Are We Losing Our Identity In The Pursuit Of Identity?

A lot of the discussions on panels at the various ad:tech events over the last 6 months or so have been focused on identity and the importance of it to our industry moving forwards. So why is this the case? Well, let’s firstly look at the benefits that having an identity to recognise users across platforms brings:

  • The ability to use data (1st, 2nd, 3rd party) to target consumers
  • More effective measurement and reporting of digital activity
  • Delivery of more relevant ads and experiences for consumers

Based on the above, you could say that identity management is foundational to the promise of right user, right message, right time in digital advertising.

However, the current status quo using 3rd party cookies for identity is that each platform/vendor involved in the ecosystem will have their own ID that they can use to identify a consumer. In order to identify a consumer from one platform to another requires a cookie match to take place and when this happens it is estimated that this match is not successful in about 30% of cases, meaning that with each ‘hop’ in the chain from publisher to advertiser, you could be losing 30% of the known audience to target. Additionally, the more syncs that need to take place, the longer the load time for a publisher’s site which negatively impacts the user experience.

We’ve already mentioned the overarching use cases for user identification, however, there are a number of implications on both the buy side and sell side when we are unable to identify consumers effectively:

  • Advertisers are unable to effectively reach their target audience
  • Advertisers relevance of message will decrease
  • Advertisers are willing to pay less for impressions in which they cannot identify the user, meaning that publishers receive less money
  • Impacts the ability for advertisers to retarget users, which also impacts revenue for publishers
  • Impacts delivery of Private marketplace and Programmatic Guaranteed deals due to being unable to match the users which has a direct impact on both advertisers and publishers

In order to address these challenges and to combat the dominance imposed by the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon (who all have access to an abundance of logged-in consumers in which they monetise their ID’s), the industry has been lobbying around universal ID solutions and this has been the main focus of the aforementioned panel discussions.

By using a universal ID you remove the need for matching to happen between each partner involved in the supply chain because there is just one identity to sync between all partners. By doing this you alleviate concerns around load times and drastically increase the ability to match users between partners (if properly adopted by the ecosystem of course). As an extra bonus, utilising a universal ID instead of 3rd party cookie matching also helps to manage data leakage and to more effectively manage GDPR compliance because one ID can be used to pass/understand consent between all parties.

So is a universal ID the answer to all of the challenges mentioned above? Well in short, it could be, however there is much more at play in our current environment. It is important to also consider recent changes in legislation such as GDPR, changes made by browsers such as ITP in Safari and to ask why these changes are taking place. There is a huge focus on user privacy and this trend will not go away in the short term, so we need to consider where identity for advertising and analytics purposes fits amongst this.

So what should marketers be doing when it comes to identity? Don’t get me wrong, I believe that identity is important for us as an industry. I also believe that universal IDs will be adopted at scale and will solve for many of the challenges that we mentioned around identity, as well as cleaning up the supply chain in terms of explicit consent management for targeting. However, in reality, we will not always be able to identify users 100% of the time, so we must also consider what we can do outside of targeting and measuring on a 1:1 level.

We need to get back to being creative and thinking about how we can engage consumers without knowing every piece of information about them. Contextually relevant targeting, time of day, geo-location, creative messaging are all strategies that we can use that do not rely on a direct 1:1 targeting method.  Panel based surveys, A/B testing methods and proxy metrics will also be required given the difficulties of measuring a consumer journey without consistent access to user identity.

So whilst identity is, and will remain, important for our industry as a whole, it’s important to remember that there are things that we can do outside of this and we are not doomed as an industry following tighter regulations on what we can do with user data.