Is The Only Independent Offline Matching Company Off The Market?

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acxiom liverampMatching offline data with online data is a key element to getting what marketers like to call “the 360-degree view of the customer.”

That’s the core component of LiveRamp’s business, which is why it had such close relationships with data marketing companies. The sponsor list for its 2014 RampUp conference is a who’s who of data giants. They include (among others) BlueKai, Epsilon, Experian Marketing Services, Google, [x+1], Datalogix and, of course, Acxiom.

If all goes as planned, Acxiom will own LiveRamp by mid-summer. When this happens, the only independent offline matching company – meaning the only truly neutral offline matching company – will be off the market.

Numerous industry watchers – all speaking off the record – questioned whether Acxiom’s stated commitment to maintain LiveRamp’s neutral openness is a realistic long-term goal. Although Acxiom CEO Scott Howe emphasized his commitment toward this end (he told AdExchanger, “We’re telling the world we’ll be open and neutral and if it requires we get an auditor in here every year to confirm that we’re living up to our policies, we’ll do that.”), the ad tech community is skeptical.

Howe stated Acxiom’s goal is to become a data infrastructure provider for the entire marketing community, such that its current competitors (like Epsilon) become clients.

In a prepared statement, Epsilon SVP of online solutions Eric Stein said, “We have been in touch with LiveRamp leadership and we’ve been reassured that they will continue as an independent platform so they can work with partners like Epsilon. Our focus remains on full-service execution on behalf of our clients by leveraging our people, our data, our experience and our unsurpassed know-how.”

Yet one source pointed out that Acxiom is eventually going to decide whether the revenue it gets from being a neutral data infrastructure provider is preferable to the competitive advantage it will achieve by restricting LiveRamp to its own data platform, Audience Operating System (AOS) – one that competes with the likes of BlueKai, [x+1], Adobe, Turn and anyone else who happens to own a data-management platform (DMP). After all, Howe – speaking with AdExchanger – said it’s “to be determined” whether LiveRamp will continue to exist as its own product or whether it will become an integrated feature within AOS.

And once LiveRamp clients feel Acxiom moving in, they will likely start looking for alternatives. As other sources pointed out, as long as it’s business as usual, data marketing solutions providers will continue working with LiveRamp. But they are antsy and a few are starting to consider different options.

The problem: There aren’t many different options. LiveRamp alternatives in cross-device matching include Tapad and Drawbridge. But cross-device is a new area for LiveRamp and it’s not why Acxiom bought it. Acxiom bought LiveRamp because of its offline data onboarding capabilities. And here, the selections are limited to Neustar, Datalogix and a WPP-owned shop called I-Behavior.

Moreover, Neustar and Datalogix offer fuller services (and some claim that much of Datalogix’s offline-online matching capabilties stem from LiveRamp technology), whereas LiveRamp offers a specific feature.

While Neustar, for instance, can perform the core onboarding capability that LiveRamp has, its value proposition goes beyond that utility, said Yosha Ulrich-Sturmat, Neustar's VP of product marketing.

"We don’t consider LiveRamp a competitor," Ulrich-Sturmat said. "Not at all. We consider them a good partner in the ad ecosystem that delivers a very valuable service."

LiveRamp, he said, focuses on onboarding offline data and aligning that with cookies to extend one's digital reach. Neustar "focuses on the identity layer and going beyond cookie-based – which is what LiveRamp has today," Ulrich-Sturmat added. "We kind of play in different areas."

One source from a LiveRamp partner, when asked if the data onboarding company had any competitors, simply said: "No."

Onboarding offline data isn’t unique in and of itself – Facebook, Yahoo and eBay all provide services. But they don’t offer them a la carte. LiveRamp did, and for the moment continues to do so. But should Acxiom decide to put restrictions on LiveRamp – and that’s still an "if" – there seems little recourse for data marketing companies.

The most effected would likely be Epsilon, which declined to comment beyond the statement it provided. But a source said that Epsilon doesn’t have its own cookie and much of its match data is held on the LiveRamp domain. By mid-summer, that could very well be the Acxiom domain.

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