6 ingredients to create a fully baked identity strategy

Identity. It’s the holy grail sitting at the core of digital advertising and powering personalization, measurement and efficiency. With third-party cookie deprecation looming and Apple’s pending IDFA changes this spring, marketers are preparing for a future where identity resolution can be achieved without heavily relying on such ingredients. While some brands have been preparing for years, others are still collecting ingredients and figuring out how they can personalize for consumers, long-term.

Regardless of where you are on this spectrum, there is one truth you can count on: There is no single identifier that will give you a recipe for success. The advertiser and ad-tech companies that leaned too heavily on one ingredient or another are now scrambling to reconfigure an identity recipe that will still yield personalization.

What we know for certain is that a combination of deterministic and probabilistic identifiers is the only way to scale your identity resolution while maintaining accuracy and stability. As an added benefit, a diverse identity resolution strategy mitigates against the increasing deprecation of third-party identifiers.

If you’re overwhelmed or confused by what exactly you should be changing and modifying in your marketing strategy to account for these much-hyped changes—you’re not alone. You must first understand the key ingredients that go into this recipe called “identity.”

1. IP addresses

IP addresses allow marketers to target consumers by device, geography and household. This targeting approach is commonly used but comes coupled with limiting factors marketers should carefully consider. Epsilon has found that mobile devices can be traced to at least three IP addresses monthly, creating a moving target. In addition, IP addresses for household devices, like the family computer or connected TVs (CTV) have a very short shelf life. Together, this makes IP addresses a rather unreliable identifier on their own, prone to constant degradation, duplicate records and potentially misleading data. Just like flour, it’s an important ingredient, but it doesn’t make the cake on its own.

2. Cookies

Leveraging third-party cookies to track a user and their behavior across multiple websites has been a popular tool for personalizing and measuring campaigns. In fact, many marketers have relied almost entirely on this identifier, neglecting to embrace a multi-pronged approach to identity. The fundamental truth is that third-party cookies have been flawed from the start due to a lack of standardization, transparency and resilience, as well as the fact that they are assigned to a device, rather than a real person. And like salt, third party cookies might have been an ingredient for identity, but over-reliance negatively impacts the entire recipe.

That said, first-party cookies (specific to the website domain a consumer is actively visiting) will remain a valuable ingredient in identity. When coupled with a stable identity graph rooted in deterministic data, first-party data becomes even more powerful. Due to our first-party data integrations with 5,000-plus high quality publishers, Epsilon’s media delivery in Safari actually increased by 25% after Apple started blocking third-party cookies.

3. Mobile advertising IDs (MAIDs)

Mobile advertising IDs, such as Apple’s IDFA, are device-level identifiers accessed by mobile applications to personalize and measure campaigns. This ingredient is approaching an expiration date with the rollout of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework slated for this spring. After Apple’s change takes effect, mobile users must expressly opt in to being tracked by each installed application. Though many consumers will opt in to tracking by trusted apps, some will not, impacting overall reach. Seeing the instability and flaws of identifiers like cookies and MAIDs early on, Epsilon adapted its identity recipe in 2007 to focus on real people, rooting our CORE ID in name and address data associated with purchases.

4. Email addresses

Email addresses are a stable and largely reliable identifier, especially given the increasing prevalence of single sign-on website authentication options for consumers. However, marketers need to be aware that a single person is known to have up to four different email addresses, on average. This makes it harder to avoid duplicate profiles for the same person and achieve a unified single view of customers. Email addresses are a foundational ingredient for identity, just ensure you prioritize quality control and can collapse multiple emails down to an individual to avoid unappetizing experiences and media inefficiency.

5. Authenticated first-party identifiers

Creating an authenticated online experience for website visitors isn’t just for ecommerce and online communities anymore. From content publishers to brands, there is an increasing desire to prioritize deterministic first-party data strategies across digital experiences in order to create more personalized connections with each audience member. When a user authenticates by logging into a site, associated first-party identifiers can be valuable tools for both site owners and advertisers, if designed with privacy in mind. This ingredient becomes exceedingly more powerful when matched with a more broadly available deterministic identifier that’s interoperable, giving marketers a comprehensive view of the conversion path and ensuring impressions aren’t wasted on irrelevant or repetitive ads.

6. Name, postal address and purchase transactions

Names and postal addresses play a critical role in identity resolution as a reliable signal for linking a person’s offline and online personas. This becomes even stronger when associated with purchase transactions. Purchase data tied to name and address is inherently accurate because consumers naturally provide the most current shipping and billing addresses to ensure successful delivery of products and services. Marketers should aspire to this level of data quality when building a strong identity foundation. When this approach is adopted at scale, linked to the right mix of supporting identifiers and resolved at an individual level, Epsilon has seen unrivaled reach and accuracy.

A recipe you can trust

The right recipe for identity is subjective to each marketer’s needs but should always build a strong foundation atop objectively high quality, deterministic, resilient ingredients. With solid core ingredients and a focus on data hygiene, the recipe for identity can be easily adapted by peppering in additional identifiers to suit changing business needs without sacrificing personalization and performance. Ingredients will come and go, but marketers can still deliver winning campaigns by prioritizing diverse identity strategies built on a solid core.

**This article was originally published on Adweek, February 2021.