Category Archives: Wired

Wired data stalking and the demise of 1to1 personalization

Wired magazine’s UK edition pulled off a nice stunt by collecting publicly available data on its subscribers and printing customized covers that greet individuals with freakishly accurate tidbits about themselves: Their birthday, whom they live with, even colorful comments about a recent online spat with a friend. Yikes.

Yes, a clever troller (or buyer of an Experian list) can learn a lot about you. The more interesting question isn’t whether privacy is gone (it is, check your direct mail), but why similar ultra-personalization has never taken off as a marketing tactic. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers founded a consulting group in the 1990s devoted to advocating personalization based on 1to1 relationships — corporations learning to connect with individuals via data that recognized their personal interests. It was a visionary concept, where every behemoth of an organization could treat you as intimately as the owner of a local store. What happened? A few companies, such as Netflix, managed to make quasi-personalization work, but almost no marketer has nailed the 1to1 concept. Personal relationships between consumer and corporation gave way to networks of consumers talking among themselves; social media arose, and personalization was passed by as companies yearned for “viral” strategies to reach the masses, not individuals, ignoring them. If markets are efficient, and data collection has become easy, why aren’t you greeted at the mall with a digital sign saying, “Hello, Mr. Jones, welcome back, the shoes you like are on sale at the Smithswalk Outlet on Level 2”? Because 1to1 doesn’t sell as much volume as 1tomany (TV) or manytomany (viral success).

Beyond the corporate incentives, 1to1 recognition may never have been what people needed. Perhaps we don’t want unexpected personalization at all, because the serendipity of random product encounters creates desire tied to a whim. Like cotton candy or a high school crush, the sugary rush of blood that comes from longing something unexpected is oh so satisfying, mainly because the desire surprises us with novelty.

Or perhaps more simply, the aura of an unknown someone really knowing us, like a Wired UK magazine cover, just freaks us out.

Wired’s breasts get shaken up

Wired’s November cover features a pair of breasts. Large, looming, poke-you-in-the-eye kind of breasts. So on Nov. 10, Cindy Royal, an assistant professor at Texas State University and a Wired magazine subscriber, wrote a blog post baring the more audacious news that the tech publication rarely runs photos of women on its cover, unless they’re jokes or promoting films, and the last time Wired’s front featured a woman doing real work in technology was April 1996. Too good a story to miss, in five days the blog post has picked up more than 200 comments, including a polite response from Wired’s editor Chris Anderson, who noted women don’t tend to sell magazine covers, in fact, humans rarely do, and he’s soliciting ideas for the future. All Things D, Washington Post and The Huffington Post chimed in. Wired’s boobs are making the rounds.

We see two lessons here:

1. People remain piggish, and oinky instincts often sell. The truth, of course, is that the tech world is filled with young men and images such as this one (from inside Wired’s magazine issue) do far more to juice sales and subscriptions than Gates and Zuckerberg ever would.

Given the loving attention to detail in these photos, we suggest Wired (if we could have your attention back, please) knows exactly what it is doing. This is not to condemn Wired; visit the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble, and you’ll see most magazine covers have photos of beautiful females — at least 3 to 1 women-to-men. Greed, lust, and desire for aspirational beauty get noticed, and publishers who test every element of their covers respond with exactly what the market wants.

2. Change is possible if human communities override individual behavior. The fascinating thing about this exercise in feedback is how fast it’s moving; today is Nov. 15, less than a week since Royal published her critique of Wired’s boobs, and counterpoints have piled high. The National Center for Women & Information Technology gave Royal a link to 50 women who have excelled in IT and entrepreneurship, potentially worthy of magazine fame. Chris Anderson has moved into private email discussions with Royal over how to improve the magazine’s editorial. It may be too much to hope, but outside observers might think a real change in the magazine is possible.

If so, this is a lovely tale of how social media provides, with good writing and a touch of viral community support, a critical mass that can move society in a better direction. Royal notes that Wired is deeply influential in the tech industry; thus a series of Wired covers espousing the contributions of women to technology, and not just as gussied up sex objects, might inspire more female teens to engineering and tech college degrees, better hiring of women, more female CIOs, and future SXSW Interactive conferences filled with more than scruffy boys in T-shirts.

Unless magazine newsstand sales droop, of course; then, given human reproductive urgency and Wired’s male-skewing demo, Anderson will have to put skin back in the game.

Advertising as a research tool

What if we told you most companies spend millions of dollars each year on a research study but never look at the data?

That’s advertising for you. Wired magazine’s fun little mapping of American vice reminds us that many marketers spend big on advertising, but fail to leverage it as the research tool it is. Marketers typically compare responses and sales to campaign expense to see if the campaign “worked” with an acceptable ROI. If a $500,000 campaign makes 5,000 sales, and the cost per sale is an acceptable $100, then we have success.

But what about all the data hidden in those responses? Where did those calls come from? It’s a simple list exercise to match originating phone numbers to ZIP Codes, and suddenly the marketers could have a heat map, like Wired’s above, showing hot spots in market demand. ZIPs could then be run through PRIZM data to identify psychographic clusters of prospective customers. Sales by ZIP could be compared to responses by ZIP, to see if certain market areas have a low vs. high close rate. Some simple data digging, and you could find exactly which markets to direct future advertising to, where to reallocate your sales force, and where to send those expensive direct mail drops.

Advertising does more than generate a sale; it’s capturing knowledge about what the market thinks about you. If Wired magazine can map sin in the United States, surely you can plot your best future prospects.

Chris Anderson on Google: Something wicked this way comes?

