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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.”

“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.

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.”

“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.”

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?

“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.

“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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Before Deciding Where Your Content Team Reports, Pay Attention to This

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Before Deciding Where Your Content Team Reports, Pay Attention to This

When a brand creates a new content marketing or content strategy team, they often ask, “What function or department should the content team report to?”

My answer? “Yes!”

Now, I’m not trying to be a smart aleck. (Well, I am a little bit, do you even know me?) But seriously, my yes comes from years of helping implement content teams in dozens of businesses. My affirmative response indicates the most important thing isn’t to whom content reports; it’s that content teams report to the business.

When it reports into a function, such as brand, marketing, sales enablement, demand gen, PR/comms, or even (yes, really in one case) finance, the business acknowledges content marketing is a real thing with real responsibilities, power, and capabilities to affect business outcomes.

“What outcomes?” you might ask.

Well, that depends on where content marketing reports.

Now you have the real conundrum.

You can’t figure out where content marketing and content strategy should report without knowing the expected business outcomes, and you can’t know the business outcomes until you know where they’re reporting.

The most important thing isn’t to whom #content reports; it’s that content teams report to the business, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

It’s tricky.

Content’s pervasiveness creates the challenge

Content as a strategic function in business affects almost everything. That pervasiveness means nearly any function in the business could “own” content as a strategy.

For example, we recently worked with a company about a year into its enterprise-wide digital transformation strategy. They have a content team, and we were to help them assemble a governance and operational approach for their website content.

When we determined the right operational processes, we got into trouble. A content team leader asked, “What if someone proposed a new AI chatbot as part of this digital transformation for the website? Is it a content project with a technology component or a technology project with a content component?”

The question isn’t semantics. Instead, the answer determines the process for development, the team owning implementation, and the measurement by which it’s deemed successful.

Knowing where a #content project is assigned determines its development process, implementation owner, and success metric, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

It’s not just a technology challenge, either. The company also wanted to create new brand content guidelines for the website. Is that a content team project informed by the brand team or a brand project in consultation with the content team?

Given content’s pervasiveness, you can argue it is part of any meaningful communications initiative the business takes on. But sales’ needs are different from marketing’s, and HR’s requirements are different from the demand-gen team’s. However, to achieve consistency in content and communication, it doesn’t make sense to let each function determine its content strategy.

To achieve the balance between an enterprise-wide content strategy and the unique needs of every function in the business, the leaders and practitioners must decide to whom content reports. Again, the agreement is important, not the where or what of the agreement.

3 key attributes to identify in the decision-making process

As you and the leadership ponder how to balance the enterprise content strategy and where it should sit, consider these three key attributes that play an essential role in success.

1. Develop a content operations backbone

I don’t care if you have two people and one blog and a website or a team of 50 who operate on 35 content platforms across multiple channels. A content operations infrastructure creates consistent success across your digital content experiences. Content operations is an enterprise-recognized set of integrated and shared systems (meaning technologies), standards, guidelines, playbooks, and processes to ensure reliable, consistent, scalable, and measurable content across the business.

Content operations acts as the backbone – the foundation – to ensure the content is created, managed, activated, and measured the same way across whatever audience and whichever channel the brand presents to.

2. Connect with the audience across platforms

You can no longer expect to create one optimal experience that makes up for a bunch of sub-optimal ones.No matter your size, it’s not good enough to have your blog subscribers separate from your marketing automation database and all that separated from your CRM system. This goes for all of your audiences – from new employees to external parties such as analysts, journalists, partners, vendors, etc.

In this approach, the goal is to engage, build, and develop relationships with audiences. Thus, connecting audience behavior with insights on how to communicate better is not a siloed functional need; it is an enterprise need.

3. Build an accountability framework

This attribute in one word? Standards (and a team to keep them.) In a truly fascinating way, one of the earliest activities in building a content strategy makes the biggest impact on larger businesses: Come to terms with what words around content strategy and marketing mean. What is a campaign? What is the difference between a campaign and an initiative? What is an e-book? What is an article vs. a blog post? How long should a white paper take to write? Most businesses assume these things or create meanings based on contextual needs.

At a recent client, one group expected the content team to produce white papers within a week of the request. Another group expected them to be delivered in six weeks at double the length that the other group thought.

An accountability framework – and its ongoing evolution – presents clear ownership and coordination of content standards (roles, responsibilities, processes, types) across the enterprise. This model should not detail the definitions and standards but identify how they will enforce them.

Start your content decisions by deciding together

Where should you begin?

Well, just like in the beginning, my answer is yes. Independent of where you start, the critical point happens in the deciding of the elements. To be clear, these are institutional decisions, not simply “what you think.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what you believe the definitions, roles, or processes should be if the other parts of the organization don’t know, believe, or care.

A great first step is to create that accountability framework and make people care about its existence. At first, it might create a language of content that everybody in your business understands. When someone says, “I’d like to do a campaign,” or, “I think we should write a white paper,” everyone understands what that means and what it takes to do it. Then, the benefits of an accountability framework will start to become clear.

It makes the case for a team assigned to lead this consistency easier. And that enables the team to connect those experiences and audiences in a way that makes sense for everyone.

In the end, you have found determining the where, how, and what of a content strategy implementation isn’t the most important. The act of deciding is.

It’s a strange combination. In isolation, the reason for deciding seems straightforward. So why wouldn’t anybody want a clear definition of what a campaign is or a single source of the truth when it comes to the tone of your content?

But stacked together, those decisions feel like they are bigger than the content team and really should involve the entire enterprise. (Spoiler alert: They do.)

If you want any desired consequence, you had better decide on all the things that would help create it.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just five minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Watch previous episodes or read the lightly edited transcripts.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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