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Moving from Cookies to Persistent Identity: a meatier solution to user data

By: Vladi Kuschnerov, SVP Corporate Development (New York)
Alex Edholm, Senior Product Manager (Sydney)

‘This site uses cookies’ – we’ve all seen this tiny pop-up at the bottom of our browsers. Brands are now obligated, at the very least, to notify users of this data tracking tactic before allowing us to peruse their sites. But what do cookies actually do and are they effective in a world with ever-increasing privacy policies, sophisticated mobile users, and emerging technologies?

Marketers have always attempted to use data to inform decisions and optimizations. Stretching back to the dial-up days of the 90s, the cookie was invented in 1994 as a small data file that certain websites wrote to a user’s hard drive when they visited them. At first, these cookie files helped websites store information about their own users such as user ID, pages visited, and how many books might have been in their shopping cart. More recently, cookies became heavily used by ad-tech providers as a means of tracking users throughout the internet, accessing data on those users, and delivering targeted advertising messages.

The cookie-based framework has served the advertising industry well in the early phase of the internet (I know I’m glad I don’t have to keep signing into my email account!), but they are fundamentally incapable of driving truly person-based marketing activity for a few main reasons:

    1. Device Proliferation. The average American consumer interacts with over four internet devices in a given day. Cookies, by design, are limited to the device and browser they are stored on, so if a person interacts with a brand’s content on their work laptop there may be no connection to interactions on, say, their mobile phone. This can result in oversaturation of messaging, reduced campaign effectiveness, and attribution headaches.
    2. Channel Segmentation. Brands frequently use collections of ‘best-of-breed’ vendors for email, site, search, social, display, etc. Each of these vendors store data tied to their own cookies, effectively eliminating data interoperability as a single user will be represented by potentially dozens of different cookies (or other identifiers) across a typical brand’s marketing stack. Each ID holds only part of the story, resulting in fragmented customer journeys that are incredibly hard to piece together across different marketing channels and brand interactions.
    3. Lack of Persistence. Cookies expire, or they can be cleared, or – in an increasing number of cases – can never get saved at all. Marketers used to be able to tag users with cookies on an ad exposure and then identify them on conversion potentially weeks later, but those days are quickly disappearing with the rise of mobile internet and 3rd-party cookie blocking.Persistent identities are becoming increasingly necessary to accurately track and measure marketing effectiveness.

Thus, the market is thriving for a solution that helps create a single, persistent, and secure view of the user. This is where people-based Identity Graphs comes in (quite on the nose but at least it’s not hunger inducing). Identity Graphs take all of a single user’s data and identity touchpoints (i.e. display, search, A/B testing, email, social, etc.) and processes it by cleaning, validating, de-duping and merging it into a single customer profile with all of their dimensions and attributes. For the first time in Internet-browsing history, we can create a persistent identity profile that can become the atomic unit of data collection.

The evolution of marketing execution has brought us to this single shining point. Identity graphs have created a lot of excitement in market, because they do two things that CEOs & CMOs have been waiting to happen for a long time. First, they unify customer identity in a first-party business controlled environment. Second, they create a platform for that identity to be activated, tested and optimized to help inform everything from loyalty to supply-chain.

Tying customer data points to a single, persistent identity profile is thus key. In e-commerce, we are given that capability through a simple and powerful tool: the primary email address. Emails are inherently persistent, unique, and are rarely shared between individuals. Emails preserve these properties even after “pseudonymization” operations such as salted hashing, so they act as excellent building blocks for a persistent ID profile.

By starting with email and linking additional identifiers over time, we have the opportunity to create privacy-safe and persistent profiles which can form the backbone of any operation that is reliant on customer data such as segmentation, targeting, or measurement. Rokt’s utilization of the primary email address is the foundation of our solution. For users, it allows us to present the most relevant offers. For brands, it allows for more accurate attribution, faster optimization and powers our industry-leading Incrementality tool.

Having this persistent identity can significantly strengthen the proposition of the data we can append to a profile making it immeasurably more reliable and useful for 1:1 personalization. This point alone brings identity light years away from the 30-day data expiration of cookies.

New and developing technologies continue to shape the way we interact and build connections. Nevertheless, they should not change the foundation of successful marketing: knowing the customer. Persistent Identity provides marketers with the ability to achieve this with accuracy and efficiency. Cookies are great to snack on, but if you want a meatier solution to user data, Persistent Identity is now served.