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Zip Codes and Internet Searches Populate Database Mines

posted by Nathalie Martin

Twice now the New York Times has reported on a mysterious company in Arkansas, Acxiom, that has been collecting endless data on all of us but no one is entirely sure what they have or why they have it.  This is why neither NYT story makes perfect sense.  Something is wrong but we do not know enough about what they are doing to know what it is.  Consumers do not get to see their files according to the second article. I cannot write and get what they have on me, nor can you.

The collected data include our incomes, our family compositions, and certainly our geographic locations. The process for mining begins when a store clerk asks us at check-out for our zip codes, or perhaps when we search internet sites and input data there.  From there the sources somehow back into our e-mail and home addresses, our incomes, our buying preferences, our kids’ ages, our pets, and I am not sure what all else. 

One quote from the article gives you a feel for what is being sought:

"Companies can buy data to pinpoint households that are concerned, say, about allergies, diabetes     or “senior needs.” Also for sale is information on sizes of home loans and household incomes. Clients generally buy this data because they want to hold on to their best customers or find new ones — or both. A bank that wants to sell its best customers additional services, for example, might buy details about those customers’ social media, Web and mobile habits to identify more efficient ways to market to them. Or, says Mr. Frankland at Forrester, a sporting goods chain whose best customers are 25- to 34-year-old men living near mountains or beaches could buy a list of a million other people with the same characteristics. The retailer could hire Acxiom, he says, to manage a campaign aimed at that new group, testing how factors like consumers’ locations or sports preferences affect responses."

"But the catalog also offers delicate information that has set off alarm bells among some privacy advocates, who worry about the potential for misuse by third parties that could take aim at vulnerable groups. Such information includes consumers’ interests — derived, the catalog says, “from actual purchases and self-reported surveys” — like “Christian families,” “Dieting/Weight Loss,” “Gaming-Casino,” “Money Seekers” and “Smoking/Tobacco.” Acxiom also sells data about an individual’s race, ethnicity and country of origin. “Our Race model,” the catalog says, “provides information on the major racial category: Caucasians, Hispanics, African-Americans, or Asians.” Competing companies sell similar data."

The point is not to promote identity theft but to provide individuals with special deals that they (based upon the aforementioned data) will appreciate.  What do you all think?  Nice gesture or cause for concern?  If you market experts could share with us, we’d be grateful.


This is why I use cash and constantly lie to cashiers, solicitors, and on online forms about my real name, phone number, zip code, and personal email address whenever practical. If any of you are the real [email protected], I apologize for all the spam you must be getting.

Also, points if you know who Charlie Croker is without resorting to Google.

I buy data from this company and it is by far the most accurate and clean data available.

It's a data compiler.

Acxiom is not a new fangled operation, the company has been in business for an extremely long time and is in my opinion the best in the business.

Did you ever receive the same piece of mail for both you and your spouse? That probably wasn't a list sourced through Acxiom; they have one of the best household algorithms there is. Householding allows you to reduce the expense of sending mail to multiple members of the same household. Before you say, why would you send the same mail to the same address think about all the different iterations of address types (single family homes, apartment buildings, PO Boxes, places of business, etc) you have to tackle to determine if you should or should not send a piece of mail. They are an immense expense save (paying for an Acxiom file scrub on a 1 million piece mailer is a huge expense save along with being environmentally friendly - yes some us in the business world actually like to think about our environmental footprint.

The place where Acxiom really shines is the Personicx clusters alluded to in the article. Acxiom uses its data to do a disjoint cluster analysis putting each household into one of seventy clusters that typify how the household behaves based on the data it receives. I as a marketer want to know more about my customers, but it would be extremely difficult to tailor individual messages to everyone in a million piece mailer, however, I don't want to use the same message for everyone. This is where Personicx comes into play. Using the clusters its easier to tailor a message to speak to the client (or not send one at all), but still make it efficient to serve. I have heard of using the Personicx profiles being used in a customer-facing front line role but for the most part Personicx is a way to help tailor marketing messages when using broad communication channels (email, mailers, print, TV) not one-to-one interactions or decisioning. A quick Google search found the Personicx reference guide, see below.


This is not "a mysterious company". It has been a public company for a long time. They have been publishing annual and quarterly reports about themselves as far back as I can remember. What they do is just market research and analysis. Collecting data is how you do market research. I can't imagine what someone would think the alternative might be -- randomness?

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