Why Brands Need to Invest in Identity Resolution Right Now


In a post-cookie world, brands need to invest in identity resolution to control their data pipeline from end-to-end. Conceptually, this is equivalent to the brand constructing their own walled garden. This will improve execution and help them do a better job of managing new privacy rules. Ray Kingman, CEO, Semcasting, shares his insights on how to go about it.

Google’s planOpens a new window to drop third-party cookies won’t be great for consumers, privacy advocates, or advertisers. But marketers have an opportunity here. They can remove their brands from a misleading privacy conversation and improve identity resolution to engage customers in a new model that sees privacy as a value exchange.

Less transparency always increases the cost of optimization. It promotes a business model based on trial and error and that suppresses results. It also potentially leads to the consolidation of outcomes that favor the brands with the largest spend. Here’s what marketers need to know about how to adapt.

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Brands Must Have Control of Their Data

The third-party cookie has become increasingly irrelevant now that mobile devices dominate consumer behavior. Under the third-party cookie, brands relied on a pipeline of siloed vendors that consolidated around an obscure bit of browser code that cannot be translated by humans. A typical brand might work with list providers, onboarding platforms, data management platforms, demand-side platforms, and attribution solutions, to name just a few.

While marketers have wrestled with the challenge of managing a diverse stack of technology vendors trying to get each piece of the puzzle to fit neatly together, they may have overlooked a fundamental question. Who owns the translation in this pipeline? In theory, it should be the brand, but in practice, the technology stack has owned the data. That’s because each vendor that touches a data encodes it, and effectively takes ownership of it.

This kind of distributed data pipeline only made it difficult to do business under the old third-party cookie paradigm, but in a world increasingly governed by privacy laws, a leaky distributed data pipeline also represents a huge potential risk. Setting aside for a moment the potential of fraud, inefficiency, and misuse of the data, marketers could never really identify the chain of custody for their own first-party information.

How much of a risk are we talking about when it comes to distributed data ownership? The answer depends on where we ultimately land with respect to CCPA, GDPR regulations, and any federal legislation that may eventually come to pass. But one thing is certain – for the sake of their business models, brands need to use this opportunity to take back control of their data. To do that, they need sole custody of their identity resolution in the stack, which means restricting any translation of personal identities to the brand. In a nutshell, data must be the brand’s exclusive property, not just by the terms of the contract, but by virtue of the protocols of the technology.

Integration Is Key

Consider for a moment the workflow you would need going forward, rather than the incremental improvements you’ve already made (or were planning to make) to the way you currently do identity resolution.

A proper integration is one that codifies identity resolution across platforms without incremental syncing or translation. In practice, it means that first-party identities must be able to move through the stack without leaving the brand’s control. In other words, vendors should be able to add their value in measurement or distribution, but they would have to do so in a way that doesn’t require that they have access to personally identifiable information.

One way to think of this is handing the controls back to the brand, who performs the matching internally, acting as its own exclusive and anonymous onboarder and clearinghouse. Under that model, first-party data is never copied, uploaded, or transferred to a vendor’s system. Instead, the data is digitally mapped on the fly to anonymous vendor IDs that have been predetermined from logistical interactions seen by those vendors. The brand vigorously owns the translation layer and controls distribution from one vendor to the next.

This kind of tight integration suggests slightly more work for brands on the front-end, but the control they gain will pay dividends over time. Brands who choose to retake control over their first-party data in the stack put themselves in a much better position to dictate both technical specifications as well as capabilities to their vendors. It’s the difference between hiring a taxi to get you where you want to go, and getting behind the wheel.

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Identity Resolution Helps Brands Take Back Control

The objective for brands in this time of transition should be to take back control of their data so that they don’t have to accept the opaque process and results that walled gardens like Google are about to foist upon them. The right identity resolution business model should be transparent to the brand and fuel more efficient optimization, which will ultimately improve results. But there’s also an important regulatory benefit – better privacy compliance.

When a consumer requests that the brand delete their information or change their data, the brand can act without having to distribute that request up, down, and across the entire technology stack. Such a model would obviously limit the brand’s liability, but it also puts control of the marketing enterprise back in the hands of the brand. There would be the Rosetta Stone for every single audience, and only the trusted brand would have the translation.