Big Data Fail

Big data has failed me. Like every right-minded person I bought the argument that world peace would be achieved, or at least that my life would be immeasurably better as a result of all those clever algorithms. Yet somehow I am still bombarded by unimaginable crap every day – and this crap is not just annoying it is startlingly, professionally irrelevant.

Here is a selection of a few days’ worth of emails to me at Brian Jacobs and Associates. To be clear, these are all verbatims purportedly from named individuals (a big hello to Jane, Judith and Diane) and sent to my business, which is visible online, and not my private address which I do my best to keep hidden:

• “Telemarketing is one of the most cost effective methods of driving your sales forward, providing Brian Jacobs & Associates Ltd with an impressive ROI”
• “Compared to stamp prices, you can save substantially with franked mail”
• “If any employees at Brian Jacobs & Associates Ltd use a car on a regular basis for work, you could benefit from increased safety with Vehicle Tracking”
• “Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) systems are a modern day alternative to till systems, allowing you to quickly scan items and helping Brian Jacobs & Associates Ltd to operate more efficiently with a touch screen device”
• “If Brian Jacobs & Associates Ltd doesn’t accept card payments you could be missing out on potential sales”
• “Glad to know you’re on the market for plastic molds..”

All bar one of these (the last one, my personal favourite, if only for the use of the word ‘on’ coupled with the mis-spelling of ‘moulds’) come from the same address, compare@markethub.

For goodness sake, Markethub have you never heard of big data? Have you considered the ROI opportunities open to of using the simplest filters to work out that a) we like to think we know about telemarketing; b) that we are not a major user of post; c) that we do not have a nationwide sales team; and d) that we are not a retailer? Did no-one look at our website?

No, of course not because compare@markethub is an automated junk email generator spewing out irrelevant garbage every day to random addresses in the forlorn hope that some idiot somewhere will try to unsubscribe (as I did) and thus prove that there is a real person at the other end. No people are involved (surely?).

There is a serious point to be made here. We assume that just because the technology exists people will use it; and just because the theory sounds great it will work in practice.

Markethub may be a bunch of un-manned algorithms determined to drive me to the brink of insanity but someone has convinced someone else that theirs is a formula that works in some way or at some level; otherwise why bother? It may all be nonsense (I’m not going to make the same mistake twice and interact with their ‘offers’ in any way to find out), but it’s still nasty nonsense.

Furthermore it’s fully automated, programmatic (‘we have a way of targeting small businesses’) nasty nonsense, untouched by human hand. People can make mistakes but I would like to think that even the dimmest would improve Markethub.

Cut out the people at your peril is the message. Machines may be clever but they’re not that clever.


  1. Ah, I see your error. You have assumed that Big Data would improve your life. Big Data is meant to improve the life of companies. The objective of Markethub is not to make sure the individual is OK with what is going on bt rather that Market hub can show a good ROI and if you get steamrolled in the process, tough!

  2. I have a nasty suspicion that that this should be linked to your previous blogs – “BIG DATA” sounds good and cutting edge but does it deliver? All in an era when agencies are flogging stuff and backhanding other stuff to cover costs and make (increasingly impressive) money…
    I genuinely believe in the concepts behind it but question much of the business rationale for implementation in half-baked delivery!

  3. The marketing director of Barclays–back when Customer Relationship Management was the way to waste money chasing moonbeams– pointed out that although he’d been married for 25 years, and despite all the 24 hour availability of ‘relevant Touchpoints’ that gave him, he still had no idea what his wife wanted for Xmas.
    ‘Big Data’ is just the latest way to sell IT to credulous marketing people.

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