September 16, 2013

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Inside Big Brother Who scares you more – the NSA, collecting every bit of electronic communication you create on every device in every channel, or Acxiom, collecting and aggregating every bit of data about who you are, where you are, what you do and what you have? This week, Acxiom, the nation’s biggest data aggregator, in a pointed move to stave off additional regulation, created a new free data portal for consumers to see, read, process and edit your own data. You can even opt-out. Don’t think for a second this is a gratuitous act of kindness or a public service. This is a bold and creative attempt to pre-empt or soften threatened privacy legislation or regulation. By proactively giving consumers a look into the black box, Acxiom hopes to stave off added scrutiny, reporting or disclosures. About the data.com offers a free glimpse into what they know about you. You get access in 20 seconds by confirming your name, postal address, email address, date of birth and social security number; the key data points that enable aggregators to find and sort you. These facts are also the critical variables that establish and validate identity in the world of data collection. Once you’re in, the site indicates where the data originated – bank records, credit cards, merchants, surveys, government records, telephone books, property records, tax rolls, licensing agencies, website cookies, magazine subscriptions, club memberships, etc. The information is sorted into six categories – characteristic data (demographics), home data, vehicle data, economic data, shopping data and household interests. Some easily collected or inferred facts (e.g. race, religion, alcohol use, heiress, frequent trips to Vegas) are not displayed. Each section can be easily edited/updated in two clicks. Looking through each section you can quickly see what your credit cards, mortgage records, driving license and reading habits reveal about you. You can sense how Acxiom and its competitors dice and slice you into sellable segments. It becomes clear why you get mail and the e-mail from the marketers pursuing you. You’re a baby boomer who owns a home, holds a graduate degree, drives a two-year old car worth more than $30,000, lives in a desirable zip code, owns a Mac and buys lots of stuff online. Thinking across categories, you get a relative feel for where you might fit in society and how desirable (or not) you might be to credit card marketers, charity solicitors, packaged tour operators, airlines, live performance marketers, realtors or luxury car salesmen. It’s ingenious. Consumers get to see their dossier and correct or update the information. Acxiom gets the benefit of the doubt and the benefit of real-time self-corrected data. And, while you can opt-out; the site warns you that opting out won’t stop the SPAM. It merely will insure you get irrelevant SPAM. The privacy debate is moot and menacing. Nobody really controls his or her own data. In case after case, consumers willingly and happily give up data in return for coupons, sweepstakes entries or trinkets. The question is who has access to your data and how much trouble or misery can they cause you by using it. Who is worse – a faceless government bureaucrat or a faceless marketing bureaucrat? Related articles Acxiom gives you a peek at the data it collects about you Behind the Data Curtain Acxiom prepares to open its data vault for consumers
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Crowdsourcing Software Reviews Buying CRM software is a pain in the ass. Each suite starts with a different premise. Most software firms have a single core expertise but pretend to know everything or claim it’s easy to bolt on automation tools or ERP software. Rarely do the day-to-day users get a voice in the choice. Prospects confront a tsunami of techno-blab focused on features and functions, which rarely translates into a clear understanding of how this stuff will actually work to meet your practical business needs. And then there’s the money part. The software costs X. You must spend Y to install it. Then caught up Z for training. Then there are costs for add-ons and upgrades. (This Total Cost of Ownership number often makes the high priced offer seem more affordable.) Usually, a team undertakes the search and makes the decision. A line executive or CFO type assesses strategic value. A CIO or IT guy looks under the hood. And a procurement or business affairs person negotiates the deal. Until recently, the only source of help were consulting firms who evaluate, rank and display the relative positions and merits of competing software vendors. The problem with this is three fold. In some cases the evaluators are not technicians but journalists who can be manipulated by vendors. The evaluations are an amalgam of undocumented opinions with no way to evaluate their validity, weight or bias. And the consultants are not independent like Consumer Reports. They sell the evaluations to vendors and to buyers. So there is a financial incentive not to slaughter anyone and a natural tendency to give everyone the equivalent of a “B.” Buyers are still left trying to figure out which one is the best. Now Matt Gorniak, and fellow software sales refugees, thinks they can crowdsource software reviews to yield better, more genuine, more democratic and more practical insights to help buyers. A belief in word-of-mouth advertising led them to create G2crowd.com, a customer ratings site for software featuring 2000 software products in 200 categories, with a name reminiscent of the designation for military intelligence (hopefully skipping the oxymoron). According to Matt, the average buyer asks, “How do I make a good decision among a set a complicated products with an endless array of claims?” His answer is to look at software the way you look at travel (TripAdvisor.com), restaurants (Zagat.com) or contractors (Judyslist.com) by relying on the wisdom of the crowd. Relying on multiple identified sources, you get unbiased software reviews that come at the products from a variety of perspectives. Reviews can be filtered by function, price and vendor. The stated goal is to fairly review software products away from the influence of vendor marketing. Reviewers are vetted by being forced to sign up/in with their LinkedIn ID. Supposedly the sheer mass of users and the diverse points of view will give buyers enough insight, direction and intelligence to make the right decision. Importing a B2C technique into the high-ticket B2B universe, G2Crowd.com aspires to be the Yelp.com of software and knock off Gartner, Forrester and their competitors. And while the freemium model sounds goofy, especially to someone like me who worked at SAP, its probably worth a try. G2 will try to make money by selling deeper, richer reviews and reports to more serious buyers. I’ll be watching to see what happens.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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