Marketing’s frontier is in the transaction

John Meyer, the chief executive of global data and marketing firm Acxiom explains to DMNews’ editor-in-chief, Carol Krol, how his firm thrived despite a recession.

Q. What are the biggest opportunities you see for marketers today that they may or not be taking advantage of?

A. I think that traditional marketing people growing up in the agency world attribute more value to slogans and colors than there should be. If you think about the marketing function, it’s probably the last bastion inside the corporate world where people are willing to spend money without return on investment.

Marketing is about to move out of the stage of hiding in the closet, where you know you need to spend money, into the stage where once you do, you can actually prove what you got for it.

Q. Is it possible that some of these companies are so awash in data that they almost have too much data to consider? Are they not harnessing the right data?

A. I’m not sure. Most corporations today are organized around products and not the customer. When you go into an enterprise, you will see that. A bank has a credit card customer database; a mortgage client database; a retail client database. Very few of them have a place where they‘ve got a 360-view of their customer. When you think about it from a finance industry perspective where someone’s asking you to increase their credit limit on a credit card, and you don’t even know if that same customer is defaulting on their mortgage.

It’s only because you haven’t orchestrated your customer data to get that viewpoint. I actually just think that people are organized around their products versus being organized around their customers.

Q. Are they being forced more and more to change that outlook because the customer has so much control now—being on Facebook and talking about the brand—are they going to be forced into it?

A. It depends on whether they want to keep operating in silos, as opposed to operating a full business. If they want to be operating and taking advantage of each one of the strengths that each one of their different product lines have to cross-sell to the next product line, they have to get a central view of the customer. The next frontier for our industry is the ability, in addition to demographic information, to bring in transaction information. With the combination of those two things, over time, we’ll be able to say, here’s what you would likely do next.

Q. You have traditionally been known as a database marketing company, but now your message is that you’re a global interactive marketing company. What changed?

A. The first thing I wanted people to understand is that our target audience is the multi-nationals. Our capability to satisfy them in multiple geographies is an advantage that we have that very few other firms do.

As I was talking about those other companies that operate in silos, we operate in silos too. We didn’t take the learnings from one industry to another industry. We thought it was very important for people to start realizing how big the world is and that we can satisfy multinationals around the globe.

Interactive is around the multichannel opportunity, or problem. It’s no longer about one touch point with the consumer; it’s about the multiple touch points and being able to send the same message. It’s about discovering what channel people want to receive those messages in; it depends on the product and the time you’re sending it. Once you’re able to manage all those channels, and know why a client wants to act with those channels, the data can predict what they do next.

Q. Like TV dayparts.

A. Exactly. 

Q. What effect did the economy have on Acxiom last year?

A. The biggest, most dramatic impact on us is we had some clients that liquidated. Bankruptcies are usually not a problem because we run customers’ databases and they want us to keep running them because they need to be close to their customers.

But companies like WAMU and HSBC, and Circuit City—they were big customers of ours—and they just disappeared. One day they were customers, and the next day they weren’t in business. Those were big chunks of revenue that just disappeared. The fixed price portions of our contract where we manage people’s databases stayed intact.

Because we’re the ones that help you sort through the database, augmented with some of our information, we help you target who you want to reach. Then [we] either facilitate that by passing off tasks to the fulfillment shops, or do the fulfillment ourselves for an [e-mail] marketing campaign or text message campaign. In the recession, a lot of that went away. People knew they needed to keep their customer database; they didn’t feel like they needed to do as many marketing efforts and marketing campaigns. 

We needed to implement some changes inside Acxiom, and the recession gave us the opportunity for our employee base, and our customer base, to acknowledge that things could and should be different.

We’ve tried to streamline some of our technical direction to where we used to have five operating systems and the client didn’t care, we just never did the work to get it down to one or two.

Q. Because you bolt it on, and bolt it on, and bolt it on.

A. Exactly, and nobody ever cleaned up behind it. When you’re growing so fast you don’t care what’s going on in the furnace room; you’re just trying to digest the stuff as fast as possible. A recession gives you the chance to step back and look and say, the furnace room needs help. We’re a better company coming out of this.

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