Acxiom: Helping Companies Reach China Via Texts

(Slideshow: Click for a photo tour of business in China, including shots inside Acxiom Corp.'s Shanghai office. And for more coverage including stories, photo slide shows and video go to ArkansasBusiness.com/China.)

A discovery visit to China in 2004 by then-CEO Charles Morgan led Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock to acquire a small direct-marketing and database management company that was already up and running.

Frenchman Frederic Jouve started ChinaLoop, which Acxiom bought for $7 million, and had begun to educate Chinese businesses about the value of customer relationship marketing. Today as CEO of Greater China, Jouve leads Acxiom’s operations in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan from his Shanghai office with what will soon grow to 180 employees in four cities.

Acxiom’s client base in Shanghai is mostly retail and consumer-related businesses, while customers in Beijing tilt toward government and automotive. The financial institutions business isn't as significant as that of Acxiom's U.S. operations, he says.

"We’re small for Acxiom, but one who has realized the opportunity here is [CEO] John Meyer," said Jouve, who arrived in Shanghai 13 years ago and speaks four languages. "Direct marketing was a new concept to Chinese businesses; then growth was so strong it was almost easy to do business. But it’s more complicated now, and we continue to need better techniques."

Meyer said Acxiom’s opportunity is two-pronged in China: It’s a fast-growing market, and it’s not overmarketed like the United States.

"There’s a lot of interest from our multinational clients" to reach Chinese consumers, Meyer said last week. "Also, many Chinese manufacturers are looking to establish their brand in the U.S. through direct marketing. Nobody knows consumers in America better than us."

(Video: Click here to watch Jeff Hankins' video report on Arkansas businesses operating in China.)

Jouve says access to vast amounts of records is impossible in China compared with the United States, so Acxiom continues to search for partners to access data. And while Acxiom’s marketing efforts for clients historically have focused on direct mail, that method is third in China — text marketing is first, followed by e-mail.

“We don’t have the breadth of data in China, but what we do have is that much more valuable,” Meyer says. “The technology infrastructure has leapfrogged the U.S. The Chinese skipped PCs and addresses and went straight to mobile phones.”

In March, Acxiom opened a China Global Service Center in Nantong to provide software development, systems management, data analysis and statistical analysis to clients in China and around the world. Because Acxiom offers both offline and online marketing services, the GSC is part of Acxiom's infrastructure investment to strengthen marketing delivery capability in China and the region.

Meyer says he asked his management team to find “the Conway of China” that could provide an educated, stable and technology savvy workforce for Asian operations just as Conway has served Acxiom through the years. “We found it with Nantong. It’s as big as Chicago and has lots of technical universities.”