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The path to personalized advertising post-cookies

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Identity and the changing measurement landscape

In the not-too-distant future, most of the signals we get from third-party cookies and devices will be all but gone. And while identity players are already in-market to fill the void, much of the focus is on overall audience addressability. While addressability is paramount, marketers are also looking for ways they can create personalized experiences without cookies. 

As digital marketers, we know that insight is the key to personalization. In lieu of browser and device data, forward-thinking marketers are testing other insight-rich sources to build audience profiles that don’t rely on traditional bread crumb trails. I caught up with a few marketers to see what tools and techniques they are implementing to stay ahead of the game. 

CDPs and identity solutions 

CDPs and identity graphs build a single view of a user, including explicit and implicit interests and preferences. This singular identity stitches together a host of signals to deliver a 360-degree view to power personalization without third-party cookies.

Working with an established CDP or identity platform keeps all the identifiers related to a customer in one place, including personally identifiable information (PII) like usernames and phone numbers, as well as non-PIIs signals like first-party cookies and publisher IDs. Marketers can leverage these CDPs or identity graph databases to build omnichannel views for customers and prospects, enabling them to create personalized ads and messaging across various touchpoints.

Marketers who work with CDPs or identity platforms can capture data from over a hundred touchpoints, and build a unified view across their entire CRM to drive personalized messaging. Using advanced analytics and modeling, marketers can create a variety of personalization scenarios based on different channels, intent signals, and propensity scores for each user. And connecting the ad identifiers using a virtual ID allows for not only converged addressability but also helps to drive cross-channel personalization.

Second-party data 

Another way to get around the loss of third-party cookies is to start building second-party data. This type of incremental audience data is created when a marketer combines their data with another brand or publisher data set to yield new insights and audiences beyond what is available in their own CRM or subscriber database.

The advantages of building substantial second-party audiences allow a marketer to expand their consumer data pool and, more importantly, provide access to more relevant consumer data than marketers would get with third-party cookies or data. Because second-party data involves combining similar yet disparate data sets, the yield is high on actionable insights. It will almost always perform better than a marketer who pays for aggregated third-party data.

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This strategy is most useful for more prominent brands or marketers who have built an extensive database of customers. Finding a willing partner might not be easy for small businesses or newer companies that haven’t had the chance to build up their own first-party data. To make this strategy work, you must find a partner to share data with you and then disclose the relationship on your website if you share your customers’ data with another company. Building these second-party audiences has become a cornerstone service for data clean rooms or cloud service providers, including Infosum and Snowflake.

Read next: Why we care about data clean rooms

Contextual advertising

For years, we’ve seen contextual targeting touted as an alternative to cookies. This approach focuses on the content consumed — the context of the blog post, video, or other content the person is engaging with — rather than personal information.

As a result, there’s little to no risk around data privacy. Yet, digital marketers can still offer highly personalized content and ads.

While contextual advertising is nothing new to marketers, what has changed is that AI is now used by more advanced providers that can get granular with contextual targeting. Marketers have a continuum of targets they can build personalization around, including metadata, titles, related keywords, comments, and more. By mining this information and looking for signals, marketers gain in-depth insights into their customers that are used for cross-channel personalization and messaging.

This ever-evolving world of contextual advertising and personalization may require marketers to brush up on their skill sets and learn more about how it works today and how it can be leveraged not only for addressability but as a tool for personalization. And, unlike older contextual marketing models that relied heavily on keywords, new contextual targeting tools rely on natural language processing and image recognition.

These more recent algorithms can also grasp the sentiment of pages and apps with unprecedented speed and reliability. Altogether, this enables marketers to display personalized ads in an environment that is both highly relevant for their potential customers and safe for their brands. 


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Location and interest-based targeting 

Remembering that high-quality intent data for personalization can be captured offline is more important than ever. Where your customers and prospects go or hang out regularly can be equally crucial for insights and personalization opportunities. 

Location data companies like Safegraph, Simple.fi and Factual create rich audience profiles based on pre-determined points of interest and stitch them to their ID, or into cookie-free IDs like UID, for cross-channel and personalized targeting. These companies often have thousands of locations mapped, including quick-serve restaurants, airports, retail stores and golf courses, to name a few. 

Real-world insights from location data can drive personalization using explicit information, including the type of store or location visited, to inferred demographic, affluence and other information to allow for an additional lever to use when developing personalization models.  

In much the same way location-based data provides a slightly more “meta” approach to personalization, interest-based advertising bundles website visitors into broad content topics based on a visitor’s behavior. The most talked about of these interest-based targeting and personalization platforms is Google’s most recently proposed concept, Topics, which replaces its initial strategy, Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). The idea behind Topics is that the browser learns about users’ interests as they surf the web and shares their top interests with participating websites for advertising purposes. All this happens behind their walled garden by categorizing the websites a user visits into a limited set of around 350 broad topics, such as gym-goers or sports car enthusiasts. 

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When a user visits a website that supports the Topics API, the browser will choose up to three topics on their device from their most frequent topics in the last three weeks and share them with this website. The website and its advertising partners can then use these topics to determine which type of personalized ad to display. 

While the jury is still out on Topics, Google claims that Topics is more private and offers greater transparency and user control than FLoC and cookie-based targeting. Still, many specifics of the concept are yet to be released. 

Better first-party data for personalization

If you want to truly deliver personalized experiences, you need to know who your users are, and an email address is a great first step to building out their profile.

