The witch hunt surrounding data collection has caused a frenzy among marketers, consumers, and legislators alike—and Acxiom has been at the center of the craze from the very beginning. However, Acxiom Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer Tim Suther pleads for a “non-sensational” data discussion and gives his opinions on Do Not Track and data misconceptions.
Q: A lot of organizations have been under the fire lately for Do Not Track. What’s your take on it?
A: The Do Not Track thing really is incidental for that type of abuse case. We’ll see how all that turns out. No matter how it turns out, I would say both publishers and marketers alike would be well-served to work on directly permissioning data from their customers. If they do that, whether they opt-in or opt-out, guess what? The customer has consciously decided I have a trusted relationship with you.
Q: What are a few rookie mistakes that brands make that lead to the obtainment of poor data instead of rich data?
A: I don’t know whether it’s rookie mistakes, I just think that it might be artifacts of the way that marketing used to be. It used to be that brands had all the power. They controlled distribution, they controlled pricing, they controlled everything. Now with this little device [smartphone], in a store you can access price availability and satisfaction…. I think it’s more that organizations need to adapt to the changed environment where the consumers have all the power. I mean they’re the people that choose how and if they’re going to engage with brands, and what organizations need to do a better job of is knowing that the consumer is boss and doing a better job of collecting information about customers in a responsible way.
Q: What are a few key things organizations need to do to deliver a good customer experience?
A: I’d start with good data. I think the best type of experience is one that’s personalized and relevant and one that has some institutional memory behind it. So many organizations miss the opportunity to be able to connect previous experiences and learn from those previous experiences…. If someone is pissed off or someone’s delighted that’s an important part of the relationship with the customer, and having the ability to remember that and connect it with the next time someone engages with the brand, that’s really an important thing for organizations to do.
Q: Has the fusion of online-offline shopping caused challenges or opportunities for Acxiom?
A: For us as a company, it’s more of an opportunity. For our customers, I think it’s a near-term challenge and perhaps a long-term opportunity…. What it means for retailers is the development of specialized merchandise that’s only available in the store, but more broadly, it means leveraging the totality of information available to you. If customers are going to pull out their smartphones and price check, that means they see this as a device for applications, so why not when they come into the store have your app be lit up and provide helpful hints? If they’re going to be engaged with the app, find a way where you can deliver value and not have that value be exacted by someone else.
Q: Based on your data, have you seen any trends in terms of crossovers between different channels?
A: There’s a natural synergy between email and mobile. They’re both really, really good for CRM-type applications. So we found, as an example, that depending on the shelf-life of your idea, if it’s less than 24 hours, use [mobile]. If it’s more than 24 hours, an email will probably be better. There’s great synergy, of course, between television and search. Many great companies will use television branding to tee up the idea and make sure that their pages are optimized for search so that search catches the demand that television creates. But the truth of the matter is, they’re all interrelated.…The hard problem is: I don’t have an unlimited budget. How do I determine which one of those are really important? That’s why this idea of thinking about how do people actually consume media and what is their likely value is really valuable.
Television is bought on popularity. The reason why people want to put ads on the Super Bowl or Dancing with the Stars or The Voice is because a lot of people watch it. But those aren’t always the people who ultimately buy your product… What you want to do is cost effectively reach the people who want to buy your product… It’s just simply the idea of why don’t we take a data set of tens of millions of real viewers and marry it up against millions of people who’ve actually bought our product and see what it tells us.
Q: What’s a common data misconception that you would like to clear up for our readers?
A: Think about the use of data in a non-sensational way. Let’s know that it’s a tool. The tool can be used for good, and the tool can be used not for good. The more that organizations focus on leveraging all of this information—not to take advantage of customers, but rather to help them live richer lives—the better off they’re going be. I would just like less sensationalism and more balance in the discussion about data. I mean, no one is describing money as evil. You can use money for illegal things.…We don’t do anything about determining whether or not you get credit, whether or not you get insurance, whether or not you get a job. That’s not us.
Q: What has Acxiom been working on lately?
A: We built a whole set of what we describe as syndicated models. So if you think about the CMO’s problem, think of all the ways that she can reach a customer. She can use mass media, she can use direct mail, she can use email, then a whole bunch of social tools, right? [She can] get customers to pin, to like, to follow, to check-in, all of those things. So if you’re a CMO, how do you make sense of all of that? Well, the two basic things that you’re concerned about are: who are the people who have purchasing power over my product and what’s the most efficient way to reach them? So, a lot of these models that we create are meant to answer those questions.
Q: How is the role of the CMO changing?
A: I think there’s an enormous opportunity. It’s kind of funny. If you talk to people who have been in marketing a while, you would find that perhaps their original motivation for getting into marketing was that they heard there would be no math. Now, there’s an opportunity for marketers to be not just the voice of the customer, but to back that up with really rich insight. So, there’s kind of a choice to be made. Yes, the CMO should be the brand steward, should be focused on what’s the ultimate purpose for why we’re doing this, but there’s an opportunity for the marketer to also back this up with rich insights that allow them to efficiently take action on that.