The Long And Short On Identity

Andy Monfried headshot

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Andy Monfried, founder and CEO at Lotame.

Standing for something is much harder and braver than being against it. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as it pertains to many aspects of our lives. It’s especially true when it comes to the topic of identity in digital advertising and our ecosystem’s future. 

When debating identity in our ecosystem, “to be or not to be” is not the right question. Identity is very much alive and vital. The right question is who are the haves and have nots? 

Google has it. So do Facebook, Apple and Amazon. The Four Horseman as they’ve been called were recently in the crosshairs of antitrust regulators because the industry will simply not allow them to have a total lock on identity. And rightly so, as identity is too important across the ecosystem.  

And yet, there are some players with the cockamamie idea of destroying identity. In their view, we should cede the world to the tech giants. Hard pass. 

Anti-identity players don’t care about a publisher’s customers (marketers). How do I know this? Actions speak louder than words. Without privacy-friendly and legally compliant identity management, marketers can’t accurately understand, find, target and message their customers. They’ll simply spend where they can do those things with confidence – such as Google. Their jobs are on the line, and ours will be too if we don’t meet them on identity.

Identity is priority No. 1

There is no higher priority than getting identity right. The Trade Desk CEO Jeff Green gets it. In late July, the company announced that its Unified ID solution would be open source and anchored by encrypted email addresses collected by publishers. Green’s vision and approach are admirable. 

The biggest hurdle in this endeavor will be persuading publishers to contribute IDs based on hashed emails. They may consider this to be giving something away that they could hold privately for their own benefit. 

But if this type of approach is successful, those “assets” will be available to all participants on a level playing field. Industry participants will have to win via innovation, compelling media and content and impactful delivery and results – not by hoarding. The consumer would benefit in this scenario, while the hoarder would ultimately lose.

The foresight to stand for identity

There once was a world without identity. Flash back to when digital advertising relied on context alone to satisfy marketer goals. It was the best we could do at the time. 

Things have changed. The players bent on destroying identity for everyone but the four giants want to rewind to that past. We have audience targeting today because context alone didn’t meet marketer needs. There’s a time and place for contextual targeting but as a wholesale replacement for audience targeting, it falls short. 

Publishers have the resources to compete and win with their data – without putting up walls – while making it easier for marketers to buy. Here’s how:

Opening up your data increases its value: There are safe, privacy-compliant ways to share data with marketers so they can answer questions and prove that ad spend worked.

Richer data means higher priced inventory: We’re in a war against the big four on reach and scale but also consumer understanding. They simply know more about customers, but publishers can too – and you can charge a premium for it.

Make yourself easier to buy: With identity in place, publishers have a horse in the race on richness of consumer understanding. Marketers buy programmatically to aggregate people-based reach. Publishers need to be there to buy. Context-only buys don’t translate into the people-based metrics marketers use for reach and frequency management. Why shoot yourself in the foot before even entering the door? 

I’m hard pressed to find examples of victories by betting on the past. Unfortunately, a few publishers have been wooed by the lonely island approach of relying on context alone. 

I get it. When your world feels out of control, you look for what you can control. But the context-only vision is shortsighted and based on fear, not forward thinking. Remember that without cookies, device IDs or other identifiers, contextual will struggle with scale, frequency capping and, most importantly, measurement, which is critical to attract spend from advertisers, especially now.   

Headwinds are the new headway

Lastly, new privacy regulation may seem to produce headwinds but it’s actually headway for digital advertising. These regulations are empowering us to have a real relationship with consumers and use consent and authentication to advance a better value exchange. 

The Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media (disclosure: Lotame is a member) is addressing privacy head on and outlines among its six principles that privacy is a consumer right that should be transparent and in the consumer’s control. It’s up to the industry to figure out how to create that privacy bedrock, which, if you’ve been reading the headlines, many are actively engaged in. 

I am optimistic about the future of digital advertising. Identity holds enormous promise for publishers, marketers and consumers. It will take collaboration, open communication and lively debate to get there. Nothing worthwhile is easy. The future is ripe with opportunity if we look forward, not back to the past. 

Follow Andy Monfried (@andymonfried), Lotame (@Lotame) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.