Amp up your user registration. Utilize all the touchpoints site where exchanging information for newsletter sign-ups, cart check-out, discount codes or loyalty programs. ‍

Build more robust customer profiles. Start small but capture as much information as you can about your customers. Integrate additional data collection touchpoints. Follow up with new email subscribers with quick buttons to capture preference data to better target content and products.‍

Engage with email and SMS marketing. Make the most out of email and text message to drive up customer engagement. Send personalized offers and content to users based on their behavior on your site and follow up personalized SMS for special sales, promotions, and discounts.

All in all, the demise of the third-party cookies and the constraints on device-level data doesn’t mean an end to ad personalization; marketers will be utilizing a host of alternate data and IDs to drive cross-channel personalization. Combined, these new tools and tactics will allow marketers to continue having personalized conversations with their customers and prospects. 


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

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About The Author

A leader in the data-driven AdTech space that spans 20 years across both the US and the EU. Ken Zachmann’s worked on the ground floor of a data start-up that yielded an eight-figure exit and served as VP and SVP for two leading digital data firms and saw them through to acquisition in 2017.
In 2018 Ken launched his first consulting firm focused on identity-based solutions and helping companies navigate a cookie-less future. Ken’s background in data and identity resolution, paired with his experience of living and working in both the US and Germany, has afforded him a unique understanding of the complexities of sourcing and building data, identity and measurement solutions.

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6 martech contract gotchas you need to be aware of

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6 martech contract gotchas you need to be aware of

Having worked at several organizations and dealt with many more vendors, I’ve seen my share of client-vendor relationships and their associated “gotchas.” 

Contracts are complex for a reason. That’s why martech practitioners are wise to lean on lawyers and buyers during the procurement process. They typically notice terms that could undoubtedly catch business stakeholders off guard.

Remember, all relationships end. It is important to look for thorny issues that can wreak havoc on future plans.

I’ve seen and heard of my share of contract gotchas. Here are some generalizations to look out for.

1. Data

So, you have a great data vendor. You use them to buy contacts and information as well as to enrich what data you’ve already got. 

When you decide to churn from the vendor, does your contract allow you to keep and use the data you’ve pulled into your CRM or other systems after the relationship ends? 

You had better check.

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2. Funds

There are many reasons why you would want to give funds in advance to a vendor. Perhaps it pays for search ads or allows your representatives to send gifts to prospective and current customers. 

When you change vendors, will they return unused funds? That may not be a big deal for small sums of money. 

Further, while annoying, processing fees aren’t unheard of. But what happens when a lot of cash is left in the system? 

You had better make sure that you can get that back.

3. Service-level agreements (SLAs)

Your business is important, and your projects are a big deal. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get a prompt response to a question or action when something wrong happens. 

That’s where SLAs come in. 

It’s how your vendor tells you they will respond to questions and issues. A higher price point typically will get a client a better SLA that requires the vendor to respond and act more quickly — and more of the time to boot (i.e., 24/7 service vs. standard business hours). 

Make sure that an SLA meets your expectations. 

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Further, remember that most of the time, you get what you pay for. So, if you want a better SLA, you may have to pay for it.


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4. Poaching

Clients and vendors alike are always looking for quality people to employ. Sometimes they find them on the other side of the client-vendor relationship. 

Are you OK with them poaching one of your team members? 

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If not, this should be discussed and put into writing during the contract negotiation phase, a renewal, or at any time if it is that important.

 I have dealt with organizations that are against anti-poaching clauses to the point that a requirement to have one is a dealbreaker. Sometimes senior leadership or board members are adamant about an individual’s freedom to work where they please — even if one of their organization’s employees departs to work for a customer or vendor. 

5. Freebies

It is not unheard of for vendors to offer their customers freebies. Perhaps they offer a smaller line item to help justify a price increase during a renewal. 

Maybe the company is developing a new product and offers it in its nascent/immature/young stage to customers as a deal sweetener or a way to collect feedback and develop champions for it. 

Will that freemium offer carry over during the next renewal? Your account executive or customer success manager may say it will and even spell that out in an email. 

Then, time goes by. People on both sides of the relationship change or forget details. Company policies change. That said, the wording in a contract or master service agreement won’t change. 

Make sure the terms of freebies or other good deals are put into legally sound writing.

Read next: 24 questions to ask ABM vendors before signing the contract

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6. Pricing factors

There are many ways vendors can price out their offerings. For instance, a data broker could charge by the contact engaged by a customer. But what exactly does that mean? 

If a customer buys a contact’s information, that makes sense as counting as one contact. 

What happens if the customer, later on, wants to enrich that contact with updated information? Does that count as a second contact credit used? 

Reasonable minds could justify the affirmative and negative to this question. So, evaluating a pricing factor or how it is measured upfront is vital to determine if that makes sense to your organization. 

Don’t let contract gotchas catch you off-guard 

The above are just a few examples of martech contract gotchas martech practitioners encounter. There is no universal way to address them. Each organization will want to address them differently. The key is to watch for them and work with your colleagues to determine what’s best in that specific situation. Just don’t get caught off-guard.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

Steve Petersen is a marketing technology manager at Zuora. He spent nearly 8.5 years at Western Governors University, holding many martech related roles with the last being marketing technology manager. Prior to WGU, he worked as a strategist at the Washington, DC digital shop The Brick Factory, where he worked closely with trade associations, non-profits, major brands, and advocacy campaigns. Petersen holds a Master of Information Management from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Brigham Young University. He’s also a Certified ScrumMaster. Petersen lives in the Salt Lake City, UT area.

Petersen represents his own views, not those of his current or former employers.

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