It’s AboutTheData, stupid

About the dataToday (or yesterday by the time I post this), Acxiom released a beta version of a site/service they have called AboutTheData. It’s both a brilliant and relatively simple concept, but certainly the first of it’s kind in the marketing arena. Natasha Singer trailered the service in an article in Sunday’s NY Times. In short, it’s a portal that allows consumers to view some of the data that Acxiom compiles about them, to correct it if they wish to, or to opt out of its use for marketing purposes.

Acxiom bills the service in terms of relevance. The home page splash reads: “If you want to get the best advertising delivered to you, based on your actual interests, start here.” Once you identify yourself — using your name, date-of-birth, address, and last four digits of your social security number — Acxiom will then show you “the data used to fuel many of the marketing offers you receive” from Acxiom clients.

Acxiom divides the data they share into six categories of data: characteristic, home data, vehicle data, economic data, shopping data, household interests.

Here are my thoughts on the concept and execution so far:

  1. It’s an awesome concept. Acxiom gets first mover advantage and moral high(er) ground over its competition. As one of the largest data compilers in the country, this will likely force every competitor’s hand to follow suit.
  2. It’s a decent start. The information provided is by and large clear, mostly accurate — in my case, at least — and the user interface and ease-of-use was carefully designed — no mean feat for a company that has never tried to be a consumer brand.
  3. It shows immense courage. Acxiom provides people the opportunity to opt-out of having their data used by Acxiom and it’s clients. Yes, they explain that opting out will not prevent consumers from seeing ads, it’ll just mean that ads will be less relevant, but still, some consumers will opt out just because they are freaked out! And, to Acxiom’s credit, they don’t hide the opt out form in some dark corner — it’s prominent on every page of the site.
  4. There’s runway for improvement. To be fair, this is a day-old service that’s still in beta, but there are some real opportunities to take this in multiple directions. One area would be the opportunity to add information about yourself. If I really want these relevant messages, let me give you more information about me. Acxiom pegged me as living in a household with an interest in aerobics. While that’s certainly inaccurate, I do enjoy cycling, swimming, scuba diving, golf, kayaking, and a host of other activities that they haven’t tagged me with. Wouldn’t it create even more relevant advertising if I could somehow inform Acxiom of these things. How else do I expect it to improve? With regards to the length of time it takes for changes to take effect, Acxiom updates the information on the screen immediately, but point out that it takes 90 − 120 days for the changes to take place in all systems. While I applaud their honesty, I can’t help but lament the fact that consumers are giving this golden information that might not benefit them for 4 months!
  5. It’s open to backlash. When Acxiom introduced the newly refreshed Infobase-X a few years ago, they heralded the 1,600 elements of data in hundreds of categories. Assuming they still have the same depth and breadth of data, never mind if there’s more, Acxiom is only sharing a fraction of that data with consumers. If consumers start to wonder what else Acxiom knows about them, how much will they be willing to share? And, despite their desire to be pegged as the poster children of transparency, there’s still room for clarity. In explaining where they get their data, one of the sources is “general data from other commercial entities where consumers have been provided notice of how data about them will be used and offered a choice about whether or not to allow those uses.” OK then, that’s clear!

Overall, this is a laudable undertaking. Credit bureaus had to be mandated into providing an annual credit report to consumers for free, but they don’t give the level of detail that Acxiom is sharing voluntarily. Other vendors such as the likes of BlueKai have offered something along these lines for some time, but it’s anonymous data based on browser activity. It certainly doesn’t know who you are, validated with the last four digits of your social security number (one more potential area of backlash might be when consumers question how Acxiom knows the last four digits of their social).

I expect this initiative to have a significant ripple effect across the marketing and data ecosystem. How can you prepare?

  • Prepare to make the data that you have about your customers available to them. There’s no reason to believe that this will remain a data broker/compiler phenomenon. If I as a consumer can find out from Acxiom what they know about me, why wouldn’t I expect to find out the same from my bank, my favorite shopping destinations, my cellphone company, my insurance company, etc.
  • Think hard about the value that you deliver to customers. If you can’t explain it and describe it; yet you end up showing them all the data you have about them, prepare to lose access to it.
  • If you’re going to send people to your privacy policy as justification or explanation for the data that you capture and what you do with it, make sure it could be read and understood by an average person.
  • If you do go down this road and provide visibility into your data, treat customer access as an engagement. Use it as an opportunity to update other preferences — how often do they like to be contacted? In which media/channels? With what types of information?

Just when you thought it couldn’t get more interesting, the world of marketing data just experienced what might prove to be a tectonic shift. Buckle up and ride the ripples!

Cheers,

Dave

Comments

  1. Great note, Dave. It got me to head over and check out my profile. One of the things that you didn’t mention here, but is a bit of hidden brilliance of this, is that they are providing the consumer the ability to fix the inaccuracies (of which I saw many on myself) of the data that they have. I applaud them for their transparency here, it is the right move.

    JPH

    • customerhelix says:

      Thanks Jeff! I did mention that “In short, it’s a portal that allows consumers to view some of the data that Acxiom compiles about them, to correct it if they wish to, or to opt out of its use for marketing purposes (emphasis added)”, but you’re right, I didn’t emphasize it and it’s absolutely a key feature, and frankly a major reason why consumers might actually be willing to engage. Thanks for the feedback!
      Dave

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