How publishers are approaching addressability in 2021 and beyond


by Susan Wu, Senior Director, Marketing Research at PubMatic

There is perhaps no bigger disruptor to the digital ecosystem than the changes afoot around addressable advertising. To flourish during this period of uncertainty, publishers are seeking partners that can help manage the complexities of ID management plus cross-device and cross-site addressability and measurement.  

PubMatic recently partnered with Digiday to investigate how publishers are preparing for the shift in addressability as third-party cookies disappear. Anchored by a survey of nearly 70 publisher executives working in ad tech operations, business development and programmatic monetization, the report examined addressability challenges and opportunities.

In the following sections, highlights from the report show how publishers are scaling ID tracking and management while eliminating cross-device redundancies, achieving cross-channel insights and preparing for the future of addressability by choosing quality tech partners.

The cookieless future will rely on new methods and identifiers 

Search engines such as Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari have already phased out third-party cookies, and Google Chrome will eliminate the identity trackers in 2023. While walled gardens like Google are proposing ad-targeting alternatives such as the Privacy Sandbox within its own browser, players across the industry have questions about the technology and whether it will hinder competition in digital advertising.  

With uncertainty swirling around the absence of cookies, publishers are putting privacy-compliant strategies in place to collect and use data. And they’ll need to create new methods for managing and tracking unique identifiers if they want to continue to reach people with relevant ads.  

Furthermore, the future of addressability will require publishers to target users across multiple devices and sites, all while eliminating redundancies — a challenge that 55% of publishers in the survey cited as a chief concern.  

In the near-term, leaning into email address data and unique user IDs shows the greatest promise when it comes to addressability solutions. Publishers are focusing on figuring out how to target audiences and specific devices and then determining how those devices offer a more unified view of a single consumer. Device IDs will also be part of publishers’ post-cookie ID graphs, which include other identifiers such as email and IP addresses.  

Cross-channel insights unlock targeting and impact

When it comes to tying audiences together, with effective cross-channel insights, publishers can rely less on targeting tactics that annoy consumers and more on smarter ad strategies that drive engagement. 

Some experts advise publishers to begin experimenting with measurement tools and resources that they are building in-house, or with SSPs, to create cross-channel analytics. These steps should help publishers deliver more unified reporting to advertisers and prove the success of their campaigns.  

Publishers that achieve effective cross-channel insights can develop better targeting tactics. For example, instead of relying on banners to reach as many eyes as possible, publishers can shift to high-impact engagement ads. As the user experience improves, so will campaign success. 

Meanwhile, tackling cross-channel challenges comes with tech, operational and legal costs. Partnerships help publishers by opening pathways to distributed resources — ones that can weave together all the signals publishers must track. 

Next steps: Unique ID tracking and management at scale 

The biggest obstacle to effectively tracking and managing deterministic and probabilistic IDs is doing so at scale. In the survey, publishers cited the problem of scaling data sets (61%) and solutions (53%) to the degree needed to run programmatic programs. 

A few survey respondents — among 16% who cited alternative addressability solutions — said they considered options such as subscriber data and geolocation to target emails, but those had low effectiveness. Email address data and unique user IDs based on deterministic data like logins are proving to be effective approaches for publishers. Still, speed and scalability continue to pose challenges. 

As publishers pursue alternative addressability solutions, there are several additional key takeaways to consider, based on the report. 

  • Solutions are underway: 32% of publishers have been working on addressability solutions for a year or more, and 42% of publishers have been working within the past 12 months. Sixteen percent haven’t started but plan to within the next year. 
  • First-party data is table stakes. The solutions and data sources publishers are pursuing include email address data, unique user IDs, browser data, IP address data and device data. A majority of survey respondents cited email address data and unique user IDs as the most commonly pursued addressability solution. 
  • Experimentation is a critical step in post-cookies identity resolution. Identity solutions provided by tech partners can help guide publishers and advertisers along the path to an addressable future. Companies should be seeking out tech partners with solutions focused on enabling scaled addressability across all leading tactics — in a simple and straightforward way — with data protection at the core. 

Data privacy laws and the phasing out of traditional identifiers make testing alternative, privacy-compliant identity solutions more important than ever for publishers. Relying on tech partners with their own ID solutions, and resources to test and help scale those solutions, will be critical for publishers and advertisers as they seek to create addressable audiences in the future.

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