The Search For Identity: What’s Next After The Cookie?

By Aqilliz  

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The search for identity

In the past 18 months, the digital ad industry experienced unprecedented disruption — not only in the form of rapidly changing content consumption patterns but also in terms of headwinds that have disrupted traditional approaches to targeting audiences and optimising campaigns. For years, brands have relied on third-party cookies and mobile identifiers to deliver personalised ads to prospects and customers, and to track engagement with their audiences. However, regulatory and platform-specific changes will soon demand that advertisers find new ways to measure their digital media performance and get tailored messages to their audiences.

At the same time, customer journeys have become much more complex and challenging to measure. Users often transition across multiple devices before buying a single item, which can lead to a disjointed view of consumer behaviour. Even on a single device, different browsers can yield different paths to purchase. Against a rapidly evolving backdrop of data protection frameworks and with growing concerns around transparency and data ethics, marketers are turning to a mix of solutions, with universal identifiers, first-party data, and contextual targeting all rising to prominence. With such varying solutions, how can marketers unify their data for accurate tracking and measurement, while prioritising consumer privacy and consent?

All about addressability

While Google has now delayed the blocking of third-party cookies on Chrome until 2023, it’s only a matter of delaying the inevitable: The clock is still ticking. Delayed or not, there is certainly a wave of tighter regulations on the horizon. At the same time, Apple’s updated policies for IDFA and app tracking as part of the iOS 14 update continue to pose challenges for advertisers around mobile ad targeting, measurement, and attribution.

With topics like personal data protection and privacy regulation at the forefront of industry conversations, consumers are more aware about their data rights than ever before. At the same time, consumers continue to expect highly personalised experiences. They also know that for brands to deliver on their expectations, they’ll need access to personal data — for this reason, most consumers are willing to share their data, if it is collected in a fair and ethical manner. For brands, adhering to cleaner data collection practices can build trust with consumers, and transparency is the foundation of loyal, long-lasting and valuable relationships with customers.

Key to personalisation in a world without cookies is being able to access addressable audiences — anonymised groups of consumers whose non-personally identifiable information can be used to build a profile of interests and needs. With these ‘recognisable’ audiences in place, advertisers can deliver campaigns that are likely to be of greater interest to consumers and are thus more successful for brands. Given that audience addressability is the lynchpin behind producing efficient, tailored, optimised ad campaigns, it’s imperative that advertisers and publishers across the industry find effective ways to best build and utilise them.

Putting first-party first

First-party data presents an opportunity for brands to nurture closer relationships with customers. As the data privacy landscape continues to evolve and unfold, brands with a strong repository of first-party data will be better positioned to manage shifts in regulation and platform owners’ rules in the years to come. When done transparently and with consent, using first-party data to create better experiences and deliver tailored advertising in a manner that respects consumers’ privacy could encourage them to share more personal information because they believe their data is safe and will be used responsibly. In return, marketers can use access to these insights to strengthen customer and engagement relationships over time.

To get it right, marketers should put innovative solutions in place that allow them to collect and organise audience data from across offline and online touchpoints to personalise digital experiences. The best way to leverage consumer data is by gaining a holistic, omnichannel view of each customer. This can be achieved by integrating all of the data points from various sources such as laptop browsers, cell phones, email subscriptions, public records, and offline purchases into a single identity. By recognising and connecting the individual data points from their interactions across a range of offline and online platforms, identity resolution offers marketers a way to turn data complexity into exceptional customer experiences.

The future of personalisation

In addition to first-party data, brands can also focus on contextual and behavioural signals for targeting. Based on contextual information such as the type of media or content consumed, location, or even app metadata, brands will still be able to serve up ads based on behavioural targeting, even if consumers have opted out of being tracked by Apple’s mobile identifier. Beyond contextual targeting, other growing channels like connected TV (CTV) also hold significant opportunities for targeted video ads, which use IP addresses as identifiers.

While third-party cookies may have played an important role in shaping the powerful, performance-driven digital advertising ecosystem of today, it is widely acknowledged that the advertising industry should have addressed privacy concerns sooner. In many ways, the demise of the cookie has come in response to consumer demands for greater clarity and transparency. At the same time, it gives the digital advertising industry the opportunity to rethink the way it identifies, targets, and engages audiences in a compliant, brand-safe way that does not compromise user experience. Amid this sea change, marketers will need to find new and less invasive methods to assess the effectiveness of their digital campaigns. There is no better time for brands to set a high ethical standard for data collection, refine their processes, and demonstrate what personalised experiences can offer their customers — if given the opportunity.

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