Post-Cookie Marketing: Why Personalized Advertising Doesn’t Need to Be One-to-One

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No one could blame the digital marketing community for feeling exhausted right now. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the normal operations of most businesses and, for many, the work of digital marketers has been a crucial element of their organization’s response.

Now, digital marketers are facing unprecedented levels of upheaval in how they find, reach and engage customers. Apple has announced that in the interest of consumer control, it will give users more ability to opt-out of targeting or tracking at the app level, which will cause a predicted 10-20% drop in the volume of IDFAs (personal identifiers assigned to its devices) made available to advertisers. Separately, third-party cookies are to be phased out completely on all web browsers by early 2022. These impending restrictions on the gathering and handling of consumer data, while important from a consumer control and privacy standpoint, will create a roadblock to the entire campaign cycle, from the planning and delivery of personalized ads, to frequency capping and measurement, forcing digital marketers to reinvent their traditional approach to digital advertising.

Also Read: How 2020 Became the Year of Reckoning for AdTech

So, what are the options available to today’s marketers?

Post-cookie and post-device ID strategies

The first potential strategy, as ever, is to do nothing – to simply wait and see what happens next. Many companies will continue, in the short-term at least, to rely on pervasive third-party cookies and personal identifiers. However, with Apple placing its IDFAs behind a strict opt-in choice and third-party cookies soon to be no more, this is hardly a recipe for success. Those organizations that choose to do nothing will inevitably see their reach and measurability nose-dive as a result.

Likewise, waiting for tech’s big hitters to solve the problem might be a mistake. While Google recently announced details of its new approach to deliver and measure ads sent to Chrome users, known as FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), the proposals have attracted some controversy. The new approach, effectively Google’s replacement for third-party cookies, works by clustering large groups of anonymized people with similar interests and processing user information on-device, rather than broadcasting it across the web. Critics have already branded the proposals anti-competitive and damaging to the interests of independent publishers and advertisers alike, so whether FLoC as proposed will ever see the light of day is open to question.

Others in the industry are pinning their hopes on the adoption of universal, open or unified IDs for cross-site tracking. However, these solutions are largely one-dimensional and still ultimately based on personal information – for example, an email or phone number – that consumers have willingly shared with a site on login. With consumers increasingly protective of their personal data, it seems unlikely that unified IDs can plug the data gap for advertisers in a post-cookie marketplace.

The potential strategy that seems to be generating the most ad industry press is the return of ‘contextual’ advertising, however this approach, too is very one dimensional and essentially takes us back 10 years in digital advertising. Simply put, this is where advertisers place their ads next to content that they believe their target customers will be interested in. This contextual approach is certainly privacy-friendly (as it doesn’t require any personal identifiers at all), but as advertisers well know, it’s also far less targeted and measurable and question marks remain over its effectiveness and its ability to target niche demographics, which is why contextual was largely replaced my more targeted approaches before. History tells us that context alone isn’t the answer for advertisers in 2021.

So, faced with such an array of imperfect options, how can marketers make sense of their new reality and find the right solution? At Blis, we believe that the vital piece of the puzzle facing marketing leaders is the smart application of location-based data in combination with other signals, from lifestyle characteristics and affinities through to browsing and shopping habits.

Also Read: How to Make Connections in an Online World

Right time, right location, right signals

While today’s marketers face unprecedented regulatory challenges, it’s not all bad news. In 2021, advances in machine learning plus access to massive pre-existing opted-in datasets mean that marketers are now capable of conducting consumer analysis in ways that wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago.

A wide range of data signals are still available to draw upon, which, when utilized in combination with location intelligence, allow marketers to map precise audiences for targeting. These dynamic audiences provide an ever-evolving, multi-dimensional snapshot rooted in location, context and time without relying on personal data.

At Blis, for example, we currently see GPS-based movement data from over 1.5 billion consented mobile phones every month across 160 countries. This huge pool of opted-in data allows marketers to paint an accurate and valuable picture of how consumers behave in the real world. Precise and directly observed location behaviors are blended with a variety of offline and online data sources to build a comprehensive understanding of a target audience. The combination of these myriad of non-personally identifiable signals, whether it’s postcode clusters, what they browse or their average income, taken together with real-world movement data, builds an hour-by-hour snapshot of high indexing targeting criteria. This allows Blis to uniquely differentiate each target audience from the rest of the population and build a scaled audience to target.

With the right support in place, these industry-wide changes don’t have to spell doom for digital ad campaigns and there will be room in the ecosystem for a number of different approaches. Marketers will ultimately benefit from a more innovative and informed approach to digital advertising, and the industry should embrace the opportunity to reset the rules of engagement for a privacy-first world that works better for businesses and consumers alike.

Also Read: The Green Shoots of a Digital Publishing Revival Call for Creative New Formats

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