I recall reading in 2013 about the 'Death of Cookies' attributed to the exponential growth of mobile phone use and new default browser settings. Stark warnings ensued of 'theres no such thing as a free lunch', this is the return to non-targeted intrusive advertising and fractured, inconsistent choices.
As long as I can remember there has been an annual prophecy foretelling the demise of the cookie. So much so I often imagine a cartooned anthropomorphic cookie impersonating Mark Twain and declaring "the reports of my death have been grossly exaggerated". Whilst this image is amusing it's no wonder we get stuck in that revolving door each year, after all cookie usage has proliferated for decades and there has not been, outside of the trio-poly (Facebook, Google and Amazon), a scalable substitute for digital identity in the advertising world.
To my mind the reason for this is twofold: firstly the industry is still very much propped up by large advertising budgets that need to use cookie reliant legacy technologies, secondly despite advances in ID spaces, most still depend heavily on cookies as a primary match key as a result of a need to scale.
This year however feels different to the others - we're entering 2018 off the back of what some would call benevolent, some bellicose actions to prevent 3rd party cookie tracking by device and browser - coupled with regulatory changes to data protection in the EU - which have a global customer, brand and publisher impact. It is undeniable that we are seeing an erosion of trackable digital identities based on 3rd party machinery. For some technologies this threat will be existential for others an opportunity for metamorphosis.
Now a question for the reader - what in your opinion is the best proxy for a real person in the digital universe? In other words what digital identifier most closely represents the individual? Is it an email address (hashed or un-hashed), a device ID (IDFA/Android), a brand's unique customer ID, loyalty or reference number or a cookie (1st or 3d party)?
Many of you will instantly see the logic in asking this question - after all nearly every business operating online aspires to have more personalised conversations with its customers - existing and potential. This is where the traditional cookie's flaws are exposed - at best a 3rd party cookie ID represents a particular browser on a single device (if it is possible to drop one at all) - it does not represent an individual.
Arguably the closest identifier to the individual is the mobile device ID. Why - well there are on average 1.8 email accounts per user globally (see Radicati Group Report) and whilst each email account may be read by the individual, there is no guarantee a specific address will be digitally active. Of course not every customer is registered and authenticated either so both email and customer ID will be unknown for the majority of a brands' prospects - the cookie does solve for this in a privacy safe unknown identity space but we now know this has current and future limitations.
The mobile device ID is more persistent than a cookie - it can only really be changed by OS reset, disabled by uncommon user settings or changed on a device upgrade. This persistence provides the marketer with the apparatus they so desperately seek to achieve personalised customer interaction nirvana. That little tablet everyone can't put down - that they check 150 times a day even when they're eating, sleeping and heaven help us visiting the water-closet, should be right at the heart of your customer targeting strategy. Yet many see moving to a mobile first strategy as a series of hurdles leading to a complete impasse (see Retailers still aren't mobile first).
But becoming mobile first need not be a blindfolded fire-pit walk, not with a DMP strategy based around mobile device ID.
What does that look like?
Integrating the DMPs SDK in native and hybrid apps enables the extraction of mobile user attributes from customer's screens (such as product page visits, purchase intent signals, add-to-cart actions, and conversions) transferring them into the DMP.
Your DMP of choice should be in or moving towards a position of being identity agnostic, that means the DMP can ingest, connect and activate data from any ID source. The DMPs cross device capability will provide the means to connect MAIDs (Mobile Ad IDs like IDFA, Android) with Mobile Web cookies, Mobile Web cookies with Desktop cookies and visa versa welding together a fabric of digital identity.
Marketers should be able to use this ID weft to integrate mobile with online and offline advertising campaigns to improve cross-channel targeting. The DMP will facilitate a retail brand pushing a targeted message a customer on her smartphone app after she clicks on an ad she saw on her laptop, where she was targeted based on her offline buying profile and LTV, then track where her conversion happens across devices and channels.
What do I need to plan for?
The best app in the world is useless if nobody downloads and uses it - apprise, incentivise, optimise. The cookie no longer solely provides the means to track and target customers, but just seeking to connect device IDs is not enough. All the customers who are currently using mobile devices to engage with your brand should be encouraged to move from being Mobile Web users to Mobile App users, this is where the persistence of the device ID pays dividends. Anyone using an Apple device or Safari browser by default will not be cookie tracked and effectively digitally invisible to your cookie based technology (I won't debate the merits and demerits of Statistical IDs here). One should use the DMP to build audiences and campaigns to apprise existing and potential customers of your app, create targeted messaging in direct and paid channels to incentivise them to use the app and optimise in the DMP those audiences and campaigns to ensure that you are constantly migrating mobile web users to mobile app.
Start small but plan to scale quickly - it is true that one of the barriers to Device ID overtaking the cookie is the prevalence of one compared to the other - there will be a period where each brand will need to ramp up device IDs for their known customer base in their ID space. But this shouldn't be reason to abdicate the strategy, if your brand has an app, that is in active use, then you're already part way there. Think about simple push notifications in a targeted, tailored way using the DMP to remind, incentivise and maintain app engagement.
Finally always build measurement into your plan so you can demonstrate mobile app growth, engagement and the incremental impact on ROI of a combined DMP & Device ID approach.
On reading this back I realise it sounds like I am capitulating to a future where cookies have an adjusted rank, but that's the whole point - the foundations of this argument lie in the subconscious choice, naiveté, or explicit selection the customer no longer assents to 3rd party tracking and so the metamorphosis begins.
If you find this article interesting, please read my earlier posts, Handy DMP life-hacks you won't abandon - unlike your resolutions! or All I want for Christmas is a DMP.