research can determine who, what and how much: who will buy, what they will buy and how much they can afford. But is the prospect ready to buy now?
All the Big Data in the world cannot predict when your Toyota will be totaled and you need a replacement by Wednesday.
The exception: event marketing—conventions, expositions, sporting events, cruise ship departures, theatrical productions and concerts. These are all pinned to dates and operate with sales deadlines.
Other than event marketing, goofball CEOs, techie serfs and greedy agencies have come up with the idea that if you can create a giant electronic dossier on every worthwhile consumer in the country, the selling process is slam-dunk.
Why pay copywriters six- and seven figures a year when you can hire a geek Edgar Bergen for a fraction of that amount to train a Mortimer Snerd bot to be a copywriter?
Direct Marketing 101
To make a relevant offer, the following is needed:
• Demographics: name and address, profession, income range and perhaps presence of children.
• Psychographics (behavior): hobbies and interests such as pets in the house, history of travel, etc. Most importantly, does the person respond to offers by mail, Internet, phone calls or off-the-page advertising?
All of the above can be obtained through the noninvasive research techniques direct marketers have been using for years. This is prop-jet science (as opposed to rocket science).
Once the prospect has been identified, come up with a great offer and hire a great copywriter.
Then if you've done your homework—and the timing is right—you'll generate some revenue.
Takeaways to Consider
- For the record Acxiom is still operating in the world of gibberish. In a big announcement,CEO Scott E. Howe offered consumers a free peek at some of the data in the electronic dossier Acxiom maintains on them. It's easier to shop for ObamaCare than figure out how to do business on Acxiom's free-peek website.
- "It's the offer, stupid." —Bob Hacker
- "If you want to dramatically increase your response, dramatically improve your offer." —Axel Andersson
- "The right offer should be so attractive only a lunatic would say no." —Claude Hopkins
- "Give the reader a chance to make a deal with you-not tomorrow or next week, but RIGHT AWAY." —Maxwell Sackheim
- "Make it easier to say yes than to say no." —Maxwell Sackheim
- "It must be a bargain in one form or another." —Maxwell Sackheim
- "The computer is a moron." —Peter Drucker
- If you can come up with a two-word description of business model (e.g., "Cheap MIPS,") you are brilliant.
- Tim Prunk beat my favorite business model description by four words—Jay Leno's "Write joke. Tell joke. Get check."