Happy New Year! Although we’ve turned the page on 2020, the world hasn’t grown any less chaotic. We have vaccines, but COVID-19 is still spreading. We aren’t in shelter-in-place, but many of us will be working remotely for the foreseeable future. We’re seeing an uptick in the market, but that’s not an indication of the economy being any more stable. Had enough? Unfortunately, it’s time to add another big challenge to the list. Third-party cookie deprecation is now officially on the clock, scheduled for retirement within twelve months, which has huge implications for all marketers. After all, third-party identifiers have historically enabled many use cases like targeting, frequency capping, measurement, and attribution, without which, most marketing efforts would break. The good news: unlike many of the other chaotic challenges, a better alternative to third-party cookies—people-based identifiers—is here, proven, and becoming increasingly ubiquitous. As a result, every marketer should embrace a New Year’s resolution to transition away from cookies and other risky identifiers, and truly give consumers the seamless, relevant, and respectful (i.e. privacy-compliant!) experiences that they increasingly expect in today’s fragmented world.
What should marketers do?
The pending demise of third-party cookies and IDFA led to a wave of ill-conceived, unsecure, and unexceptional identity solutions that were evangelized by companies seeking to make a quick buck or increase their influence over the industry. Given the confusion, it can be difficult to determine how best to reinvent your data strategy. Marketers should ensure that the technology they utilize incorporates some essential characteristics, as outlined below.
Start with comprehensive and omnichannel people-based identity
Some identity technologies rely exclusively on a single characteristic, like e-mail, and claim it’s good enough. This isn’t true. My own family of five, for example, has over 30 distinct e-mail addresses across the household. Mistakenly using only one of these e-mails to identify customers would force marketers to make decisions using a woefully inadequate set of information. Identity should be people-based and contain a wide variety of deterministic and permission-based characteristics. We’ve seen many retailers, for example, increase their reach by 40% or more simply by adding mobile phone numbers to their identity decision.
Consumers lead complex lives: they watch television, surf the web, conduct online searches, read e-mails, communicate via phone or chat, and visit physical stores. In short, today’s consumer is omnipresent, and marketers should prioritize an identity solution that is as well. Some solutions only address part of the puzzle—they solve identity for digital or very narrow use cases (e.g., programmatic or mobile). This is a huge red flag, as these limited identifiers significantly increase complexity for marketers, who subsequently have to plan and execute each tactic using different technologies. Further, the marketer cannot measure performance across different channels, and the consumer does not have a consistent brand experience.
If you settle for a technology that utilizes only one form of identity or connects with only one narrow use case, you’ll surely fall short of your marketing goals. Building a connected view of the customer requires people-based technology that can translate identity from multiple media sources and outcome data into a common identity, which then powers intelligence, experiences, analytics, and measurement across a complicated customer journey.
Compliance and safety are essential
For most marketers, there is nothing more valuable than their brand’s reputation, and they work hard to build and maintain good standing. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to navigate and prepare for the myriad of changing data regulations and security risks. Working with a trusted identity solution provider allows marketers to adhere to data privacy regulations and safety requirements, avoiding a lot of potential liability and reputational damage.
Don’t use solutions that bypass direct consent. Passive and synthetic identifiers such as fingerprinting use signals not meant for identification and provide no way to opt out. From a privacy perspective, it amounts to invisible lurking. Regulators and every major browser have already vowed to combat these “solutions,” which put a brand’s reputation at risk and can erode consumer trust.
Instead, ensure direct user authentication. As consumers engage across media, they log in, subscribe, follow, and identify themselves in different ways. To use identity to create better experiences, a marketer must connect a customer’s identity with their method of authentication—this is called addressability. In a media environment, identity cannot be applied to create a personalized experience or be used for measurement without addressability. The important point: addressability can’t ethically exist without permissioned authentication. Without it, any form of addressability is a potential violation of user privacy and carries with it significant risk, and without sufficient authentication scale, marketers simply can’t reach enough customers. How media environments collect direct authentication and provide addressability varies greatly, and LiveRamp’s widely adopted Authenticated Traffic Solution (ATS) solves this problem. The pairing of LiveRamp’s omnichannel identity with ATS helps marketers create a connected view of customers and better serve their needs.
Don’t try to go it alone. Regardless of business geography, most companies serve customers from many states and countries. As a result, there is no single standard that governs all activity, and marketers must instead comply with complex local, federal, and global regulations. These regulations are dynamic and require constant monitoring and responsiveness. Marketers need a credible partner who has a proven ability to navigate these challenges—a provider with a global footprint and a reputation for navigating complex regulatory environments.
