UNCOVERING THE FUTURE OF AUDIENCE ADDRESSABILITY
Published on October 21, 2020
As a bridge between corporations and consumers, marketers have taken on the arduous task of translating a brand’s values and objectives into appealing messages that resonate with prospective customers. This has always been the cornerstone of personalisation—knowing who your customer is, what appeals to them, and where to find them.
To arrive at this understanding, the methodologies that marketers have had at their disposal have evolved over the years: from the very first focus groups, market research, and public opinion polls that emerged during the Golden Age of Advertising in the 1930s to the high-precision, data-driven identity graphs we see today that are an amalgam of a user’s habits, preferences, and activities online. These strategies have all played a pivotal role in how creatives are designed and how marketing messages are crafted to ensure maximum relevance and impact.
After all, knowledge is power—no matter how exciting or relevant the advertisement, if we didn’t have an understanding of who these audiences are and what they’re receptive to, we’d be in the dark. Knowing this is key to understanding the concept of your addressable audience—a group of people who can be targeted and are likely to potentially come across your marketing activities. Addressability optimises both relevance and timing at scale, ensuring that your marketing messages are meeting the right people, at the right places, and at the right time.
Simple, right? Well, as we’ve entered into an increasingly digital reality, things get a little complicated after that. To understand why, we need to go back in time.
A foot in the door
Before the pioneering days of George Gallup’s market research methodologies, engaging your addressable audience was simple. With limited media channels and mediums at hand, it was a matter of blasting ads as far and as wide as possible in a bid to engage with the largest number of people. From newspaper adverts to billboards, everything was all about quantity and visibility.
Over time, brands were equally able to access platforms that could offer addressability at scale. Arguably, the very first primary addressable platform at scale was the United States Postal Service (USPS) which could practically guarantee access to almost every household in the United States, giving brands the ability to acquire details such as name, address, and phone number as part of direct mail campaigns. In the 90s, multinational conglomerate AT&T later did the same with its lucrative credit card offering, Universal Card. The firm was able to easily target prospective cardholders due to their status as phone customers. The result? Within three months of the programme’s launch, there were over a million Universal Card holders. Both examples go to show that having access to an existing base of users was a valuable foot in the door, allowing companies as well as third-parties to leverage first-party data for marketing activities.
As the world transitioned to an increasingly digital state, this model cascaded across a broad spectrum of identifiers and entry points—all now online. It was no longer a matter of someone’s name or address, but also the devices they were using and social IDs. Amid a vast, crowding landscape with multiple entry points for consumers to engage with across a broad range of devices, brands needed to be able to organise and distinguish individuals with ease in the digital realm. To address this, individual users were distinguished by way of small text files, each containing a unique ID that would be stored on one’s browser—the cookie.
Watching the cookie crumble
With cookie-based audiences on the rise, AdTech vendors were able to fully maximise their databases of addressable audiences through third-party cookies. Even once a user had moved on from a domain or website that they were on, vendors could continue to track their behaviour across the web and use those insights to deliver better personalised ads.
But for every well-intentioned effort at personalisation are cases where it comes off a little too strong. Today, our mobile phones collect significant amounts of personal information alongside cookies and other tracking tools embedded in the sites we browse—when combined with voluntarily provided data as we use apps, make purchases, look for directions, and other such activities, these are tied to a device ID. With such insights, the use of third-party cookies have led to an increased dialogue surrounding surveillance and personal data rights.
Now, the controversy surrounding third-party cookies simply isn’t new—in light of growing regulatory scrutiny, marketers and publishers alike have long been looking for viable alternatives to diminish the industry’s reliance on them.
All bets on a first-party data play
The monopoly of walled gardens—closed data ecosystems—has all but upended the addressable audience market for the last few years. Jounce Media estimated that this year, that Facebook, Amazon, and Google will account for 79 percent of non-search digital advertising on their own ecosystems. The firms have also launched “off-site advertising businesses” that also have a hold on 59 percent of advertising on the open internet, outside of their walled gardens. With so many businesses reliant on these companies for their advertising and marketing efforts, their dominance comes as a no surprise.
But with third-party cookies on their way out and a clear movement towards first-party data on its way in, media owners and publishers have taken on the opportunity to replicate a similar approach on their own platforms. Publishers across the UK, such as Channel 4, The Telegraph, and The Guardian have all placed big bets on their first-party data strategies. The Telegraph, for one, has leveraged its consistent subscription growth and is looking to hit 10 million registrants and 1 million subscribers in the next three years—with an existing base of first-party audiences, the media group has launched Telegraph Unity, a data matching solution that allows brands to target their customers without relying on cookies.
As publishers continue to build up their own first-party data audience pools, the trend has equally caught on in new media categories, such as music streaming. In as early as 2015, Spotify leveraged its remarkable pool of user profiles for advertisers to target based on a listener’s mood or activities which is determined by the playlists users choose to listen to—whether that’s songs perfect for a shower-themed playlist or tracks optimised for a run.
Quirks aside, today’s publishers have access to unique repositories of first-party data, perhaps even far exceeding what walled gardens can tell us. With new databases on the rise, this certainly points to a much more levelled playing field and more options for advertisers and brands to choose from.
That being said, no industry benefits from data silos. As advertisers look to explore the best possible audience platforms that can offer addressability at scale, a model that offers greater collaboration and data-sharing between a group of publishers looks to be a more sustainable approach. At Aqilliz, this is the kind of model that we’re looking to pioneer with our Federated Identity Management Platform, which promotes a collaborative consortium structure between participating brands and publishers. Here, parties can freely and securely share and access audiences for precise, compliant targeting through a system of unique customer and publisher IDs.
Integrated with leading identity management firm BritePool’s BritePool ID, our solutions will be able to offer privacy-compliant audience targeting while simultaneously abiding by documentation requirements that demand a strict record of all activities, providing assurances of data integrity and provenance. Not only enabling advertisers to maximise their efficiency and productivity across the board in all their campaign activities, they can now do so with compliance at the forefront, inbuilt in all their activities.
As we enter into a new age of audience addressability, the opportunities to increase value for brands, publishers, and advertisers alike are abundant. Not only in a bid to challenge the long-standing monopoly that walled gardens have held in the past few years, the coming demise of third-party cookies has given the industry the much needed impetus to finally rethink the nature of our infrastructures and processes. We’d argue that it’s brighter than ever as we look into the future, as we finally opt for a compliant approach that truly puts our customers first.