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Such was the case with LiveRamp, the onboarder who recently consummated its $310 million marriage to data services giant Acxiom, resulting in last week’s birth of LiveRamp Connect. This gene pool mingling means Acxiom’s data platform, Audience Operating System (AOS), and LiveRamp’s core capability no longer exist independently, turning the company’s RampUp conference Thursday in Santa Clara, Calif., into a coming out party. But what is LiveRamp exactly, and what is its role in the ad and marketing tech ecosystem? Its description as a “data onboarder” is dry enough to choke on, which belies its importance in digital advertising. LiveRamp is not the only company that onboards data – though many that offer the capability tend to rely on LiveRamp. Third-party data company Datalogix, for instance, resells LiveRamp’s onboarding solutions in conjunction with its own services. But even onboarders that don’t resell LiveRamp have different strengths and weaknesses, depending on the type of data that needs to be activated on different media properties across different devices. “Each has very different unique sets of characteristics that make some things really accurate with one partner and other things not very accurate with other partners,” said a marketer from a major retailer that has worked with LiveRamp for nearly a decade. The marketer spoke on condition of anonymity. Neustar for instance does onboarding via its Targus acquisition, but insiders indicate that while Neustar prioritizes reach its accuracy is significantly lower than LiveRamp’s. While reach has its place (and marketers needn’t confine themselves working with only one onboarder), accuracy is increasingly important as digital marketing matures. “Right now, people don’t understand how inaccurate the [digital] ecosystem is,” a source said. “When you buy an audience on the data exchange, you have no way of knowing whether it’s right or wrong.” Meanwhile, eXelate and the Oracle division formerly known as BlueKai also do data linkages, but they’re both limited to cookie matching. Because LiveRamp’s data linkage runs deeper than syncing cookies, it can connect online data with offline data, first-party data with third-party data, known customers with anonymous Internet browsers. “The eXelates and BlueKais of the world don’t have PII [personally identifiable information], just cookies,” the marketer said. “And if you don’t have PII, you can’t bring offline data online.” Much of LiveRamp’s ability in this arena comes from its many business relationships. It has about 200 direct clients – most of them brands – buying its onboarding capabilities and about 130 integration partners like MediaMath and Pandora. So if a brand wants to find its online customers who bought in-store, it can use one of those integration points to hook a first-party CRM file to a demand-side platform (DSP). The relationship is symbiotic. Integration partners want to connect with LiveRamp because advertisers work with them. “We don’t want any friction in terms of transacting with Pandora,” said Jack Krawczyk, Pandora’s director of product management. Conversely, advertisers like LiveRamp because it connects to numerous buy-side technologies. “The biggest thing is the partnerships these guys have struck with the different demand-side platforms,” the marketer said, adding that these relationships are important because most businesses will never buy media in-house. Brands like Kimberly-Clark or Allstate are exceptions. “Besides the top few people, everyone will use a demand-side platform, which is a third party,” the marketer said. Of course, every data-management platform is built to onboard data, segment it, and activate it on DSPs, same as LiveRamp save for one difference: LiveRamp can enable the building of offline segments. Only a handful of other onboarders can connect data from known users to anonymous online consumers – and the above retail marketer’s company partners with a handful of them. But none of these companies focus on data onboarding. “The capability to onboard across multiple partners is a technology/execution problem,” the marketer said. “We even do it. It’s just not our core business.” This makes data connection options both insular and limited. “It’s onboarding only into one application to do, say, targeting,” said LiveRamp sales VP James Arra. LiveRamp now hopes to extend its relationships beyond the usual ad tech players. Its connection to Acxiom, for instance, gives LiveRamp access to premium publishers, addressable TV companies and Facebook. “AOS had a tremendous amount of strength in those areas,” said Arra. “LiveRamp historically hasn’t been that strong in those areas. We had a few premium publishers we’re connected to, but nothing close to what Acxiom had.” That’s where LiveRamp’s marketer client sees the benefit: “As part of Acxiom, it’ll be important for LiveRamp to leverage the partnerships Acxiom has struck, but change the execution to the LiveRamp execution, which has not come to the Acxiom partnership yet.” LiveRamp co-founder and Acxiom’s SVP of product, Travis May, anticipates the full integration – onboarding all LiveRamp and AOS clients onto the hybrid LiveRamp Connect platform – will be completed by March 15. “AOS customers get increased scale and programmatic partnerships,” he said. “LiveRamp customers can send data to top media platforms and addressable TV.” As LiveRamp gets absorbed more fully, however, will this worry companies that compete with Acxiom in data-management services – like Epsilon or Experian Marketing Services? Acxiom CEO Scott Howe last year tried to smooth potentially ruffled feathers by stating LiveRamp would continue to be a neutral player, the Switzerland of data, as it were. And while concerns seemed to peak shortly after the acquisition announcement, it no longer seems to be an issue. “We looked at them very carefully a year ago,” said Rick Erwin, president of Experian Marketing Services’ consumer insights and targeting division. “We’ve done business with them for a year. We have contracts in place and work very closely with their team every day. We know they’re serious about [being neutral] and if we felt they weren’t, we wouldn’t be doing business with them.” He paused. “Everyone is a supplier, a competitor and a customer of everyone else,” he said. “That’s the way it should be since it gives better results to advertisers.” Update: Neustar responded to the article. Yosha Ulrich-Sturmat, the company’s VP of product marketing, said Neustar does not prioritize reach over accuracy: “We work with a dozen onboarding partners to make sure we have the right balance of quality as well as reach … We do use LiveRamp, mainly to extend the reach of our offline segmentation data or our E1 platform [derived from Neustar’s acquisition of Targus], but we don’t use it in our onboarding, because we’ve found working with the dozen online coverage partners we have drives the best quality-to-reach ratio we want for our customers. We do overlay … [Neustar’s demographics-based] AdAdvisor data on all campaigns. I will scorecard that data source against any other data source.” Enjoying this content? Sign up to be an AdExchanger Member today and get unlimited access to articles like this, plus proprietary data and research, conference discounts, on-demand access to event content, and more! Join Today! 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