It knows who you are. It knows where you live. It knows what you do. It peers deeper into American life than the F.B.I. or the I.R.S., or those prying digital eyes at Facebook and Google. If you are an American adult, the odds are that it knows things like your age, race, sex, weight, height, marital status, education level, politics, buying habits, household health worries, vacation dreams — and on and on.
Thus begins another tough examination of the PostModern Persuasion 2.0 masters, this time at Acxiom. Big Data. Check. Big Statistics. Check. Always on. Check. Anonymous. Veiled. Dangerous. Check, check, check.
Maybe Acxiom is the Queen of Tomorrow. We’re living through the worst recession since the Great Depression, yet all the corporate customers of Acxiom and Their ilk are rolling in profit. While it’s not the crazy good of the Clinton 1990s or even the middle Bush 2000s, it’s still very good. Maybe Acxiom is the reason?
Or maybe Acxiom is selling smoke and mirrors.
Start with that name. Why do all the New New Thing companies spell like rapper acts and lyrics? Sure, it’s poetry and attention getting, but if you are the Queen of Tomorrow you don’t want or need something so obvious, transparent, so grasping as a clever name. Just HSM Corp. Something plain. Navy blue suit.
Now, consider the product.
Acxiom has its own classification system, PersonicX, which assigns consumers to one of 70 detailed socioeconomic clusters and markets to them accordingly. In this situation, it pegs Mr. Hughes as a “savvy single” — meaning he’s in a cluster of mobile, upper-middle-class people who do their banking online, attend pro sports events, are sensitive to prices — and respond to free-shipping offers.
Okay, let’s glide by PersonicX without a giggle and consider the Savvy Single, one of the 70 detailed clusters. If you’ve read Marketing for Dummies you know this as audience segmentation, a concept that is as old as Satan. Slice the Other Guys into categories, then pitch to the type.
That’s Queen of Tomorrow persuasion? Persuade types? You’ve got individual data down to keyboard fingerprinting and the best you can do is sort an Other Guy into one of 70 types? This is not your Father’s Oldsmobile persuasion, this is your Ancestor’s Sandal persuasion.
Nothing in any of the Queen of Tomorrow stories ever hits on the big thing: real time WATTage. Kids, when Acxiom combines its data with a good measurement of your WATTage, then maybe we’ll see the Queen of Tomorrow. Add in continuous assessment and alteration, and you can see Her shadow. But she’s not hanging on Acxiom’s arm. Consider the financials.
For Acxiom, based in Little Rock, the setup is lucrative. It posted profit of $77.26 million in its latest fiscal year, on sales of $1.13 billion.
The US GDP is about $15 trillion. Acxiom did $1 billion of business and earned about 7% on that as profit. Look, if I’m the Queen of Tomorrow with Persuasion 2.0 and I can only get 1 billion bucks for my skill in a 15 trillion dollar US economy, it’s time to storm the Queen’s palace. And, if I only earn 7 cents on a 1 dollar of sales, whatever I know about persuasion is wildly overshadowed by what I don’t know about business.
Of course, if Acxiom is really the Queen of Tomorrow, then all these figures are deceptive. There’s another set of books in a back room that show a different bottom line and it’s hiding out in Swiss bank accounts or whatever they’re using nowadays to hide wealth the way everyone once used Swiss bank accounts. This means, then, that the Acxiom mavens are living like smart bank robbers who just pulled the biggest heist in history. Sure, they’ve got a fortune but they have to live like mugs to avoid attention and detection.
You see the problem with Persuasion 2.0. If indeed you are the Queen of Tomorrow with a persuasion engine, you’ve got to hide away all the fruits of your success. Even though you control the world, you have to live like you don’t.
I’m exaggerating for effect. You don’t have to be Queen of Tomorrow good to have a genuine, world class, top of the heap New New Persuasion. You just have to be a little bit better than the Other Guys and your competition, right? So, look again at the financials on Acxiom. It’s publicly traded. Here’s the stock price for Acxiom versus the industry average over the past 10 years when all this Queen of Tomorrow Big Data New New Thing took off.
Not exactly best of breed. Acxiom got hotter than the others during the good times and then got colder than the others during the bad times. That’s not the performance curve of a master. And, I can make it look even worse by comparing Acxiom to the S&P 500 index over the same time period.
The doggy index, most certainly your Father’s Oldsmobile of stock performance, does better than ACXM. How much of a difference is all this Persuasion 2.0 really making?
Forget the dark hype from the NYT article. The writer’s a Useful Idiot whether she’s a believer or a paid shill. This is great PR for Acxiom, getting the Big Fear from the NYT. Acxiom comes off as a first order Super Villain of Big Marketing. They just need a chartreuse costume for that Queen of Tomorrow performance. Something like this.
Here we are again, selling sand to Sauds, ice to Aleuts, and persuasion to persuaders. Nothing wrong with a little smoke and mirrors with your persuasion, but that’s not persuasion, of course, just smoke and mirrors. And, this is not unique with Acxiom or probably any other Persuasion 2.0 operation. The Count never adds up to the Change.
I’m a gullible guy despite my public performance as a persuasion maven. I believe in the Queen of Tomorrow and I will know her when I see Her. She won’t look like Julianne Hough on the red carpet at the Rock of Ages movie premiere to me . . . just to everyone else.