Scott Howe, Chief Executive of Acxiom
I love companies that take a challenge and invert it to improve the brand.
In 2012, The New York Times called Acxiom the quiet giant of a multibillion-dollar industry known as database marketing, an industry the Times said “knows who you are, where you live, what you do — one that peers deeper into American life than the F.B.I. or the I.R.S., or those prying digital eyes at Facebook and Google.”
It’s an industry that can aggregate and analyze big data and compile a fascinating, perfect profile of any one consumer. We share important details about ourselves online every day: Our age, gender, race, height, weight, education level, financial worth, political leanings, marital status, purchasing habits, health concerns, vacation aspirations, and so on. Is it naïve to expect that this personal data is not being captured and marketed? Or that it would be wrong to do so? Some privacy advocates think so.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting with marketing professionals at Advo, a large Connecticut-based competitor that was acquired by Valassis. A few years ago, IridiumGroup led a rebranding of another competitor held by Hearst Corporation, CDS Global, so I’ve had some experience with large data management operations. We specialize in services for this industry and other business solutions companies, serving clients such as LexisNexis and in the past, Thomson Reuters.
IT — specifically marketing services — is an industry fraught with a complex public image challenge. How can a company win the hearts of a general audience when their value model dictates that they collect and sell the consumer data that we so willingly share? Recent news about the N.S.A. and its antagonist Edward Snowden have only served to aggravate and escalate the privacy discussion.
Acxiom, the company that has amassed the world’s largest commercial database on consumers, has at times been viewed as the dark, secretive leader of customer data brokerage. Can it repair such a negative perception? Well, it’s making a smart start. With a nod to impending privacy regulations, Acxiom is taking the lead on a new trend: Transparency.
This week, Acxiom will launch Aboutthedata.com, a free website where consumers can view some of the information the company has collected about them, according to Scott Howe, its CEO. Visitors to the site can also correct erroneous data, view sources where it was acquired, or opt out altogether, preventing Acxiom from retaining data about them.
Mr. Howe is ambivalent about unpredictable reactions to the new site, noting that consumers could easily fictionalize their data, change their age, modify income or personal wealth. “It’s a little bit of a risk,” he said. “But I feel it’s the right thing to do.”
Aboutthedata.com is a work in progress. Acxiom aims to continue adding features and functions, and may even eventually ask people for more information in exchange for special services, free subscriptions or discounts.
It’s a savvy move on multiple counts. Whether the company is working to beat Federal regulators to the punch, improve its brand image, or create another channel to source new information and correct existing data, no one ever went wrong by listening to the customer.
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Tags: acxiom, Big Data, brand image, customer data, customer experience, marketing information, privacy, privacy concerns
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