Last year was one that few of us would wish to repeat. Just as life itself was shaken, marketing too was put under the microscope.
A shifting economy, the drying-up of traditional ad targeting identifiers and new regulations all forced us to rethink what we do. But a challenging year was also a clarifying one, when the path that many digital marketers didn’t know they were seeking revealed itself.
As we emerge into another year, how will that path unfold – and what new hurdles lie in wait?
1. Staying frozen in the present
Marketers were already facing rapidly-changing consumer preferences and a disruption to digital capabilities. Then the pandemic hit, throwing in even more complexities.
It would be easy for a marketer to choose stasis – to hunker down, wait out the pandemic winter by pausing spend and hibernate until the thawing of recovery. But you don’t need the growing number of retail closures to tell you that refusal to reinvent is not a winning strategy.
Many publishers have viewed the pandemic as an accelerant for necessary digital transformation, hastening their transition to upgrading advertising services with offerings like user authentication – in some cases, by years. Pushed by urgency, marketers, too, must seize the opportunity to break with the old and embrace the new.
2. Crying over the cookie
Beside Covid-19, a new virus has taken hold in adland – ostrich syndrome. It is the unfortunate sight of executives being kept up at night when faced with the winnowing of audience targeting techniques.
For three decades, the industry has premised such targeting on third-party cookies, a technology that has always been problematic for identifying devices rather than their users. After Firefox and Safari, Google’s market-leading Chrome plans to deprecate third-party cookies by 2022. But, as recently as last year, a survey found 38% of publishers did not have a replacement technology planned.
Don’t cry for the cookie – the new identity infrastructure now emerging will improve upon its legacy by ushering in people-based identity, cross-device targeting, user privacy and more effectiveness. Those who have already jumped into this future report that leaning in early has jump-started results. Remember, Google’s 2022 is a timeline, not a deadline – so start testing solutions now.
3. Relying on mobile identifiers
Mobile identifiers had become a staple for many a marketing strategy. Mobile device identifiers allow app publishers to track user interaction and build actionable profiles. But Apple’s decision to turn its IDFA identifier to opt-out by default will have significant ramifications.
If we see the same user response as when Apple made its Location Services opt-in, then advertisers are about to lose the majority of their opted-in Apple audience base. This will reduce the accuracy and completeness of mobile user data. So marketers must understand that, for user targeting, mobile identifiers cannot be the only game in town.
Mobile app developers, gaming marketers and mobile operating systems need a neutral infrastructure that will enable them to maintain as well as scale their business whilst still upholding consumer privacy standards, and respecting guidelines set out by device makers and app stores.
4. Ignoring publishers’ data riches
If the waning of device-based identifiers is a problem, a solution is already bubbling up. In 2020, publishers doubled down on creating authenticated consumer relationships through a trusted value exchange, therefore making their inventory addressable to marketers.
Addressable inventory represents an enormous opportunity for publishers by being not only addressable, but also measurable. Marketers want to connect their first- and third-party data to publisher inventory – trusted value exchanges with consumers can enable this and not only preserve, but enhance publisher revenue.
5. Not thinking beyond the platforms
If you needed to understand the dominance of Google and Facebook, just look at the estimate from eMarketer, which forecasts the pair will take 69.1% of all UK digital spending this year.
It’s easy to understand why advertisers continue investing in major platforms like these. Such large-scale services require logins and make a plethora of data points available as buyable personal passions and life moments.
But, in 2021, publishers responsible for the other 30.9% are rapidly gaining the same kind of toolset because they are investing in authenticated strategies. In the post-cookie push toward authenticated user data, publishers are creating new opportunities to connect their valuable inventory to marketer data and demand. Doing so helps create parity across the open internet in terms of addressability, effectively leveling the playing field for publishers in particular.
Toward the future
In 2021, so much for so many still remains uncertain.
But one thing is for sure – last year was incredibly instructive in pointing the industry toward the changes, sometimes difficult, that can represent an overdue, generational upgrade in marketing effectiveness.
As with so many other resolutions, making good on that requires not only adopting positive new habits but also kicking bad old habits to the curb.
Tim Geenen is managing director of addressability, Europe at LiveRamp.