Demand neutrality and interoperability
Neutrality means a company or solution is unbiased and independent of media-buying platforms. Because marketers don’t rely on a single platform, the vendors they choose must be complementary, so selecting an identity solution that’s beholden to a specific media player limits flexibility and the ability to create a competitive advantage. If an identity vendor also buys or sells media, they are inherently not neutral. This is a big deal. In poker, conventional wisdom suggests that if you don’t know who the sucker is at the table, it’s surely you. Likewise, if you don’t know exactly how your data is being used, then it’s probably being used in all sorts of ways that you wouldn’t approve of. This is particularly problematic with many of the identity offerings, often included “free of charge,” that are embedded into media. Some identifiers enable pooling—which may mean that your customers are shared with competitors, aggregated into new data segments that can be purchased by other companies, or used to refine internal algorithms that benefit other companies. Ack! Why invite temptation when it’s so much easier to choose a neutral and unbiased solution from the start?
This is also important as a legion of new federated identity standards is typically introduced by companies with other biased businesses. Recent decades have seen the meteoric rise of technology giants who control a disproportionate amount of information. Both publishers and marketers should be very reluctant to cede identity control to a monolithic disintermediary when it’s easy and affordable to manage consumer authentications and data directly.
In addition, marketers future-proof their technology decisions by mandating interoperability. Marketers should verify that the supporting infrastructure of any given solution is widely adopted by publishers and industry platforms (both demand- and sell-side) so you can minimize your process complexity and maximize your reach. The bonus of interoperability is that as new technologies and use cases emerge, you’ll be ready.
Choose a partner with global scale
We’re all part of something bigger. Global commerce requires marketers to reach consumers around the world. Even predominantly U.S. companies serve customers across many markets. Naturally, this requires a solution that scales globally and can help them make the connections they need to drive the business outcomes they desire. Marketers have enough to do without managing multiple identity solutions across the markets they serve. They should prioritize vendors that can safely scale internationally and help them build a globally connected customer view.
Since its launch, ATS has gained widespread, global adoption. More than 300 publishers worldwide have adopted ATS in the U.S., UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Australia, and Japan, including 70% of the U.S. Comscore top 20, and 60% of the U.S. Comscore top 50. Additionally, more than 25 supply-side platforms and 45 demand-side platforms have adopted support of ATS, helping publishers and the industry collaboratively deliver addressability. There’s simply no other technology that provides comparable global, directly authenticated scale. Importantly, this scale is driving significantly greater effective reach. In recent years, impressions flowing through Safari, Firefox, and Edge, which together comprise 40% of page views, haven’t been addressable with third party cookies. As a result, many advertisers ignored 40% of their effective audience. Authenticated solutions such as ATS make these impressions available and addressable, representing a substantial new prize for savvy marketers.
Prioritize real performance
Unfortunately, some marketers are still focused on the wrong metrics when evaluating identity providers. They somehow believe that match rates are an important metric, failing to recognize that match rates can easily be increased by unscrupulous providers willing to dial down their accuracy. Marketers realize that it’s far more important to ensure that their providers can deliver accurate reach across all channels and partners, and ultimately better consumer experiences and results—measures of real performance. While third-party cookie and IDFA restrictions might change workflows, it’s exciting to know that authenticated identity generates far better results than the status quo.
Using LiveRamp’s identifier, Fitbit is a representative case study that should give any marketer confidence to begin moving beyond cookies. In 2020, Fitbit ran parallel campaigns using LiveRamp’s identifier vs. cookies with the same audience definition. The results? The team increased its return on ad spend (ROAS) by approximately 100%, decreased cost-per-page-view by 34%, and increased average order value by 13% compared to third-party cookie targeting. Check out the case study to read more. This isn’t an isolated success. Additionally, a major consumer electronics manufacturer that conducted a similar A/B test on desktop saw a 104% increase in ROAS. While this is transformational for marketers, publishers also generate significant upside. Early analysis shows that, on average, publishers see meaningful improvement in the revenue they can realize for their advertising inventory. On Chrome, for example, yields increased by 50% through ATS. Not surprisingly, on browsers that currently block cookies, the impact was even more significant. For instance, publishers realize a staggering 375% yield improvement on Safari traffic.
The biggest winners are ultimately consumers. Since the dawn of digital advertising, consumers have too often lacked adequate visibility and control over how their data was used. Cookies and other identifiers were confusing and almost impossible to manage. Authenticated identity solutions solve all of these issues by giving every consumer transparency and choice around how their data is used—and it also provides greater security as data is utilized across the ecosystem.
It’s a new year and a new opportunity for marketers to improve their performance while cookie-proofing their technology dramatically. With IDFA changes now upon us and Chrome cookie deprecation slated to occur in the coming months, there’s never been a better time to migrate your marketing efforts to authenticated, omnichannel identity. It’s a New Year’s resolution that every marketer should embrace