We are facing an industry-wide shift in the way we think about and perform targeting and measurement. This is driven by widespread changes in the identity landscape that are diminishing our ability to collect IDs, as most imminently demonstrated by the upcoming retirement of the third-party cookie. While not always the optimal way of data gathering, we as an industry have come to rely on the cookie and other readily available identifiers. But this change need not be a challenge, according to a4 Advertising's Director of Data Strategy and Partnerships, Natalia Irmin (pictured above). In fact, a cookieless future is going to look pretty good. "Cookies are not something that has always existed," she said. "It feels like they have always existed, but they actually haven't. We still measured before cookies were available and those practices will be coming back."
Embracing a Cookieless Future
There are various options for measuring without cookies, Irmin noted. "You still have your first-party data, which gives you a lot of flexibility," she explained, noting that there are new technological breakthroughs that weren't even thought of when cookies were first introduced. "How do I use artificial intelligence? How do I use Data Science to create the models that are going to inform what I need to do with my advertising? That is something that a lot of companies are thinking about and are coming up with solutions for." But, she added, "The entire universe is not deterministic. It can be to some extent, but that depends on the breadth of your operations. If you are looking to maintain your current capabilities or expand them, you might have to deal with data that's not necessarily one to one. That's where you'll have to start thinking about working with models, ones that account for TV, but also for incremental media beyond TV, such as OTT and CTV."
For Irmin, data from cookies falls into two buckets -- audience targeting, and measurement. "I think in the short-term, targeting is less of a challenge," she asserted. "The measurement portion, how you gain insights from your advertising and how you use them to inform your decisions, is more challenging."
Grappling with Walled Gardens
Walled gardens present another ongoing challenge for measurement. But Irmin remains generally optimistic about the industry's ability to work with walled garden companies. "What I'm finding, is that recently there's been more talk about collaboration and moving beyond those walled gardens," she said. "[And yet,] while we find it useful to collaborate with other companies, we recognize that walled gardens still exist and some of them, depending on their size, are still useful to work with. You are not going to stop working with some walled gardens just because they don't allow you to access certain data. It's a balance."
For a4 Advertising, the future rests on contextual targeting. "We are more focused on targeting for measurement and have developed our own internal solutions that include both first party data and modeling," Irmin explained. "For targeting, you've got to start thinking more seriously about contextual. With cookies abound, contextual was always viewed as something that's less good, less accurate, perhaps. But in reality, contextual simply means that you're going to those places where your audience can be found, when they're there. It also provides you with the ability to control your brand safety, which is extremely important nowadays."
The value of contextual as one of the components in your plan should not be underestimated. "You could target certain inventory and nothing else," she said. "For example, by using a Deal ID in your DSP. But to create a more powerful solution, you could also layer that inventory with IP addresses that you've determined are associated with certain households in the footprint you want to target. Once you do that, the inventory source provides the context, while the IP targeting provides the level of authentication, the confirmation that you are reaching real people. That IP layer is what allows you then to measure your campaign and adjust. You should make the most of these existing approaches while they're available."
Being Pro-Active in Industry Changes
Getting ahead of industry changes and evolving into new solutions is pivotal for companies that want to develop the best, most accurate and sophisticated solution to industry changes concerning data. Google, after all, gave the industry a year to adjust before it retires the cookie. Procrastination, however, is not recommended. "From our perspective at a4 Advertising, we keep exploring all the solutions that come up in the marketplace and start testing [early in the time frame]," Irmin said. "The adjustment period seems to be the correct way to go. You don't want to wake up a year from now realizing you have nothing because you were focusing on other stuff and completely forgot about this. Definitely don't do that," she warned.
This proactive approach need not apply to cookies only. "Operating within the industry today, you need to think and act as if no identifier is safe," Irmin suggested. "Look what Apple did this year with iOS 14.5 and 15 and their restrictions on tracking IDFA, IP addresses, and emails. Things will just keep going in this direction. So, while you should lean into new solutions, you also need to stay vigilant and operate under the assumption that they might only serve you in the short term."
Collaboration and Team Effort is Vital
Perhaps the most important aspect of navigating through industry change is collaboration and team effort, especially when it comes to supporting small and mid-sized businesses, which has always been a major part of a4's DNA. "It comes down to the people that you get to work with within your organization and with people in other organizations," Irmin explained. "Working with so many different partners, you're bound to accumulate different interpersonal experiences and start thinking about the future of those relationships. One of the best things about working at a4 Advertising is working with the people and the teams. I see how hard these teams work to provide a solution and provide answers to all these questions and challenges that our clients are facing and to be able to tell them 'Don't worry. We've got you. We know how to help you. We know what you're dealing with, and we're working diligently to help you face those challenges,'" she concluded.
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