Universal ID Attribution Requires Advertisers to Import Their Offline Data


Advertising has become an increasingly data-driven endeavor. When the LUMA State of Digital Media 2017 was released this past summer, it came with a declaration that “data is the new oil.” As the number of touchpoints for reaching consumer grows, so to do the number of data signals a user generates, from purchase intent to geo-location to content consumption per device, and on and on. The challenge for many marketers today is finding a way to accurately match consumers across these devices, so that they know when a consumer on a mobile device is the same as one they’ve already reached on the desktop or another device.

This quest for universal IDs is one of the biggest conversation points between advertisers, agencies and tech providers.

As some of the larger players in the market rush to develop homegrown solutions, it’s still not clear if everyone in the advertising ecosystem understands what goes into a universal ID, or how to use it to the fullest potential. What may surprise many advertisers is that they themselves are actually sitting on a key piece of data that will make universal IDs a truly powerful marketing tool.

It’s well established that a universal ID is an extremely powerful tool for ad targeting and has long been the silver bullet that savvy advertisers have been searching for to unify their marketing efforts. Gaining some semblance of understanding of who a user is across multiple devices allows for more customizable interactions. It also touches multiple portions of the digital landscape, ranging from advanced creative executions, whereby advertisers can send messages in a sequenced series, creatively weaving together a story in several parts, all the way down to solving universal frequency cap issues, so that advertisers are not overwhelming the same consumer during their purchase consideration. Google and Facebook are leading the way in the ID space, aided by the fact that users sign in to their platforms across multiple devices. While both are powerful within their own environments, they are less so outside.

While these are great tools to have at a marketer’s disposal, the larger opportunity emerging is less about targeting and more about measurement and attribution. At the end of a campaign, while advertisers are glad to know that they reached a single person on a smartphone, tablet and desktop, they want to know if that made a difference. For universal IDs to truly matter, brands have to know that they were not just a tool, but a tool that was instrumental in a successful campaign.

In many cases, advertisers are sitting on this answer themselves, and have much more information about their success than agencies or vendors ever could. That’s because, whether they are a brand, or the direct retailer, these advertisers are already measuring the transactions, sales and conversions. The issue is not that advertisers can’t figure out cross-device attribution with a user ID, it’s that the correct data source hasn’t been made available to the marketing team yet, so they haven’t been able to connect the dots.

Advertisers using universal IDs as part of their targeting strategy simply need to take their conversion data and anonymously connect it to the IDs that they are using to target consumers. Many brands are already experimenting with taking offline data files and bringing them online to target those consumer profiles – this is simply going one step further, and taking offline sales data and connecting it back to the targeted cross-device profiles.

Ad buyers – be they brands or retailers – have unique access to this transaction data. Neither the agency nor the tech provider can use it if the advertiser never makes it available. The larger issue is the marketing department gaining access. Leading brands and retailers take privacy very seriously, especially following recent data breaches at retailers like Target. Advertisers looking to bring transaction logs online need to always ensure that they are meeting privacy compliance, which in most cases means they’ll need to enlist outside help. Industry groups certify vendors on their compliance, so it’s important for any marketing department to do their research and ensure they’re getting things right.

If a privacy officer still holds fast and refuses to make the data available, the marketing department does have a few options to help measure success. One is to work directly with a credit source, such as Visa or MasterCard, to obtain transactional data. Both companies have measurement products designed to deal with this dilemma, allowing a marketing department to measure how many people used a credit card for a purchase. This only offers a subset of the data, but it’s useful directionally nonetheless.

The other option is to use location-based visits as a proxy. While it’s not necessarily proof of a transaction, this location data can still provide valuable insight into how ads are driving consumers into physical retail locations.

Overall though, it’s important to remember that despite the promise of several “revolutionary” tools on the market, it is advertisers themselves who sit on the one piece that will truly make cross-device connectivity a worthwhile endeavor. By leveraging their existing data and matching themselves up with a selection of partners who can achieve cross-device targeting at scale, brands will have a well-rounded and attributable cross-device strategy.


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