Acxiom Ramps Up Its Positioning Around Data Infrastructure

scott-howe-acxiom-newThere have been some significant organizational shifts within Acxiom in recent years.

While the company was mostly known as a seller of third-party data sets – at least, by lawmakers in Washington – or as a builder of large, complex databases, Acxiom now wants to be considered a data infrastructure provider. That is, it wants to be the pipes that let its clients shoot data back and forth to power their marketing initiatives.

Under CEO Scott Howe, Acxiom doubled down on that goal in mid-2013, when it launched Audience Operating System, and made another big bet one year later when it bought the data onboarder LiveRamp. Since then, Acxiom has merged the two technologies into a single offering called Connectivity.

Connectivity, which makes up one prong of Acxiom’s three-prong structure (the other two are marketing services and audience solutions), is the focal point for Tuesday's RampUp conference in San Francisco.

“Our Acxiom business is trying to become more like LiveRamp: neutral and agnostic,” Howe said. “In some respects, we’re a giant dating service, allowing everyone to meet each other and have a romance.”

He noted how Acxiom’s data division, audience solutions, sells data from 20 different suppliers as well as its own. “And for marketing services, we’re not an agency. We’re not going to be Harte Hanks or Merkle. We’re not competing with Publicis or WPP.”

Howe spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Doesn’t the argument that Acxiom is kind of an agency make some sense since it does some executions with, say, email?

SCOTT HOWE: It’s so small. Call it 60 million bucks. But [Ad Age does the] rankings by looking at the overall revenue. They don’t look at LiveRamp or our database solutions. So we get ranked for reasons that are hard to justify. WPP has all agency revenue.

In terms of the Connectivity product, what still needs to happen?

Three things, all with equal billing. One: Improve usability. Everything should be really simple and intuitive. The LUMAscape is overwhelming. We need to take that confusion away. Activating partners should be as easy as sliding a switch. Activating data should be literally turnkey.

Two: Building out the application network. We need the activation of partners to be super simple. We’re turnkey with 250-plus applications. We need that to be 1,000 or 2,000.

Three: Improving match rate recognition. We have high recognition in online, but no one has good recognition in mobile. Someday I’d like to be at 80% recognition in every channel. That’s a very aspirational goal.

Let’s talk match rate aspirations. How do you get there?

We want to maximize deterministic. If you want 100% certainty, you have to be deterministic. That’s about maximizing the number of match partnerships we have. That’s matching events – part of that is paid, part of that is partnerships, part of that is creating co-ops. Those help forge those deterministic matches.

If you’re a financial services marketer dealing with FCRA or a health care provider dealing with HIPPA or a toy manufacturer dealing with COPPA, you have to have deterministic matches. The penalty for getting it wrong is significant. If you’re a retailer, you may not care as much because if you can’t identify who you’re serving the ad to, you just serve a control ad.

You mentioned that LiveRamp powered $122 million in gross media spend last quarter, up 66% YoY. Where is all that coming from?

It’s in the hundreds of millions on an annualized basis, and it’s coming from a lot of places. Surprisingly, one of the fastest growth areas is long-tail. These are small companies going to Facebook and launching their first ever display campaign. Last year we had about 10,000 campaigns active from small startups that had suddenly discovered the combination of targeting and the self-serve interface.

I didn’t think you guys had much SMB business.

We’re not the ones selling it. It’s Facebook and Salesforce and Adobe who are driving adoption because they’re serving those clients.

Where else is that media spend coming from?

The second would be major sophisticated advertisers, some of whom are working through Acxiom and many of whom aren’t. They’re clients of Merkle or Epsilon or they’re using the Adobe stack. Those partners use LiveRamp to power those media services.

And the third is agencies. That’s still early stage. We have relationships with Starcom and Digitas. With Starcom, every quarter the number is getting bigger. It’s up 100% compared to a year ago. But we’re completely underpenetrated with agencies today.

We haven’t heard much about the Starcom partnership since Acxiom announced it in December 2013. What’s going on there?

With Starcom in particular, one thing we’re most excited about going forward is television. They are one of the largest buyers of television. To the extent we can help them buy television in an addressable way, that could unlock significant additional spending from agencies. As much as we talk about online, the vast majority of most agency spend comes from traditional TV.

Regarding television, you made the big play with Allant Group’s assets

That’s not big. That’s very small.

How would you place that deal within Acxiom’s greater strategy around TV?

It’s a smaller version of what we did with LiveRamp. When we bought LiveRamp, we had an equal-sized business with AOS. When we pushed the two together, it more than doubled our scale.

Through the purchase of Allant, we’ve doubled the number of addressable campaigns we’re managing, along with enhancing our capabilities and publisher relationships. At the time of the acquisition, we had strong relationships with a handful of cable and satellite television providers. Allant had a great relationship with Comcast.

But in the spirit of full disclosure, it’s still so early.


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