Only players that have quality audience data, track consumer journeys, make data addressable and diversify to different cookieless identity strategies will survive.

The future of identity

This article is part of a series of articles from the WARC Guide to the future of identity.

Now that Google has moved the timeline for fading out third-party cookies from its browser to 2023, the marketplace has the opportunity and time to roll up its sleeves and figure out the next steps without it being a dash to the finish line. It will be fascinating to see how brands, agencies, ad tech firms, publishers and even consumers provision for this new normal.

Browser policies around the elimination of third-party cookies, app policies such as IDFA and privacy regulations such as GDPR, CCPA and CPRA have been the talk of town. The future relies heavily on identity strategies to help reduce the impact of these changes.

Those with access to authenticated audience data, persistent identifiers, partnerships with identity resolution offerings and proprietary ID graphs will benefit in the long run.

Solutions are springing up to enable better targeting while at the same time keeping consumer privacy rights at the forefront. Google’s FLoC and Privacy Sandbox are creating a route through cohorts, while Unified ID 2.0 is creating an alternative ID-based solution, replacing cookies with anonymized hashed email IDs, through partnerships on the buy- and sell-side and with data connectivity/matching partners.

However, the viability of these solutions is still to be tested, both in the US and globally.

Let’s double-click on why the world of data is changing in the first place

If you have followed the LUMAscape closely, there have been a wide range of entities across the evolving landscape and varied uses of data over the years.

I remember the time when using a DMP and leveraging third-party data was the most ‘in’ thing. Matching your first-party CRM with third-party data was unique, audience-oriented and unconventional – the shiny new object. Websites were popping up; online shopping behaviors were changing, and the digital media universe had many players finding and targeting users across the web.

When someone went to a brand site and then visited a news site afterwards, it was magic to see the brand ad there. Often when I told people I am a digital marketer, they said, ‘Oh, you are the one chasing us online, how do you do that?’ Programmatic advertising was a mystique.

Well those days are gone. Consumers are becoming savvy and, with fraud increasing, people are becoming wary as well. No one wants their data floating around. This has led to a need for more privacy, better compliance, more education, more awareness – all good things, right? Yes, but, if you are a brand or marketer, you will now need to start relying on your own data, use your own CRM and think of ways in which you can collect more data and make more connections with your consumers.

Does this mean walled gardens will get larger?

Possibly. Will brands need to put all media dollars into walled gardens for better targeting? Not really. What is important is a well-thought-out plan that answers three key questions:

  1. How can data be sourced and what value can be generated from first-party data?
  2. How can consumer journeys be mapped and connected?
  3. How can measurement practices be made stronger to ensure what’s done is working?

There is no-one-size-fits all approach, though. The strategy will change based on who you are. Figuring out an identity solution and if you have a way in which you can stitch all data points is going to be critical.

Essentially the question is this: can you be self-reliant on your data? And who do you need to partner with to make that data efficient?

While the walled gardens are getting bigger, you can build a fort and a moat around yourself too. You just need to find the right technology, process, and people to build that for you. But having a CDP is not enough. Planning for the storage and deployment of that data through people, processes and the right use cases is key.

For publishers reliant on the open exchange, the future suddenly seems uncertain

This is especially true given the increase in demand for audience data, and that the days of simply relying on the third-party data are going away. The shift from programmatic open exchange to more direct audience-based, premium content buys seems inevitable. The question is how are you going to make yourself relevant again?

To be able to monetize inventory, prevent revenue sources from depleting, and think about future growth, it is important to have a systematic approach to the process of collecting first-party data and making experiences on the site better and easy for users to provide their information voluntarily.

The cardinal rule is authentication

Yes, you read that right – make content appealing and personalized. People are consuming a lot of content digitally and on-the-go. With this mindset, personalized experiences are always welcome.

I am sure your next question will be, “Isn’t that an antithesis of the earlier point about consumers getting wary and not wanting to share information?” Well, there is a slight ray of light here. It’s not that consumers don’t want to be targeted at all, it’s just that they want to be targeted when they want to be targeted, and still have the choice of opting out. Hence, third-party pixels and targeting will be a thing of the past. I am willing to give you my email address if I trust you and you will give me some value back. Yes, it’s a value exchange world these days.

Incentivizing and tracking user engagement are table stakes. It’s all about paying attention to user behavior and preferences (what kind of content do your loyal readers like, how do they like to consume content, what are their device preferences). All these factors will help the publisher to get closer to the users, increase loyalty and enable more users to provide more information.

But that’s just one part. The important element is stitching all the data points together through an identity solution and making your inventory strong, audience-based and addressable.

Ultimately, we are all a part of the ecosystem where the end goal is sustainability and growth. Protect your revenue and create growth opportunities by making your audience attractive and valuable for brands to target. Only players that have quality audience data, track consumer journeys, make data addressable and diversify to other cookieless strategies will survive. Identity resolution partners and data clean rooms will enable the enrichment of that data in a secure environment.

All in all, those who have precious first-party data are going to benefit and those who don’t will have to rely on contextual content-based alignment. The best step forward will be to have a goal-oriented approach, create test-and-learns, invest in the right partnerships and technology, build solid processes and frameworks, and, finally, make your narrative use case-driven, where your data can be powerful.