We’re attending the OMMA conference in New York City this Thursday and Friday, which basically puts a bunch of hip marketing types in sports coats and jeans in rooms with managers from wireless companies and web search marketing firms. The Pareto concept holds true for the quality of the presentations; about 80% of panel speakers defend their business models as brilliant, and about 20% offer brilliance on business models.

In the latter category was Chris Anderson, the type of guru you’re sure you could debate if he just slowed down his brain by about 50%. Chris, a guy who once flunked out of school and played punk rock but went on to work at Los Alamos and become top editor of Wired magazine, discussed emerging “media platforms” with his pal Josh Quittner, Editor-at-Large of Time, Inc.

Chris and Josh riffed a bit on the iPhone, raising the specter that the ultra-sexy portable device could become a new “portal” that replaces the magazine front pages / home pages of et al, but then went further to raise the fear that Google might be turning evil. Chris had tongue firmly in cheek, since he lives in San Francisco and visits the Googleplex often, but asked the audience whether they thought Google was making its Chrome/cloud expansion moves to (a) do what’s right for the web or (b) be a dastardly, leering, profit-at-whatever-it-takes even-if-it’s-your-wife-too business. Most of the East Coast audience leaned toward (b). Chris smiled on stage in a dark coat and crisp white shirt, a little glare from the lights bouncing off his tanned, shaved head like a halo, and for a second we thought he knew the secret but just wasn’t going to tell.

And then the meat: A discussion on “platform wars.” The deal here is that the layers of commerce are reforming, and the ground that guides the new flow of profits is being shifted by yet another god-like owner. Chris gave a simple description: A platform is a layer controlled by one company that creates an ecosystem for other companies who make that layer usable. Past versions include (which allows many other companies to sell things), EBay (ditto), and Microsoft (whose Windows gave birth to millions of software products). Platforms aren’t necessarily bad; when they work, users get what they want, the platform company makes money, and every other company that jumps aboard can make profits, too.

Ah, but Google is building a new platform, and this is a bit different. Chrome. A browser that is a portal to the web. Is it a good thing to have the company who organizes all of the world’s information online now own the platform that enables every other company to turn information into commerce? Chris said it may be simple Darwinian evolution; maybe in the end, consolidation leads to one giant that makes information flow seamless. But the audience squirmed a bit in their seats.

The end game may be unstoppable. If technology continues to become faster, easier, and more transparent, eventually all data sources will become compatible. Your layout program and writing program and spreadsheet program and email program and bank-tax-finance-video-music-telepathy programs all become commodities, a lingua franca shared by all other software, which creates the need for one system. Just as major nations eventually develop one currency, the Internet-data-software cloud may need only one Google.

This decade may have witnessed more than the birth of an internet giant. We’re welcoming the Matrix. Here’s hoping Google comes in peace.

Book of the year: Clichéonomics

Wired’s big-idea book generator is brilliant. The concept here is that only a few of the thousands of business books published each year break out, so why not follow the formula of best sellers?

1. Create a title-as-theory. Should sound like a bad B movie. Ours will be “The Marketing Zombie from Payback Lagoon.”

2. Give it a subtitle, to explain what you really mean. Ours: “How to Unlock the Transformational Power of the CMO Before She Gets Fired.” This doesn’t have to make sense, but it will have more terms to sound even more important. Also helps if it makes executives squirm in their airplane seats.

3. Write an even more detailed premise to pitch the book, using words such as “dynamic,” “collective,” “profound,” and “previously hidden.” Wired recommends terms such as “tribes” and “the power of unconscious thought.” We’re thinking “The Secret Signals CEOs Send to Marketing Execs Before Calling in HR.” Nice.

You’re done. Send the memo to a publisher, get contract, punch up Word, and jump on stage next to Malcolm Gladwell. You’ve just written the next Big Idea Book. Thanks, Wired.

Why serious pubs such as Harper’s and NYT are getting undressed

Sure, sexual imagery in media has been around for a very long time. Way back in August 1997, the dry-as-dust magazine Harper’s published a cover showing an affluent blonde woman losing her top at a cocktail party, breasts almost exposed. Lewis Lapham may be boring, but we’re sure the editor knew this cover art would boost circulation. All kidding aside, it’s no coincidence Harper’s started writing about sex and drugs at the dawn of the internet.

But now, more recently, we note an almost desperate increase in sexual volume in staid, traditional publications. recently published a cover story dedicated to the, ahem, female derrière. If our mother had caught us reading such a thing when we were 13, we’d still be grounded. The New York Times leads today with a cover story about how the latest women’s fashion exposes underthings. The online NY Times slide show goes on to cover Madonna back in her translucent bra phase. Wired magazine leads this month with cartoon Manga of a pink-headed schoolgirl looking like this:

We’re not prudes, but we can do the math. The New York Times now features 44 bloggers on its blog index, compared to only 43 news content categories on its home page. Some of these are brilliant blogs, such as Freakonomics, but others are merely repackaged op-ed pieces. We don’t see this as a fad or trend. We think the democratization of media has moved off the printing press and is now empowered by individual bloggers with laptops trying to build their own mini-media empires. Some of the new contributors, such as the Huffington Post, will take off and become media vehicles in their own right. Others, such as Seth’s blog or the designer Darryl Ohrt, will find niche audiences that are smaller in numbers, but highly attuned.

Media is moving from a many-to-one to a one-to-many model. This trend will continue, as the input devices get smaller and more mobile, linked into the mass of Internet audiences via Apple iGlass-thingadohickies. The mainstream press is struggling as its audience abandons it for the smaller, more creative, more cutting-edge authors on the blogosphere. Sure, some big news players will survive. But as they try to do so, they’ll leave us with erogenous NY Times features such as NYT’s profile of Madonna looking like this …