Acxiom and Identity

Acxiom, the publicly traded data broker, recently announced two acquisitions - Arbor and Circulate. Neither of these companies were very large, the total outlay for both combined was $140M, yet they show Acxiom's continued momentum building a true identity-based competitor to Facebook, Google, and Verizon.

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In our side of the business, we rarely discuss data players in much depth, so it's worth taking a minute to discuss who Acxiom is. Headquartered in Arkansas, the company is nearly 50 years old. Acxiom started in the days of direct mail, phone calls, and market research. In the past several years, it has moved forcefully into the digital space by merging its huge traditional data business with online identity tools. The company maintains huge records of offline behaviors, including credit card purchases, medical conditions that it can legally access or infer, deeply detailed demographic information along with online records - often linked through credit card numbers, email addresses or other deterministic-ish data sources. Their acquisition of LiveRamp only furthered the push into unifying disparate digital data sources into a holistic understanding of the customer. (Many have concerns about some Acxiom business practices, but this is beyond the scope of this discussion. Feel free to read more here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/technology/acxiom-the-quiet-giant-of-consumer-database-marketing.html and https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2014/05/ftc-recommends-congress-require-data-broker-industry-be-more).

LiveRamp is a platform that allows entities to move data between partners. For example, if a company has a CRM with its customer data, it can use LiveRamp to upload that data and sync it to its partners by understanding the user IDs of the various partners (e.g. ad networks, Facebook, etc) and pushing the data to be available in all of those systems. This even means that if you're an offline company, you might be able to use credit card purchases of your customers, sync those with LiveRamp's ability to tie credit card numbers to online identities, and create a targetable pool of users online. So whatever your data is, and whatever identity key you have for that data (e.g. telephone numbers), as long as LiveRamp also has that identity key, that data can be used wherever through the LiveRamp system. This is valuable for marketing to those customers, licensing this data out, or enhancing various other data attributes. And, of course, Acxiom's extensive and valuable data can be matched and distributed through the same mechanism.

LiveRamp recently announced the acquisitions of Arbor and Circulate. Both companies were focused on mobile with similar missions. Both offered publishers recurring revenue based on their logged-in users - without publishers adding additional advertising to their sites. Users often provide some form of ID for email updates or other login purposes. These are then synced offline with Arbor / Circulate, and matched - often focusing on device ID as a main key. In effect, Arbor and Circulate were beginning to recreate LiveRamp's CRM connectivity offering, but designed for a mobile-first world (so adding things like location that hadn't been as important for LiveRamp). They had established a combined ~250 publisher relationships. While their revenue was limited - $5M combined, estimated for 2017 - they presented a growing thread to LiveRamp's CRM matching hegemony.

As Google and Facebook create closed silos of data, LiveRamp has created a very open mechanism to move and understand data. That said, with Google and Facebook, users have some understanding that their data may be tied to marketing data. Most consumers have no idea that Acxiom / LiveRamp exists, nor that when they enter their email into a form they are creating a persistent link for their identity to a device. The opt-out mechanism is hard to understand because the device provider is hard to trace. Thus, while their open platform is generally good for marketers - it is significantly more likely to be regulated than either Facebook or Google's opt-in systems (you do have to agree to their terms of service, regardless of whether you read them).