WTF Moment: ‘Crowdsourced’ Data for Sale

I’ve been hard at work on what I hope will be a helpful and insightful post about how I approach building my marketing tech stack. However, I just had an experience that I had to share immediately, so the other post can wait.

Does anyone remember the old days of Jigsaw and how that database was built up? Maybe you know of Jigsaw, but you don’t know how they got their data. Well let me tell you: it was built on the concept of ‘crowdsourcing.’ Jigsaw had 2 types of customers: those that paid for access to the database, and those that earned it. How was it earned? By entering data into the database. For every XX# of contact records you entered, you earned access to information on X# of records you were looking for. This data had to be entered by hand, which theoretically would make it more accurate than a file which was imported in mass, right? Hm, ok sure.

For small companies with a small marketing budget, this seemed like a beautiful thing, but there are some critical flaws in the model:

  • Presumably, the company entering the data would only be entering data they owned and had a right to share, such as their own employee records. But the deal was the number of records entered must exceed he number consumed, so what’s the likelihood that a small company has more employees on staff than prospecting targets? Strike one.
  • But wait! I’m forgetting the big companies, surely they have a sufficient employee database size to share in exchange for prospecting data provided by others? They might, but they also have sufficient budgets to buy the data they want outright. Strike two.
  • Ok, you might be thinking that there must be some validity to the assertion that data entered by hand with care and intention must be better. I attest that is a nice theory but utter hooey. I feel I have the authority to say that because I was the person entering that data by hand. Yup, in college I had a part-time job for a small company entering data from a 100 page paper packet of employee roster names acquired from who-the-hell-knows-where into Jigsaw so that my employer could extract prospect names. If you ever engage in an unedited virtual exchange with me you’d realize pretty quickly that any data entered by me was probably riddled with typos. Now, I’m sure this was NOT Jigsaw’s intent, but that was the reality. Strike 3.

At this point, by the rules of baseball we’d say this is sufficient to call “OUT!” but I can’t help but mention one more teeny-weeny detail that others may consider a non-issue but frankly. gets my blood boiling: ethics. By global standards, the US is a pretty liberal country when it comes to data privacy laws. What I just outlined above simply wouldn’t be legal in many other countries. In the US, it is, so let’s put the legality of the matter aside, and ignore the logical shortcomings identified above and just focus on the ethics of it all.

Ethics are not black and white, but for the most part (and forgive me this oversimplification) I think most ethical issues can be boiled down to this: the golden rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Would you want your personal information pimped out for the gain of your company? I think most people would say “no.”

Ok, enough background ranting…fast forward to today:

This morning (very early I might add) I received a phone call from a company, which will not be named, attempting to sell me crowdsourced data. The enthusiastic sales guy cited all the great reasons (listed above) that crowdsourced data is superior, and even cited pre-acquisition Jigsaw as the model they have emulated. Apparently, in 10 years we have not evolved a sense of self-awareness, logic, or morals to apply to this methodology. Sigh.

However, we have achieved an evolution of technology. Gone are the days of manual data entry into a dedicated platform. And gone are the days where we have to waste valuable time tediously picking and choosing whose data we will share. Now, all we need to do is install a nifty app onto our phones and it will scan and extract all of our contacts’ data for us, send it to the vendor and be instantly available on the market for anyone who wants to buy it. WTF?!

I actually don’t know whether this is true, but presumably since this is a real company, that means that it is lawful for me to decide to install an application onto my phone and share the personal contact information of my fiends, family and colleagues with another company who will then sell that information to other companies. I won’t even give contact info of my colleagues to someone who I know and asks for a referral without the consent of the colleague whom I would like to refer. Call me over-cautious but that, to me, is simply common courtesy and good business behavior.

It took everything in my power to graciously explain why this was not something I was personally interested in for my own moral reasons, nor was it something I felt my company would be interested in. My lack of enthusiasm was apparently baffling to the person on the other end of the line. Maybe it was because I hadn’t yet had my morning coffee (yes, it was that early), or maybe I’m just a bad American, but the lack of comprehension for why this is an egregious offense and horrifying business model had my blood pumping and my ears burning. What’s worse, obviously there are people out there that install this app and betray their contacts, and there are companies that buy and use this data. Presumably to riddle my inbox with SPAM and blow up my phone with obnoxious calls all day long.

Note to my friends, family and colleagues: if you give away or sell my contact data for any reason unsanctioned by me, we’re fighting.  

3 Tips for One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing

If you saw this title and thought to yourself “ooOoo that sounds great! How do I do that?” then I have two things to say to you:

1. You will find this post disappointing because this is not an instruction guide for mediocre marketers, but I highly suggest you read on

2. To quote one of my favorite Disney movie characters,“BAD LLAMA!” You should never be excited at the prospect of One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing. That strategy is for losers. And if you disagree then I suggest you cry on the inside like a winner. (Ok, just kidding…but bonus points if you can name that movie).

I did promise to offer 3 tips for those interested in doing One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing, and here they are:

  1. Don’t do it.
  2. Don’t even think about it.
  3. If you’re doing it, or thinking about it….stop.

Unless you sell to a completely homogenous group of identical robots void of independent thought….If this is your buyer, by all means carry on.

