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The power and limitations of universal IDs

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The power and limitations of universal IDs

Something must replace the cookie. It’s due to disappear by the middle of next year.

Marketers are checking out zero-party data, first-party data and cohort analysis. But don’t forget universal IDs.

At its most basic, the UID should recognize the user, compile their information, and share that data with approved partners. How that is done varies, as there is no standardized method or practice for doing this.

“Universal IDs come in two main forms: authenticated and inferred. Authenticated IDs are built by using unique pieces of user data, such as an email address. Inferred IDs are created by device-level data, such as an IP address, user agent string, and device model,” explained Mike Sweeney, head of marketing at adtech and martech software development company Clearcode. “Some universal IDs would use both user-level and device-level data to enrich the IDs and help improve match rates.”

The good news is that the UID is one pathway to a future without cookies. The bad news is that the pathway is not entirely clear, and the future is a bit hazy.

Cookies and UIDs both have their limits.

“Every company that sets a cookie has their own ID, and then has to basically do a live exchange of information or share a common cookie space,” explained Rob Armstrong, SVP for product at data transformation company Eyeota. “That’s partly why we’re in this problem because a website could have a carpet bomb of 50 different companies creating cookies.”

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“While there is no one-to-one replacement for third-party cookies, universal IDs are probably the closest thing the programmatic advertising industry has to them,” Sweeney said. “However, they lack one key advantage — scale.”

A UID requires a consumer action, like providing an email in exchange for more information, while a cookie is slipped into the user’s browser simply upon visiting a web site, explained Tom Craig, CTO at consumer intelligence platform Resonate. While a cookie can track a user across multiple domains, the UID is limited to the domain the user visits. “This limitation is one of the primary reasons that marketers need to be thinking more broadly than UIDs as they plan their go-forward marketing strategies,” Craig said.

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How a user identity is established requires an authentication. “Email is the easiest way to do it in the U.S., where log-ins are usually email address,” observed Chris Bell, VP for Product Management at Oracle. “In Asia, it’s the mobile phone number.”

“You have to shift. Try to meet the user where they are with the piece of personal information they are comfortable giving up,” Bell added.

One size does not fit all

UIDs are not standardized — yet. LiveRamp, The Trade Desk and ID5 are a few among many vendors offering solutions in the UID space.

The Trade Desk’s approach with Unified ID is to generate the UID using the email address provided by the customer, usually in exchange for site access or additional material, Sweeney explained.

“Companies like LiveRamp, Tapad, Signal, Neustar, Zeotap, Epsilon, Flashtalking and others, would also use email addresses to generate an ID,” Sweeney continued. “But they would also use other pieces of deterministic and probabilistic data collected from different sources, e.g. cookie IDs from web browsers, mobile IDs from smartphones, and IP addresses.”

“Proprietary solutions will never get the scale to be viable solely on their own,” Craig said. “Each site needs to implement a solution for it to be addressable, and those sites will not likely implement proprietary solutions.”

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“Standardization brings adoption and it brings capital investment. It brings stability, and it’s lacking,” Armstrong said. “This is why we see certain companies having a much more prominent universal ID posture because of their presence in the industry and being a known entity that a lot of companies are working with.”

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Read next: Sharing The Trade Desk’s Unified ID will not end adtech disruption

Many players in a game with few rules

The UID market is young, with about 40 or so vendors all providing solutions, Bell noted. Starting such a company is easy. What’s hard is “getting one to be meaningfully different.”

To succeed, they must “have a strong touchpoint” with publishers, so that they are using that firm’s UID scheme, Bell said. Then you must encourage adoption by adtech providers. It is a game about creating mindshare.

“The lack of standardization around universal IDs isn’t too much of an issue at the moment,” Sweeney said. “However, the sheer number of universal IDs causes issues around interoperability.”

For the digital marketer, it is too soon to place a winning bet on one UID. Some UID solutions revolve around deterministic identification, others rely on probabilistic determination. “It’s not clear at this point what the answer will be,” Bell said. If all these competing UID firms knew the answer, “they’d all be skating towards the puck.” He said. “My hypothesis is [there will be] a rapid winnowing down to a smaller number [of solutions].”


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Don’t throw your hands up in despair

UID is young. Best practices are still being discovered. What can marketers do?

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“Focus should be more about building relationships with customers and collecting consented personal data,” Bell said. And cover your bets in the vendor landscape. “Putting all your chips on a single UID scheme is risky.” Things will shake out in the next 12 to 36 months.

“It’s definitely a time of testing.” Armstrong said. “Test the parachute before you jump out of the plane.” Try to understand performance in regular browsers with cookies, tested against browsers without cookies, but using UID.

“Also be mindful of the methodology going into it. If it’s probabilistic, then it’s going to be more like a cookie. If it’s deterministic, it’ll look a lot different. And in that case, you could start to think about it a little bit more strategically versus just, does this work?” Armstrong added.

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“I think a great first step would be to speak to your existing adtech partners and find out whether they’ve integrated with any of the universal ID solutions,” Sweeney said.

