Google and Acxiom Make Lemonade Out of Lemons

People like to talk Big Data these days. Never mind the fact that most examples marketers give when they talk about “Big Data”—their “millions of emails in a month”—aren’t actually Big Data examples (save for talk of Google, Amazon, MSN and the Big Data giants). Targeted data is generating more talk, more concern and, of course, better results for everyone than ever before. What’s really important to marketers who actually are leveraging big (and personalized) data is the fact that now it’s on the radar.

Data has taken on a nebulous role among consumers—we all know it’s there, but we don’t know exactly where or what it’s doing. The NSA debacle really put consumers in a fish bowl, and marketers on the spot, feeling constantly watched and unsure of the reasoning or benefits. Every now and then, Big Data taps on the glass as a reminder it’s there, maybe drops a few flakes on us in the form of a well-timed email, a sale on our favorite item in a store we just happen to be a block away from, or some other offer aimed to feed us what we want. So far so good—if you happen to be Facebook or Google. Relevance, after all, is the name of the game for consumers who want better experiences and companies who want revenue lifts. But that’s changing.

This increased scrutiny is putting pressure on the data-rich companies. You may have seen that Google is reportedly now looking at massive changes to cookies. This would change the Web strategies of, well, the entire Internet display advertising industry. And that’s just to start.

But talk of Google addressing cookies, retargeting, and how information is collected and used is a great opportunity for brands to take a stance with their customers with respect to their data. It opens the door for reevaluation and adjustment no matter what the company does.

In another important development, Acxiom, lest it get trapped in regulation that would hurt its ability to gather and sell hugely telling personal data, just built a potential escape hatch that the entire marketing industry should pay attention to because it reveals the two key factors that will help keep useful data available and consumers happy. It’s transparency and consumer involvement.

Both attributes are on display as driving factors in Acxiom’s In it, the company is not only giving consumers access to their own data, but the ability to update it. So if your profile shows you as someone who likes football but last season’s playoffs broke your heart irreparably, you can update that interest to, say, roller derby. Maybe your profile shows you have three kids when, in fact, you have four. Hey, Mr. Customer, help us clean up inaccuracies in our database!

By taking a proactively transparent stance, Acxiom will hope to earn a hall pass from regulators— or at least be invited to the brainstorming session on legislation likely to impact both itself and the broader industry. You know, making lemonade from an otherwise sour pile of lemons.

While every click, every moment on the television, every check-in to a favorite location does generate data that can be useful to marketers—and presumably to consumers—tracking that behavior doesn’t have to be such a game of hide-and-seek. Consumers are regularly accepting this on Facebook, on location-enabled devices and so forth. They know what they’re getting into, they see the benefits, and they opt in. What’s important is that they have a choice and that the “data marketing industry” can strike a healthy balance between relevance and good old fashioned respect to the consumer. It really doesn’t have to be so hard.

Mike Caccavale is CEO of Pluris Marketing and an expert in cross-channel offer optimization.

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