For the rest of you, here is a word cloud that explains just a handful of reasons why One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing doesn’t work:*

Some of the words listed above are not only reasons why not to do One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing, but they are better, more strategic alternatives. The reason they’re both is because of that pesky word up there that says “competition.

I guarantee your competitors are using technology to execute personalized, targeted marketing programs. And if they are, and you’re not, they’re better than you. As a marketer, that’s not acceptable. We marketers must be better than our competition, just as the businesses we serve and the products we market must be.

It would be cruel of me to suggest what you should not do without making recommendations for what you should do instead, so…

3 Tips for NOT doing One-Size-Fits-Most Marketing

  1. Personalize the experience.
    Persona Definition + Content + Technology = Personalization
    Whether your audience is engaging out in web-land, on your website, via email or through third party partners, if you can clearly define who your audience is and what the right message is for each of them there are technologies that can find and target them. To start, try using a content matrix to map your buyer to your content. Here’s how.
    Want to know more about how personalized content targeting works? This blog does a pretty good job of explaining it.
  2. Don’t put all of your eggs in one channel basket.
    Just as one message does not suit all audiences, neither does one channel/tactic. The biggest trap marketers fall into is believing they can rely on email to reach their entire audience. This is a myth. And if you believe in it you’re probably missing a LOT of potentially great customers. No one channel can reach all, or even the majority, of your audience so you must extend your channel reach.Here’s an oldie but a goodie from Hubspot that talks more about multi-channel marketing (yes, 1 year is ‘old’ in the high-tech marketing blog world).
  3. React to your audience’s reactions (AKA Trigger Marketing)
    If you got engaged in the era of facebook and made your new relationship status ‘facebook official’ then you no doubt found yourself being presented with ads touting all manner of wedding paraphernalia. Happy coincidence? Nope. That’s smart, timely, trigger-based marketing. The web is flush with info about each and every one of us, and smart marketers use this information to trigger personalized content (ref: tip #1). It’s the same principle that Amazon and Netflix employ when they present you with those nifty suggestions that say “if you liked X, then you may like Y and Z.” You can apply this to all sorts of things, such as content consumption, to help you offer up the right message at the right time via the right channels (ref: tip #2). Here’s a good resource from Eloqua to help get you thinking about some trigger-based programs that may be of value to your business.

And finally, I leave you with this:

And old classic:

“Do not address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client.”
~ David Olgilvy

Combined with modern insight:

Innovation needs to be part of your culture. Consumers are transforming faster than we are, and if we don’t catch up, we’re in trouble.
~Ian Schafer

Together these show that some marketing principles never die…they just evolve, as must we all.

* I created this lovely word cloud using a nifty web tool called Wordle.

Originally posted on LinkedIn – Feb 3, 2015

The Best Marketers are Wargs

People with the ability to enter the minds of others and perceive the world through their senses and even control their actions.

Cultures all over the world and throughout history have told stories of mythical beings, such as this, with the power to see into the minds of others and even control them:psychics, vampires, Satori, Professor X, Hera…and the list goes on.

Why is this ‘power’ so prevalent in stories of both feared and revered characters? Because it is in fact a great power to have. Just to be able to see into the minds of others can arm us with insights that allow us to influence them, serve them, attract them, delight them and even control them.

So what does this have to do with marketing?

Nowadays marketers must be customer-obsessed. And what better way to connect to our obsession than to enter their minds and understand their thoughts? We all have this power within us. Seriously, we do.

The way to realize this power is to pay attention. Listen, observe, exercise some common sense and consideration and you will be surprised how much you can learn and how well you can connect with your customer. Consider everything you do from their point of view first.

Some things to pay attention to:

  • Where are your customers? Whether its physical location, situational considerations (ie in the middle of a M&A) or spending time on niche blogs and forums. All these things matter as they can inform your message and interaction strategy
  • What are your customers doing? Are they interacting with you – why or why not? Have they been talking to sales? Have they been using the services they’ve bought from you? All of this adds context to your interaction.
  • Why are they your customer? What challenges or need do you fill? Are you fulfilling this? Could you do better? Are they happy with you? You wouldn’t try to upsell and unhappy customer would you? You might…if you didn’t know they were unhappy (whomp whomp)
  • How are they interacting with you? Do they visit your website? Do they log into their customer portal? Do they open emails? Are they unsubscribed? These may be signs they’re happy and could be a good advocate, or looking for more value and need some guidance (or an upsell), or annoyed and on the edge of being done with you.

Of course, to gain these insights you need technology and data. These are necessary tools to unlock your inner mind-reading power. If you have this, you have what you need to be a great and powerful warg – maybe even the mind controlling kind.

It takes practice, discipline, and willingness to take a step back and put yourself in their shoes and evaluate the information at your disposal.
But you’re willing to do this because you’re customer-obsessed. And you must do this because if you cannot excite and delight your customer you are doomed to fail…or at least doomed to be mediocre. And who wants to be a mediocre marketer?

For more insight into “Customer-Obsessed Marketing” check out this post by Oracle CEO, Mark Hurd: Customer-Obsessed Marketing Is Your Next Competitive Edge

Originally posted on LinkedIn – Jan 29, 2015

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