It’s taken more than a week for the vivid brain trust that was #RampUp2015 to coalesce in memory and some key themes to emerge. The one-day event was formerly sponsored by LiveRamp, which was acquired by Acxiom last July. As anyone with an interest in ad tech knows, Acxiom has been on a strategic tear of late to redefine itself past its marketing services and hosted CRM solutions business into something more like a vendor-neutral marketing data utility.
So what is LiveRamp?
Well, let’s start with #RampUp2015. It was a remarkable event, one unlike any I’ve ever attended. Not because of its venue: the Santa Clara Convention Center is an aggressively functional space that seems to be more parking structure than theme park. And not because of its Grammy-winning entertainment acts (none), or size (a solid but not daunting 1,500 or so). Nor was the Santa Clara club scene or bar-hopping #winning.
No, the stellar component here was the attendee list. We all remarked on it. I moderated a panel in the morning on “The Evolution of Programmatic Marketing” and one of the blue-chip participants, MediaMath’s CEO Joe Zawadzki, said it well: “There’s very little alloy here.”
The affable panel, which also included LinkedIn’s Russell Glass, AdRoll’s Aaron Bell and Adobe’s Amit Ahuja, offered up some of my favorite quotes of the day: “Summer is coming . . . . This is the decade of the CMO.”
Riding up the elevator, scanning the badges — as one does — I had a disembodied moment, what I imagine happens to first-time Academy Awards attendees. There’s Reese! OMG it’s Oprah! Did I just bump into Franco?!
Only here, of course, we’re talking about “celebrities” of a more specialized class: digital advertising and marketing celebrities, hardly household names but (in some cases) every bit as powerful and rich as mere actors. The guest list included most of the founders and leaders of many of the key companies in this space. I am not exaggerating. Standing in the main hall, glancing around, I happened to see recognizable higher-ups from Epsilon, Criteo, Pubmatic, Google, Signal.co, Foursquare, Datalogix, Sailthru, Bazaarvoice, Neustar, Crossix, Ensighten, Oracle, Resonate, LinkedIn . . . and on and on.
Nor were the marketers themselves shy. I saw or heard (on various panels) influentials from Macy’s, Sephora, Gap, American Express, Comcast, and so on.
A logical question is: Why? Apart from proximity to Silicon Valley, the event itself offered a self-selected filtration system. This was Acxiom’s LiveRamp, which itself is a behind-the-scenes utility used by many other marketing and advertising providers. LiveRamp is not a white label product, per se, but it functions in a discrete way before the user-facing stuff occurs. Simply knowing that LiveRamp exists puts a person in the upper quartile of hipness.
LiveRamp is a “data onboarding service.” A few weeks ago, Acxiom announced a new trade name that preserves the well-known LiveRamp brand: LiveRamp Connect. (It is retiring its short-lived Audience Operating System.) So what’s a data onboarding service, and why should so many important people care? As you’ve probably noticed, digital marketing is a messy activity. Unlike more controlled environments, like enterprise data warehouses, marketing data stores are many and varied, incomplete and inaccurate, confusing and often incompatible. We’ll have our emails in an email or marketing automation system, our website visitor logs in a web analytics suite, mobile app data somewhere else, a loyalty program in another tool, and digital commerce elsewhere. And don’t even get started on offline sales, what happens in our stores, or other customer touchpoints like kiosks and call centers.
It’s a mad mad world and there is a need to corral the data goat rodeo. LiveRamp does this. It has worked hard to provide pre-built connectors to the common sources and stores of data used by digital marketers. These connectors onboard the data into a common data store and transform it in various ways — redefining the metadata, or labels, say, and performing checks for accuracy and completeness — so that information from different systems can be used in a coordinated way. If this sounds like traditional ETL (Extract-Transform-Load), that’s no coincidence.
LiveRamp Connect can create profiles of individuals that includes information from disparate sources. The only way to combine records around an individual is to use a common identifier — a “key” that exists in both systems and that can be used to map the records. This can be a shared cookie or some piece of personally identifiable information (PII), such as an email. Data Management Platforms such as Oracle’s BlueKai and Nielsen’s eXelate do “cookie synching,” or anonymous cookie matching, but they do not tread into the legally and technically complex world of PII. Acxiom does.
Both Acxiom and LiveRamp (pre-acquisition) established a convincing position as a “safe harbor” for PII that ensures user privacy and preferences are preserved, data does not “leak” between partners, and any profile matching occurs in an encrypted environment. Indeed, Acxiom was the first MSP to have a Chief Privacy Officer, and LiveRamp’s privacy controls are robust. Other providers, such as Neustar and Oracle’s Datalogix, provide similar services (and both use LiveRamp).
At the end of the data-driven day, marketers all have a need to build a “master audience profile” — a single record of an individual (known or anonymous) that includes information about all their interactions with the brand, as well as any other attributes that are knowable, such as demographic or psychographic characteristics. This record is the basis for segments, predictive modeling, offer recommendations, marketing communications, coupons, pricing, VIP event invitations — everything that data science promises. But data science doesn’t work without a lot of organized, clean data.
What LiveRamp Connect does may not be glamorous. It’s plumbing for the digital marketing metropolis. But it’s important and — for one day in early March 2015 — it attracted the glitterati of the digiterati.