Experian Marketing: What We’re Best At

“Why did we divest in cross-channel marketing? To go to the core of what we do. We’re a data entity.” 

Kevin Dean, president and GM of Targeting at Experian, was explaining the re-focusing which aligned with Experian Marketing Services’ divestment of its cross-channel marketing business which re-launched as Cheetah Digital in June. It was clear to me that Experian remains active in marketing services: I wanted to understand the global information business’s focus under the new dispensation.

Dean offered a simple distinction. If Targeting is a data entity, Cheetah Digital is a technology company, he explained. “Am I going to focus on data, or am I going to focus on technology? We’re best at data, so we’ll do that. Cheetah Digital is on the right path to grow.”

Cheetah Digital does remain an important strategic partner of Experian. Indeed, the Targeting web page links prominently to Cheetah Digital as its cross-channel marketing partner. (Experian retains a 25% stake in Cheetah Digital, and Experian CEO Brian Cassin became a founding board member of the new company.)

“We all sat down and asked, ‘What is the Targeting business?'” said Dean. Three core elements emerged:

  • Identity: “We’re all about making sure we have a complete identity chart across the US population.”
  • Descriptive data: Demographic and other data appended to the profiles in the identity chart.
  • Activation: Ensuring that the vast volume of identity data can be efficiently activated by media partners, whether programmatic advertisers or ESPs — like Cheetah Digital.

I asked whether Experian was now out of the activation/execution space. By no means. “We have a managed service desk,” said Dean. “We will execute campaigns, buy media, report daily on metrics.” But if the core — that word again — of the Targeting business is data, does that make it a DMP?

“Probably not,” said Dean, “although we do often get lumped into that category. The Experian audience engine, he conceded, is a “direct match” DMP — in other words, it offers deterministic or confirmed data profiles; it’s less concerned with probabilistic data matching — the speculative appending of likely attributes to profiles: it’s not cookie-driven to the extent a “pure play” DMP like Blue Kai can be. The problem with the term “DMP,” Dean said, “is that it’s both a static and a fluid concept.” 

Put positively, what Experian Targeting does for brands and agencies is build audience segments, activate them, and measure the results. Requests come for defined segments, not just in the U.S., but in England, Scotland, and Ireland (“or Brazil,” said Dean). “Absolutely — we already have them. We have global reach.”

Some vendors say that big data players today are effectively sitting on the same big data-set, and differentiating through the quality of services derived from it. Dean was unreceptive to the claim: “It concerns me,” he said, “that the myth is out there that all the data is…” He paused. “There are two fundamental things: Scalability and reach. On both those axes, we win hands down.”

Despite the strong ongoing relationship, Experian is not tied to Cheetah Digital as its cross-channel partner. “We have several ESP partners,” Dean said, and will work with Cheetah Digital’s competitors when clients require it. Similarly, Cheetah Digital can, of course, ingest non-Experian audiences.

In addition to scalability and reach, Dean references accuracy. “We gather data, we interrogate. It has to be the right data, with proof of identity.” That’s what Experian does, and Dean will tell you, it’s what Experian remains best at.

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