While the talk of the decline or death of cookies — that is, pieces of data sent from websites and stored on your computer — has been around for years, the realities are now beginning to take center stage for brands.
Tech giants such as Apple, Google and Mozilla, have introduced browser-blocking, third-party cookie technologies with more consumer-controlled options on the horizon. With the rise of privacy regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act and General Data Protection Regulation, the way marketers have historically tracked consumer behavior online will need to radically change.
Although different solutions to consumer digital tracking have been bandied about, I believe the pervasiveness and stickiness of the Mobile Ad ID (MAID) is here to stay. As the CEO of a data solutions company that works directly with brands, agencies, marketing technology providers and publishers, I've heard a growing drumbeat on new mobile-focused solutions to overcome the challenges of cookie and privacy regulations.
Back in the day when everyone relied on the PC and predominately searched on one browser, cookies were viewed as the holy grail of tracking a consumer’s journey. While cookies were an effective way to track activity on websites, consumers have become more privacy-aware and can opt out of cookie tracking. At the same time, consumers use multiple devices, including PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc., which diminishes the returns of using cookies.
This conflux of browser-blocking technologies, consumer privacy opt-outs and multiple device usage has resulted in a soaring cookie rejection rate of more than 60 percent, according to a report by Flashtalking.
Serving as device-specific identifiers linked to a particular browser, cookies cannot map a customer’s journey across multiple devices and browsers. Cookies also are inherently flawed when more than one person shares devices, which can lead to inaccurate or mispresented data. Plus, cookies come with expiration dates — typically within a 30-day window.
The unreliability of cookies is particularly bad for marketers pursuing personalization, as gaining an understanding and interacting with consumers throughout their buying journey is difficult to achieve. As cross-device and cross-channel usage grows, marketers desperately need a reliable, data-driven solution to reach potential and recurring customers with personalized messages.
No Mistaking The Power Of Mobile
It is no surprise that mobile dominates consumers’ lives today. According to eMarketer, U.S. adults spend 1 hour and 14 minutes more on their mobile devices than on their computers daily, and consumers spend 87 percent of the time on their smartphones in-app.
Cookies, however, are unable to track mobile in-app usage, and as the mobile programmatic channel grows to support mobile targeting, marketers must be aware of the tracking and privacy-related challenges associated with this channel.
Enter The MAID
Although naysayers claim that MAIDs are merely the cookie for the mobile world, the difference here is that a MAID is a unique, anonymous identifier provided by the mobile device’s operating system. MAIDs help both marketers and publishers understand who is using their app and help identify and associate consumers. Just like hashed email addresses, MAIDs serve as anonymous identifiers that help combat privacy issues. And while cookies are not transferable among data onboarders, MAIDs are universal across applications, and no onboarding process is necessary to link MAIDs to an identity.
Mobile now accounts for nearly three-fourths of all programmatic digital ad spend, and that number is expected to rise. Digital marketers are now investigating new solutions in order to optimize that spend by accurately identifying and linking attributes of these anonymous consumers to effectively retarget, segment their audiences and personalize communications in the growing mobile space. And this all must be done in a manner that continues to protect consumers’ personally identifiable information through safe harbor onboarding practices that enrich consumer data with demographic and lifestyle attributes anonymously.
MAIDs are helpful in following a consumer's buying journey; however, unless they are attached to another piece of information, MAIDs can be limiting. For brands and marketers looking to tap into the power of MAIDs, consider these best practices:
Tap into mobile location behavior data: MAIDs give marketers the ability to take advantage of privacy-compliant mobile location behavior data to improve personalization and targeting timing. As an example, location data can tell if a device is frequently at a sports venue, which indicates that person is likely a sports fan, and, depending on the venue, which type.
Tie in offline deterministic data: While adding location-behavior data linked to MAIDs will provide insights for personalization, it’s important to enrich MAIDs with offline deterministic data to round out the insights and anonymously deliver critical qualifiers such as age, gender, income, wealth and lifestyle. In the example above, a marketer would have no way to know if the sports fan is male or female simply by using the location data tied to the MAID.
Respect privacy: It is imperative to ensure the data-linking process is done through safe harbor privacy best practices to protect personally identifiable information. Also, be careful not to overpersonalize outreaches so your messaging doesn’t move into the creepy territory (e.g., “I saw you were recently at a local auto dealership”).
Some brands also rely on innovative technologies to help enhance the data from MAIDs. For example, many now use an identity resolution platform to power a brand's own identity graph to link consumer data, such as names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., to help identify consumers and their profiles and attributes. If you use a third-party identity resolution provider, ensure it uses rigorous privacy processes and permissible content from reliable sources to comply with all federal and state data privacy laws.
With each new customer interaction, a customer’s profile continues to evolve and grow, so critical identifiers, hashed emails and other anonymous identifiers enable marketers to recognize customers across all touch points in a singular view. This power enables marketers to track changing buying patterns, gain deeper insights into consumer interests and personalize the consumer experience in a privacy-compliant manner.