Acxiom's Chad Engelgau: Data Connects Brands To Customers, Success

Acxiom's Chad Engelgau: Data Connects Brands To Customers, Success
Chad Engelgau, president & CEO of Acxiom, an Interpublic Group Co. that has a significant prescence in Conway. (Acxiom)

Chad Engelgau was named president and CEO of Acxiom in February 2020. He serves on the board of the Ad Council, a nonprofit based in New York. Previously, he was global chief data strategist at Kinesso, the marketing intelligence unit of The Interpublic Group of Cos. Inc. IPG acquired Acxiom, which employs 1,200 people in Conway, in 2018.

He joined Kinesso after spending 13 years at Acxiom, where his roles included chief marketing officer and head of strategy. Before that, he spent nine years at Dell Inc. He worked his way up there, from product engineering manager to corporate strategist. Before Dell, Engelgau held various product management and technical roles at other companies.

Engelgau attended the Institute for Managerial Leadership at the Texas McCombs School of Business from 2005-06 and has a bachelor’s degree in history from Texas A&M University.

Provide some concrete examples of how Acxiom helps brands create growth for their businesses.

Acxiom, we use data and technology to help brands understand people, in turn creating better customer experiences and business growth. We build solutions that connect data, insights and identity across a brand’s marketing activities, channels and partners. When brands get a complete picture of who their customers are and understand what is actionable and relevant, it opens the aperture and allows them to market holistically and intelligently. On average, these data-driven solutions create 20%-plus improvement in a brand’s marketing outcomes. 

Just a few examples to share: We work with Heathrow, London’s international airport. When you think about it, the relationship airport visitors have is with the airlines, not the airport. On top of that, the average customer is only in the airport for roughly an hour. This meant Heathrow had a very limited understanding of their customers, as well as limited opportunity to engage. We helped Heathrow understand who their customers were and what was important to them, as well as how and when to connect. The result was 23% growth in average spend per customer engaged.  

Another challenge facing marketers today is the deprecation of the third-party cookie, which will limit how marketers connect with people online as well as how they can measure the effectiveness of those connections. We teamed up with Toyota Motor North America to create an innovative new solution that combines the power of a digital and mobile data platform with our identity solution, replacing their existing data management platform. It allows the Toyota and Lexus brands to coordinate touch points across offline and digital first-party data to create a complete view of customers, leads and hand-raisers. Ultimately, it means Toyota can better understand their customers and build more meaningful relationships. 

You're in a highly competitive industry for workers. How do you recruit and retain the best talent?

One word: culture. There’s no single perk or program that’s a silver bullet. Rather, the answer is building a culture people want to be a part of. For us, it’s about inclusion, innovation and flexibility. Acxiom is a place where everyone can bring their authentic selves to work; it’s what we strive for every day. We build diversity, equity and inclusion into everything we do, from our programs to products to the communities we serve. We have seven business resource groups that are associate-led organizations, giving us a place to have important conversations, to learn from and celebrate each other. It’s also crucial to look ahead and invest in the next generation. We’re proud to offer a diversity scholarship program and sponsor organizations like the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas and their Girls of Promise Initiative. 

Acxiom is also a place for innovators, and we believe innovation can come from anywhere in the organization. You don’t survive and thrive over 50 years without innovating. We offer a patent program where we pay for new ideas that move our business forward, and we have an annual “Shark Tank”-like competition where associates can dream up new solutions and pitch them for a chance at investment. Ultimately, innovating doesn’t come without learning, and we offer 40 hours of annual paid time off for associates to invest in themselves, whether through volunteering or pursuing the learning opportunities of their choice. 

Finally, we’re nothing if not flexible. The pandemic forced many companies to think about remote work for the first time. But we’ve had a long history of embracing remote work, with 30% of our global workforce working remotely pre-pandemic. We believe in hiring the best and brightest, no matter where they live. Flexibility allows us to balance a great mix of long-tenured and early-career associates, which we believe is paramount to who we are and our success.  

