As Competition Heats Up, Experian Marketing Services Sees Agencies As An Untapped Opportunity

About 18 months ago, data services provider Experian Marketing Services sought a new line of business: agencies.

Given Experian’s legacy in marketing data, that seems relatively recent. But Kevin Dean, president and GM of targeting at Experian, has an explanation: “The advent of programmatic and addressability has created an environment where brands are as interested in data-driven marketing as traditional direct marketers.”

Of course, that newish opportunity for Experian is also an opportunity for Acxiom, Epsilon and other data services providers. Experian argues that its focus on data quality and coverage sets it above its peers. Experian’s peers say the same about themselves.

But Experian has doubled down on that messaging, pointing to its proprietary ConsumerView data set to validate its identity matching, and at its nine-month-old partnership with Neustar, which provides data onboarding services, as yet another competitive differentiator.

Dean spoke with AdExchanger about Experian’s data linkage capabilities and its work in the agency world.

AdExchanger: Epsilon/Conversant and Acxiom/LiveRamp have also bulked up on their linking abilities. How do you evaluate yourself compared to the new competitive landscape?

KEVIN DEAN: At Experian, we are truly agnostic. We aren’t trying to sell you our own onboarding system. Acxiom and Epsilon have their strengths in market, but when it comes to scale and operability, we have no peer.

What does it mean to be agnostic when it comes to data onboarding?

When a client wants us to onboard their first-party data, we certainly have a preferred partnership with Neustar, but if they want us to use LiveRamp, that’s not a problem for us. We will go where the client wants us to go. If you have that same conversation with Acxiom, I’m not sure if they’ll give you the exact same answer.

What’s the difference between Neustar’s onboarding and LiveRamp’s onboarding? 

The Experian-Neustar partnership was driven off a belief that the identities being linked are too loosely defined. We believe in people-based matching, so there’s a person behind the link that’s created. Our singular truth set, ConsumerView, is the basis off of which our matches are created, so we’ll have a higher-quality match and higher volume.

Data quality is a big concern these days. How do you prove that?

It starts with where you’re sourcing the data. We can certainly go to every publisher and buy their supply, but if we can’t verify where it’s sourced, we won’t bring it into our data asset. We go to publishers and retailers directly and know that their privacy policies and such are consistent with our views.

How long does it take you to evaluate all of that? Seems like a tremendous process.

It can be. But we’ve been compiling data assets for 30, 40 years. And that’s not created off one or two data sources. So sourcing identities for onboarding is not very different from that. It’s multiple relationships with multiple publishers and retailers.

How do you evaluate match rates? Is there a standard that’s “good,” or is it too variable depending on the circumstances?

It’s too variable. It starts with the client definition of what they believe the match should be.

You said your recent work with agencies were “fruitful.” Are your data relationships with agencies ever exclusive, where you’re the sole provider, or are you usually one of many?

It’s less about the agency and more about the brand. What does the brand want?

So right now, the brands bring you in?

Certainly, agencies bring us in, but not a lot of agencies come in and say, ‘This is the data provider for everyone.’ There is, however, a race to that point. The marketplace just isn’t there yet.

Do you reach out at the holding company level or lower?

We start at the regional level before going to the holding company level. We’ve found we’re more successful there.

Why is that?

It’s easier to navigate, and we have contacts that let us in there easier than the holding company.

Did you not have to change up the nature of your offerings to accommodate brand marketing rather than direct response?

We did not. We added, based on the feedback we got from brands and agencies.

What was that feedback?

We traditionally go to market assuming the buyer is an expert in the data-driven economy as well. We’ve simplified that messaging and related it directly to a client’s use case, so it’s less about product names and more about use cases.

What’s the difference between working with agencies versus brands?

Brands tend to be more focused on a marketing outcome. Agencies are focused on complete totality of what we’re going to deliver. It’s a nuanced difference.

What was the biggest surprise dealing with agencies?

The agencies’ initially thought we were there to disintermediate their spend and get in the way of their brand relationship. We’ve taken pains to prove we’re not doing that. We want to help them be successful with the brand.

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