Craig offered this checklist:

  • What interactions are had with consumers, both customers and prospects?
  • How can those interactions be identified after cookie deprecation?
  • Is there an opportunity to capture or request email addresses from those interactions?
  • Which identity provider, if any, best suites the business’ needs?
  • Does my company have a strategy to increase coverage of identities and collect emails?

“Companies with email and UID collection will be able to work with programmatic platforms to target and retarget those customers,” Craig said. “They will have the ability to know more and take personalized actions with their customers. Without UID collection, marketing will become limited to contextual or cohort-based targets and all personalization will be a thing of the past.”


About The Author

William Terdoslavich is a freelance writer with a long background covering information technology. Prior to writing for Martech, he also covered digital marketing for DMN. A seasoned generalist, William covered employment in the IT industry for Insights.Dice.com, big data for Information Week, and software-as-a-service for SaaSintheEnterprise.com. He also worked as a features editor for Mobile Computing and Communication, as well as feature section editor for CRN, where he had to deal with 20 to 30 different tech topics over the course of an editorial year. Ironically, it is the human factor that draws William into writing about technology. No matter how much people try to organize and control information, it never quite works out the way they want to.

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B2B customer journeys that begin at review sites are significantly shorter

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B2B customer journeys that begin at review sites are significantly shorter

The B2B customer journey can be a long one, especially when the purchase of expensive software subscriptions is under consideration.

“The average B2B customer journey takes 192 days from anonymous first touch to won,” according to Dreamdata in their 2022 B2B Go-to-Market Benchmarks — a statistic described by co-founder and CMO Steffen Hedebrandt as “alarming.”

But the report also indicates that this journey can be significantly sped up — by as much as 63% — if accounts begin their research at software review sites, gathering information and opinions from their peers. Journeys that originate at a review site often lead to deals of higher value too.

Fragmented data on the customer journey. Dreamdata is a B2B go-to-market platform. In any B2B company, explained Hedebrandt, there are typically 10 or even 20 data silos that contain fragments of the customer journey. Website visits, white paper downloads, social media interactions, webinar or meeting attendance, demos, and of course intent data from review site visits — this data doesn’t typically sit in one place within an organization.

“We built an account-based data model because we believe that there’s such a thing as an account journey and not an individual journey,” said Hedebrandt. “So if there are two, three or five people representing an account, which is typically what you see in B2B, all of these touches get mapped into the same timeline.”

Among those many touches is the intent data sourced from software review site G2. Dreamdata has an integration with G2 and a G2 dashboard allowing visualization of G2-generated intent data. This includes filtering prospects who are early in their journey, who have not yet discovered the customer’s product, or who have discovered it but are still searching. This creates a basis for attributing pipelines, conversions and revenue to the activity.

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“Strategically, our ideal customer profile is a B2B software-as-a-service company,” said Hedenbrandt. “B2B SaaS companies are particularly ripe for understanding this digital customer journey; their main investment is in digital marketing, they have a salesforce that use software tools to do this inside sales model; and they also deliver their product digitally as well.” What’s more, it takes twice as long to close SaaS deal as it does to close deals with B2B commercial and professional services companies.

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Read next: A look at the tech review space

The Benchmarks findings. The conclusions of the 2022 Benchmarks report is based on aggregated, anonymized data from more than 400 Dreamdata user accounts. Focusing on first-touch attribution (from their multi-touch model), Dreamdata found that customer journeys where a review site is the first touch are 63% shorter than the average. In contrast, where the first touch channel is social, the journey is much longer than average (217%); it’s the same when paid media is the first touch (155%).

As the Benchmarks report suggests, this may well mean that social is targeting prospects that are just not in-market. It makes sense that activity on a review site is a better predictor of intent.

Hedenbrandt underlines the importance of treating the specific figures with caution. “It’s not complete science what we’ve done,” he admits, “but it’s real data from 400 accounts, so it’s not going to be completely off. You can only spend your time once, and at least from what we can see here it’s better to spend your time collecting reviews than writing another Facebook update.”

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While Dreamdata highlights use of G2, Hedenbrandt readily concedes that competitor software review sites might reasonably be expected to show similar effects. “Definitely I would expect it to be similar.”

Why we care. It’s not news that B2B buyers researching software purchases use review sites and that those sites gather and trade in the intent data generated. Software vendors encourage users to post reviews. There has been a general assumption that a large number of hopefully positive reviews is a good thing to have.


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What Dreamdata’s findings indicate is that the effect of review sites on the buyer journey — especially as the first-touch channel — can be quantified and a value placed on it. “None of us questioned the value of reviews, but during this process you can actually map it into a customer journey where you can see the journey started from G2, then flowed into sales meetings, website visits, ads, etc. Then we can also join the deal value to the intent that started from G2.”

Likely, this is also another example of B2B learning from B2C. People looking at high consideration B2C purchases are now accustomed to seeking advice both from friends and from online reviews. The same goes for SaaS purchases, Hedenbrandt suggests: “More people are turning to sites like G2 to understand whether this is a trustworthy vendor or not. The more expensive it is, the more validation you want to see.”


About The Author

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Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space.

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He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020.

Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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