Getting Attribution Right Means Adopting A Digital Mailbox

"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Ray Kingman, CEO at Semcasting.

Old models die hard. For more than a decade, attribution meant crediting the last click. But in an increasingly personalized and multichannel world, last-click has finally been exposed for what it is: nonsense.

Marketers, however, continue to struggle with attribution. How do they identify an individual when marketers transact across multiple channels?

The starting point for attribution is the audience. With audience data now under marketers’ control, virtually any first-party data source can be onboarded and deployed across a multichannel ecosystem. Rather than educated guesses, it has become all about selecting the right households and people for each brand.

The Multichannel Marketing Multiplier

New platforms are a fact of life. Products such as Siri and Alexa, smartwatches, driverless cars and medical devices will exponentially multiply the number of marketing channels. Marketers seeking a common entry point for addressing this platform multiplier understand that the only common denominators of a digital identity are the person and his or her location(s).

Marketers must still rely on modeled cookie pools or walled-garden IDs to execute digital attribution. While we use online channels – at least, the established ones like social, search and display – to make sense of consumer behaviors in a deterministic and accurate manner, we need an alternative to the cookie or device ID. We need a platform-independent universal ID.

The universal ID is at the heart of our new multichannel reality. It provides audience transparency, platform independence and deterministic offline-to-online mapping at scale. A universal ID associates digital traffic, purchases and engagements with the physical world, linked to a person-based profile. The universal ID provides access to the “digital mailbox” of the audience wherever they are found, whether it’s on a smartphone, at work or on their desktop.

In the physical world of direct mail, boundaries exist between your mailbox and front door. What is sent to your mailbox is verified by the post office, qualified through a list selection process and measured by the economic realities of paper and postal costs that control waste. With direct mail, consumers also maintain control of what they allow into their homes.

The challenge is navigating the universal ID down the tracks of personal privacy. The creation and use of personal profiles often get conflated with hacking, spamming, tracking, phishing and other fraudulent activity. Today we deal with these issues through legal protections that largely favor advertisers.

However, for this issue to be dealt with effectively and equitably, any adoption of a universal ID would require redefining our current definition of PII to one that is less focused on protecting advertisers and more on charging marketers with the responsible use of the information they collect and communicate.

Rather than playing legal whack-a-mole to cover every potential digital tactic, marketers should simply be required to verify that they have permissible purpose for using a consumer’s universal ID.

Why Will Stakeholders Adopt A Universal ID?

Advertisers holds the lion’s share of power today. It’s no accident that more than one-third of advertisers are moving their programmatic ad buying in-house. Advertisers are demanding a different level of transparency and return on their investments. They insist on proof of whether they are reaching the audience they want to reach and achieving the right return on investment. A deterministic match to an individual’s ID is at the core of that proof.

Only the largest platforms have the power to check advertiser demands and force their own solutions on the market, but that power may have its limits. In the past year, we’ve seen an industry response to concerns over brand safety and fraud, but some platforms may not feel incentivized to solve those problems in a meaningful way because they already know who their consumers are. For the time being, anonymity outside the walled garden is a competitive advantage for the platforms.

Observers like Tim Wu have rightly pointed out that there is a rise in consumer consciousness in the attention economy, one that primarily manifests in behaviors like ad blocking. But while consumers reject the proliferation of annoying ads – a predictable consequence when anonymity meets targeting – they aren’t rejecting consumerism. In fact, research suggests consumers may be more trusting of advertising than marketers believe, largely because they love the byproducts of digital advertising, including price-matching, third-party reviews and seamless one-click shopping experiences.

Make no mistake: We have yet to reach a tipping point on the universal ID issue. For advertisers, it’s becoming do-or-die, because without a universal ID, there’s no telling who their customers are. For ad platforms and publishers, the pressure is on to meet the challenge of attribution from advertisers, who fuel the bottom line.

Yet as long as a PII is conflated with fraud and risk, consumers are unlikely to demand the adoption of a universal ID. At some point, all parties will realize that marketers can act with permissible purpose, and that poses no more risk to them than the mailbox at the end of their driveway.

Follow Semcasting (@Semcasting) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

 

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