Marketers: Your Identity Solution Is Obsolete

Andrew ArtemenkoDrew ThimmeGuest Post by Andrew Artemenko & Drew Thimme. Andrew is Senior Director, Digital Strategy at Neustar.  You can connect with Mike on LinkedIn or Twitter.  Drew is Executive Director, Marketing Services, Healthcare Focus at Neustar.  You can connect with Andrew on LinkedIn.

 Today’s digital marketer has a hidden weakness in the technology between them and customers: Cookies construct a lousy customer identity.

“Good Enough” is going away

Today, digital marketers rely on desktop cookies as a linchpin for identity. Savvy marketing organizations leverage technology partners, like iRobotNeustar, for Digital Onboarding to link a set of offline data – first or third-party data – and ID-sync with digital advertising platforms to track online ad campaigns.  If all goes according to plan, you convert PII (personally identifiable information) to anonymous cookies, and then later measure the ad exposure against those cookies.  Many marketers are so excited to gain access to their customer data, they accept that a match to cookies is good enough to get started.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Today’s Digital Onboarding is a one-way trip.  It’s a catapult of your audience into the programmatic ad ecosystem.  When you convert your audience to cookies, the promised outcome is you can bid on your top segments as they browse the web.  However, the moment you link to cookies, you are linking to a moment-in-time Polaroid snapshot of your customer.  And they disappear fast.

Based on a Jupiter Research survey of 2,337 U.S. respondents, 17 percent of Internet users delete cookies on a weekly basis. Approximately 12 percent do so on a monthly basis, and 10 percent make it a daily habit.

It’s a nuisance that cookies get deleted often.  It’s a liability when those cookies appear to be new visitors when they are not.

Set aside the impact to redundant creative messaging here (I’m looking at you, Amazon), this is a disaster for frequency measurement.  Without resolving back to an offline identity, your marketing reports may contain errors:

In a comScore study, an ad-server system which uses cookies to track the reach and frequency of an online campaign will overstate reach by a factor of up to 5.7x and understate frequency to the same degree.  Put another way, you’re overcooking the same audience with too many ads. 

Identity graph solutions are gaining in popularity:

More advanced digital organizations today are purchasing, or building an identity graph that links multiple data points back to a single ID.  According to Merkle, an identity graph consists of 3 parts: Terrestrial, Device and Digital Identity.  This underlying “truth set” must be current and accurate, and is able to toggle between online and offline worlds.  While the immediate benefit is a sharper lens on intra-channel frequency, you’ve probably read more recently about “omni-channel” campaigns and measurement.  In either case:

Leading digital marketing organizations are not replacing the cookie, they are diversifying around it.

Mobile is only part of the solution

Targeting mobile devices is a step forward, if only because of the precipitous decline in desktop usage and meteoric rise in mobile device adoption.   However, 75 million consumers change phone carriers each year, and 45 million consumers change their phone number.  So mobile may be a more relevant data point in today’s modern identity graph, but it’s not a complete (or current) picture of identity.  What happens when the customers in your data file purchase a new phone?  There is a science to connecting identifiers, making identity management the unsung hero of your marketing stack.

If you are seeking to build an Identity Graph…

How do I start? Look for partners who manage some form of persistent ID and can articulate coverage in the context of all US households.  Think about the entire marketing funnel and opportunities to match action with identity.  The initial ad impression, online application submission, phone calls, in-store visits should all be linked to a single identity.

Rather than a one-time match to cookies, your Identity solution should stitch together the entire customer journey with multiple identifiers.

Ready for a bit of homework?  Three takeaways to try:

  1.  If you use a data onboarder today, ask about the matching process, and how exactly your partner’s underlying truth set is able to link personally identifiable information to recent cookies and mobile device IDs. How do you know you are not reaching duplicate cookies?
  2. Request a campaign exposure report. This is a privacy-safe view of your segments exposed to digital advertising.  This is a great way to get an initial view of reach and frequency against your target segments.  Is it based on a cookie or an offline ID?
  3. Close the Loop: For retailers and service providers who transact offline, there is an opportunity to connect offline conversion data to online exposure.  Conduct a study with your technology partner to calculate the exact frequency of online and mobile ads to drive offline conversion.


Identity matters.  Digital Onboarding matters.  And when you go to measure your data-driven marketing campaigns, you don’t want to be sifting through a pile of Polaroid photos.  Investing in an identity graph through a partner like Neustar can create real cost savings and reinvestment opportunities.  By asking the right questions today, you’ll be in a better position to measure your marketing programs tomorrow.