Show Me the Data
Concerned about privacy? Now you can see what data has been collected on you. I was in for a shock.
In an admirable move toward transparency, Acxiom, one of the largest data collection companies in the world, will show you a summary of your personal data. You can see its view into your world at AbouttheData.com. The shock for me? Acxiom got me just plain wrong.
Give a few details about yourself, including name, address and the last four digits of your social security number, and your data pops up. The summary categories include characteristics, home, vehicle, economic, shopping and household interests.
For my characteristics, it says that I have two children at home aged 16-17. Through a quirk of fate that our second child was actually a set of twins, we've never had two children living at home. Never. Acxiom also pegged me as retired, not as an active business owner.
When it comes to home data, it shows nothing. We've owned our current home for 10 years. For vehicle data, it incorrectly surmises that my auto insurance renews in November.
Acxiom's economic data shows that I've made six online and retail purchases within the past 24 months for a total of $139. Yes, you read that right. It reports that I spent $139 in the past two years. In a way that's accurate. I did spend that $139; it's just that I also spent a whole lot more.
To be fair, Acxiom has never claimed perfect or complete data, and it allows and encourages visitors to its website to correct inaccurate information. I declined this option. Flying under the radar appeals to my inner Jason Bourne. As a direct marketer who relies on data, however, the experience caused me to reflect.
Here are my three main takeaways:
- Transactional data, meaning actual purchases of products, services, licenses or other material, remains the gold standard of database marketing. Don't bet the farm on lifestyle and demographic data. When in doubt, test.
- The closer you can get to the original source of that transactional data, the better. Don't get me wrong, I mail names from transaction-based co-ops all the time. Two steps from the source of the transaction is pretty close.
- Survey response, which is how some compiled data is collected, can be aspirational rather than based in reality. At times the responses can be skewed, even unintentionally, to the surveyor's bias. (If you've never read Darrell Huff's classic, "How to Lie with Statistics," treat yourself soon.)
You'll want to see what Acxiom has on you. Some people will probably find it scarily accurate. Visit Aboutthedata.com and tell us what you find.
A columnist for Retail Online Integration, George founded HAGUEdirect, a marketing agency. Previously he was a member of the Shawnee Mission, Kan.-based consulting and creative agency J. Schmid & Assoc. He has more than 10 years of experience in circulation, advertising, consulting and financial strategy in the catalog/retail industry. George's expertise includes circulation strategy, mailing execution, response analysis and financial planning. Before joining J. Schmid, George worked as catalog marketing director at Dynamic Resource Group, where he was responsible for marketing and merchandising for the Annie's Attic Needlecraft catalog, the Clotilde Sewing Notions catalog, the House of White Birches Quilter's catalog and three book clubs. George also worked on corporate acquisitions.