What role do disruptive startups play in your industry, and how can they help or hurt an established business like Acxiom?

First, I don’t see disruption as a bad thing, as it continually pushes us to learn and innovate. Second, we build our solutions to be open. The marketing technology landscape has grown over 6,000% since 2011 and 24% since 2020. We know that a complete end-to-end marketing solution is made up of multiple pieces, and it’s our job to be our clients’ trusted adviser. Our clients are looking for us to help them solve business challenges — how do they respectfully reach their customers, how do they deal with a deluge of disconnected data, how do they know what’s working (or not) in their marketing, and — perhaps most importantly — how to adjust. 

We also partner with some of the best in the business, whether it’s cloud giants like AWS, Google Cloud Platform or Snowflake, or with marketing cloud providers like Adobe and Salesforce, or CDP providers like Sitecore. Collaborative innovation is part of our strategy as we are always looking for new partners, big or small. 

Our job is to make sure our solutions are open and connected. New entrants will always be part of the equation, and it’s our job to help our clients navigate this very complicated industry, no matter what new technology is on the horizon.

Should there be more regulation of how big tech companies use personal data? Why or why not?

In today’s digital era, data and technology are foundational to our economy and future; they’re critical infrastructure. When used responsibly, they have the power to create transformational products, services and benefits for everyone. But this requires a common understanding of how to participate.

The U.S. already has numerous data protection laws on the books, such as CAN-SPAM, HIPAA, COPPA, ECOA and others. And now there’s a patchwork of state laws. The lack of a federal privacy law is impacting people’s rights to uniform data protection — no matter what state you live in — and is impacting businesses with the cost of compliance. To put it in perspective, the cost of implementing the California Consumer Privacy Act is projected to reach $55 billion. Now consider the multiplier effect of dealing with numerous, conflicting policies across states. Fifteen states are currently enacting or proposing new data protection laws. If just half pass their own laws, the cost could easily exceed $1 trillion. This is not a small problem.

Acxiom believes strengthening America’s future requires a single set of national data privacy laws, which Acxiom has long advocated for. These federal laws must balance people’s individual rights and the needs of businesses. They must be economical and enforceable, open and transparent, safe and singular.

Without federal action, the accelerated passage of a patchwork of state legislation will continue, which doesn’t just impact big companies but small ones, and small companies are the backbone of our country. It’s imperative the U.S. views data for what it is — critical infrastructure — and moves to pass a set of national data privacy laws. It’s also incumbent on brands, industry experts and all of us to push Congress for action, not only to avoid the increasing costs of multiple state laws, but also to ensure America’s ability to compete globally and progress as a nation.

What attracted you to this line of work?

I discovered the power of a great brand through music; Aerosmith, the Stones, Kiss and others all inspired me. Great musicians truly connect with their fans, and the experiences they created still resonate with me today. I’ve been in the tech industry for 25 years, and continual learning and reinvention have been the steady drumbeat of my career, just like those amazing groups. Early on, I spent time in the arts and then pivoted to tech, building client solutions, before moving to test/solutions engineering at Dell. My love for problem-solving and customer experiences drove me into product management and marketing next.  

By the mid-2000s, it was clear data and identity were critical for powering exceptional customer experiences, so I moved to Acxiom to dive deeper into this exciting area. As advertising tech and marketing tech converged, I spent time learning all I could across those two ecosystems. Running product, marketing and strategy organizations helped me understand and refine my technical prowess and leadership skills. Focusing on innovation and collaboration taught me that few solutions are created in a vacuum, and we live in a connected world, physically and virtually. 

Becoming CEO at Acxiom has expanded my sights even further. Focusing on keeping our people, partners and clients engaged, evolving and moving forward together is always a challenge, but it is one I relish. Delivering amazing customer experiences to drive business growth is what I know works.