LiveRamp, Others Push Consumer Identification Across Devices

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LiveRamp's data on-boarding process.
LiveRamp's data on-boarding process. Credit: Courtesy LiveRamp
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Today's marketing data services firms all seem to agree on one thing: promoting their personal-identification prowess. As companies such as LiveRamp, Neustar and Oracle expand technical capabilities allowing for data connections from across the spectrum of consumers' interactions with brands, they have fueled an increasingly rabid desire among marketers to create a holistic view of their consumers, and ways to reach them with singular purpose no matter the media channel -- online, mobile, addressable TV and more.

Matching online and offline data to link the offline behavior of consumers to their digital identities is a growing business. Marketers not only want to connect disparate data and connect it to individual consumers, they want to reach those people everywhere across devices, and be able to measure those interactions in a unified way. The use of cross-device services is so popular the Direct Marketing Association recently got competitors from the data on-boarding sector to sit in the same room and agree on guidelines for standard language related to data matching information in requests-for-proposal.

Acxiom-owned LiveRamp, an early evangelist of what many in the industry have come to call "people-based marketing," is introducing a service called IdentityLink that represents an evolution from its data-on-boarding roots. The new service aims to produce a cohesive view of a consumer based on cross-channel data such as social and programmatic ad data, call center and CRM data, transactional data and addressable TV data -- before it is transformed or on-boarded for use online.

"On-boarding allowed us to build a core competency in identity resolution, resolving data across hundreds of digital platforms and hundreds of thousands of digital devices," said Jeff Smith, LiveRamp's CMO. "We're now building on this foundational capability, giving marketers the ability to resolve identity and data related to identity across any channel, creating a fuller, omni-channel understanding of the consumer before they on-board their data."

Among other upgrades, the company has enhanced internal systems that resolve identity across platforms and devices, and added an interface feature allowing brand clients to purchase third party data sets then merge them with their own.

During the 2014 holiday season Kellogg's Rice Krispies worked with Nielsen Catalina Solutions to use an earlier iteration of LiveRamp's data-connection and cross-device services. Discussing the initiative with Ad Age last year, Adam Paulisick, senior VP-marketing and strategy for NCS, explained that without consistently linked consumer identities across all marketing touchpoints and taking into account multiple devices in the same shopping household, "You can't see it over the lifecycle of the purchase of the product."

Casino owner Caesars Entertainment is using IdentityLink to target and "reactivate" its loyalty program members. "The rapid growth of channels in which we interact with consumers makes [cross-device or omni-channel marketing] incredibly complex, said Dwight Pirtle of Caesars Entertainment in a statement sent to Ad Age. "By helping us recognize our known customers and prospects wherever they engage with our brand, LiveRamp allows us to strengthen relationships with the people we care about and communicate in ways that are meaningful."

The broader industry shift towards focusing on using personally identifiable data to build consumer profiles tied to anonymized identifiers, reflects the marketing industry's "move away from cookies to people," said Eugene Becker, SVP and GM of data solutions at marketing data services agency Merkle, which works with Oracle and Adobe, both of which are steeped in the data management and device identification space. "The focus is coming back to personally-identifiable information."

Mr.Becker recently moved to Merkle to head up its data practice. His team builds proprietary data sets and custom data strategies for clients. "Once our customers get their hands on that, they want to activate it at every channel," he said.

Merkle uses LiveRamp rival Oracle to perform its data on-boarding services. Oracle emphasizes its use of retail transaction data along with several other data inputs to identify individuals, rather than typical matching keys such as email addresses, as a differentiator from the competition. "We know this particular device, this particular cookie goes back to this particular person," said Ajit Thupil, Oracle's director, ID Graph. "We are able to create this kind of consolidated data set."

When Oracle bought Crosswise in April, the firm acquired the ability to match multiple devices to individual consumers using machine-learning, an approach that continually optimizes as new data is ingested and processed. Oracle also partners with Drawbridge, which parses multiple pieces of information associated with 5 billion mobile phones, laptops and other devices to make educated inferences about which devices are associated with the same consumer.

Companies involved in data on-boarding, matching and cross-device identification all stress their privacy practices which anonymize data, stripping it of its personally identifiable information before use.

Despite its relatively inchoate stage, the process of matching brand customer data and audiences for cross-device targeting and measurement has become so commonplace, the Direct Marketing Association decided the industry needed guidelines to ensure agencies and their data services providers were working from the same standard definitions for terms such as "match rate" and "accuracy." Representatives of around a dozen firms including LiveRamp, consumer identification and matching firm Conversant, programmatic ad firm MediaMath and digital agency MRM/McCann developed a template for brands and agencies to use for information requests in RFPs.

"Nothing works if you don't have a cross-device solution in place," said Kate Clough, VP-engagement planning director for MRM/McCann, who participated in development of the guide.

Neustar, which has its foundation in identity authentication for financial, security and government clients, also competes in the marketing data onboarding and connection space. In addition to building single views of consumers by combining a variety of identifiers including personally identifiable information, cookies and device IDs, the company offers a data management platform for segmenting and targeting audiences across channels.

Adobe, whose audience manager platform is used by brands as a central hub for their data, is also in the cross-device game, having launched its Cross-Device Cooperative in beta earlier this year. Clients belonging to the co-op help one another determine when a consumer is associated with multiple linked devices. For example, when a user visiting a travel site belonging to the co-op logs in to the site online via a desktop computer, then later checks trip dates using a mobile device, the system can identify those devices as connected and belonging to the same user.

As companies in the data-linking business continue to evolve and expand services that turn basic data matching and on-boarding into more than simple building blocks for other advertising and marketing services to deploy, they could potentially run the risk of infringing on the turf of their agency partners.

"There's going to be some tension there, said Michael Schoen, VP-marketing services at Neustar, noting that agencies are up against increased pressure to provide data-related services as media-related services become commodified. Neustar partners with Omnicom, which uses its identity management platform.

"Adobe is providing an open and flexible platform to enable marketers and publishers to understand and activate their audiences across digital touchpoints. We partner with companies such as LiveRamp to make this possible," said Amit Ahuja, head of audience management for Adobe Marketing Cloud. "We are not at risk of alienating agencies. In fact, the opposite is true where Adobe is working with agencies as a technology provider to enable them to provide a holistic cross-device view of the consumer to their clients."

"We don't see this as being competitive with agencies," said Mr. Thupil from Oracle. "The tech platforms have a little bit more say into solving the problems with the brand," he continued. "It's not so much that we are taking over the hand-holding from the agencies. ... It is a question of how can we work together with the agencies to help the brand and drive value."