"Don't I Know You?" Is Not a Solution to the Industry's Identity Challenges

Educating and encouraging users to get involved is the first step

Excuse me, do I know you?

That’s the question many publishers are asking their visitors today, and the question users are asking the brands following their digital footprints. The deprecation of third-party cookies is forcing the industry to rethink consumer relationships when it comes to identity.

Identifiers are all the rage but they only account for one side of the addressability and measurement issue. Consumer opt-in is imperative for the long-term health of our digital ecosystem. But many publishers authenticate fewer than 10% of their users—if they can authenticate any at all—highlighting a systemic problem across the publisher/supply world.

A handful of platforms have introduced their IDs as persistent identifiers in place of the third-party cookie; and some, such as Verizon Media’s ConnectID, are interoperable, translating IDs from partners like Acxiom, Experian and Epsilon. While these IDs will allow marketers to deliver addressable and audience-targeted budgets, the universe of users available tomorrow may be a fraction of what it is today because of low user logins. As legacy web/display publishers scramble to figure out ways to identify their traffic, the same cookie and ID suppression issue will soon befall connected TV (CTV), OTT, audio and in-app publishers, as well. No one is immune—so what are advertisers and publishers to do?

Everyone has a role to play

In a world built by publishers, for publishers, 100% of users would be identifiable. We’re not there today, and while logging in is the easiest fix, it falls short of addressing user pain points.  Misconceptions and concerns about privacy and personally identifiable information (PII) remain. And until consumer confidence and trust around data usage increases, expecting users to log in to any and every site and service is still asking too much.

Platforms can’t solely be responsible for solving the user identification issue, either. There needs to be a larger contingent of advertisers, publishers and agencies that contribute to solutions that are customer-led and work for everyone.

By focusing on the value exchange instead, publishers can use the “identity gap” to educate and influence their audience on the value and benefits of user identity. Here are a few tactics to get your audience on board and to thrive in a cookieless world:

Personalization. Many users take the convenience of a personalized experience for granted. Personalization exists not only with the content, but with the demand that pays for their experience on your site. Publishers can create internal campaigns highlighting the value of a personalized experience for their audience. “Looking for Owls?” probably not, but by creating a profile, publishers can cater content to their audience’s interests.  

Measurement. Your users probably don’t want to pay to view your content, so make it clear that advertising is what will keep the free service flowing. And not just any advertising—only the most relevant messages provided by your demand partners. Insights and analytics are dependent on the ability to measure a user’s response or other interaction with an ad. 

Privacy control. Users don’t have to give away the proverbial farm through registration. Publishers can create the opportunity for users to designate what their login and data can be used for. Give your audience options and empower them to create the experience best for them. Remember, some user data is better than nothing at all.

Provide an alternative. Think about an A/B scenario where you can show users what a personalized experience looks like vs. an anonymous journey across your site. Be creative, be influential. Use this opportunity to validate the appropriate subscription offering for your product (it may make sense for some, not for others).

There’s a lot to think about here. There’s also no need to sound the alarms, drop everything and panic. Publishers and advertisers aren’t in this alone. While no one has the silver bullet solution, be mindful of the identify partners who are on the journey with you and are in it for the long haul. These identity partners will play a big part in our industry’s privacy revolution. Together, we can turn the problem of identity into a new, better reality for everyone.

Mike Petrella is a global sales executive with 20-plus years of experience in the programmatic marketplace. He is a sales and operations leader with an emphasis on cross platform content syndication, distribution and monetization.