Acxiom are sometimes referred to as “the biggest company you’ve never heard of”. They were responsible for revolutionizing the US direct-marketing industry during the 1980s by applying computerized advanced analytics across massive datasets – making them a genuine Big Data pioneer long before the term “Big Data” became fashionable.
The company’s website says they hold data on “all but a small percentage” of US households. To research this chapter, I spoke to Charles Morgan, who was responsible for transforming a small company of analysts providing services to local businesses into a multinational Big Data-driven powerhouse with a billion-dollar turnover.
Initially named Demographics, the company were founded in 1969 as a sideline by Charles D. Ward, chairman of his family’s regional school bus company. Ward’s initial idea was to collect data and manage a mailing list for the local Democrat party. When the school bus company hit financial difficulties and Ward was threatened with bankruptcy, he sold his shares to Charles Morgan, his employee, and a graduate of the University of Arkansas who had formerly worked as an IBM systems engineer.
During the 1980s, the banks moved their businesses heavily into retail. They began trying to sell as many credit cards, insurance packages, bank accounts and financial services as they could think of, to as many people as possible.
Businesses had ...