How to approach a long-term identity strategy, minus third-party cookies

Tom Lavan, strategy and corporate development, Xandr

As all of the major browsers communicate plans and timelines for deprecating third-party cookies, anxiety continues to grow among advertisers that are looking for new ways to engage valuable customers on a one-to-one basis.

The impending browser changes will promote consumer privacy and are aligned with recent laws and regulatory guidance intended to do the same. But they also present the advertising ecosystem with a challenge — some might say an opportunity — to champion privacy while finding new and innovative ways to provide marketers and consumers with relevant, targeted ad experiences.

The challenge, and the opportunity, is not about solving for the loss of third-party cookies or creating workarounds, but determining the best path forward, investing and partnering to develop strategic identity solutions, enabling publishers to maximize the value of their first-party data, help advertisers meet their business goals and build consumer trust in digital advertising.

This problem-solving can ultimately open doors for industry participants, and when it comes to day-to-day strategy and planning, it’s clear that there are key learnings and steps to consider as a future without third-party cookies quickly approaches.

1. Understand regulations and what they mean for marketing strategies

With regulatory requirements evolving across the world, it’s important for advertisers to understand the impact of those changes on their existing data collections and data-use policies — and to assess any new policies that need to be implemented as a result.

Especially for businesses that span states, regions and countries, these new regulations must be considered and prioritized when developing company strategies. Working closely with industry bodies such as the IAB can be helpful for better understanding the implications of new rules and how peers in the industry are reacting. In many cases, this leads to collaboration, consistency and, ultimately, a more successful strategy.

2. Maximize the value of first-party data

The move away from third-party cookies will further increase the focus on maximizing the value of first-party data insights as they enable more effective and direct collaboration between media companies and advertisers.

Solutions such as data onboarding and analytics technology such as InfoSum, for example, enable users to harness first-party data while maintaining consumer trust and also address privacy and regulatory constraints that impact the industry. When choosing a provider, it’s essential to verify that their first-party data sources truly connect advertisers, platforms and publishers in ways that enable privacy-safe discovery, matching, analysis and activation. It’s also critical to ensure that sensitive data — i.e., PII — is never exposed to external sources.  

Enabling the flow of data and insights between advertisers, media companies and technology platforms in a way that’s compliant with CCPA, GDPR and other regional regulations, while returning audience match rates and analytics almost instantly, these will be the factors necessary for the advancement of digital advertising.

3. Evaluate alternative engagement models 

Identity is key to powering relevant advertising. Even basic ad-serving features like frequency and recency control, which improve the consumer experience, are not possible without understanding a user’s identity. Connecting more relevant ads to users is part and parcel of making advertising a better experience overall. But doing so in a privacy-safe way can be challenging.

Models such as contextual targeting, however, which has been around since the start of the programmatic era, are re-emerging as an approach of choice for advertisers seeking to provide a positive user experience for potential customers. Not only does contextual targeting enable advertisers to reach audiences based on context or categories of interest rather than IDs, but it also supports a continued stream of advertising revenue that is essential for publishers bound by privacy regulations. 

Widely proven to help brands maintain the relevancy of their advertising to consumers, the accuracy and precision of contextual targeting will only increase as technology continues to evolve. The better a platform can understand the true context of a page, the better the ad match — and the better the consumer experience.

4. Diversify formats and channels

To optimize media spend in a world without cookies, buyers need to diversify and expand the formats in which they share their messages. Mediums and channels that aren’t reliant on browser-based cookies — including CTV, digital out-of-home, addressable TV and data-driven linear TV — are continuing to grow, especially as viewing habits have shifted during COVID-19. These channels are a safe bet for advertisers looking to engage relevant audiences across screens.

Long-form video offerings prompting robust engagement will grow in importance, and buying strategies such as programmatic guaranteed — which enables buyers to easily reserve access to premium supply through a consolidated buying platform — may well become the preferred transaction method.

The direction of consumer privacy controls — whether because of regulations, technical changes or device-maker strategy — is likely to continue on its current trajectory. In whatever ways the future plays out, strategies should always center around a core dedication to developing solutions that create better, more personalized experiences for consumers, while continuing to fund free, high-quality content through advertising.

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