OPINION26 April 2017

Has the cookie crumbled?

Data analytics Opinion Retail

Where the cookie breadcrumb trail linking people online to real world individuals was based on assumption, data onboarding provides more certainty by matching through deterministic processes, says LiveRamp’s Richard Foster. 

Cookie crumble crop

'Connectivity’ has been a watchword in marketing for some time now. Actually achieving it, consistently and accurately – that’s the challenge. With new channels appearing all the time, marketers have to keep an eye across all activity occurring in all of their customer data touchpoints, at all the same time. When focusing on so much information at once, and trying to spot that one nugget of insight that could prove pivotal in keeping or winning a customer, true connectivity can seem like an unattainable goal.

In no other industry is this quite as crucial as it is for market research businesses – those for whom their very reputations and reasons for existing are based on an in-depth knowledge of how, and what, people think – and what actions they take as a result.

Much of this complexity comes from the current ‘best fit’ approach to connectivity. Technology has moved so quickly that marketers have had to come up with ‘good enough, for now’ solutions to recognising their customers and using that insight to support planning.

An example is using cookie data or IP addresses as proxies for tracking or matching people online to real world individuals. Accurately tracking cause to effect, in both a physical and online world, when people can use multiple devices to engage with a business, was for a long time just seen as impossible. When it comes to attribution, the connective tissue simply wasn’t in place to definitively state how many times a person may have browsed a website, or entered a store, before making a purchase – no matter how that purchase was made.

Then the industry cottoned on to using IP and cookie data to make assumptions about linking users to location. For example, if an IP address location closely matches a customer’s in the database, and other data points – such as surfing behaviour online – are also broadly consistent, it seemed reasonable to assume it was the same person. It was a ‘best fit’ solution, and the best that was possible at the time, but still led to assumptions being made on potentially flawed or incomplete data – especially as customers started to move across multiple devices. On a mass scale, you can imagine how these inaccuracies begin to influence the bigger picture.

Onboarding is the up-to-date answer to being led astray by the deterministic, ‘best fit’ cookie breadcrumb trail. Instead of relying on the assumptions and predictive modelling of probabilistic matching, where cookie data is linked to best assumptions about a name or address in the real world, onboarding provides much more accuracy, rigour and certainty in matching through deterministic processes.

This is undertaken in a safe haven environment where unique but anonymous identifiers serve to connect and match an individual to their behaviours – so it is totally privacy-compliant and secure – and simply providing the confidence that one customer is actually one customer, rather than any number of different cookies. It’s another leap forward in terms of certainty in a constantly evolving digital world.

In many ways this is the answer client businesses, research providers and marketers have been waiting for – one which at the time, they may not even have known to ask. Deterministic data onboarding takes the guesswork out of the process entirely. It brings certainty.

For market research businesses, this means that claimed behaviours, online and off, can now be tested against actual action. It means that dots can be connected between many different customer touchpoints preceding a sale; the full journey and influence of different touchpoints can be analysed and weighted. It means that data silos between the digital world and offline CRM can be broken down, and the elusive, responsive and powerful single customer view can be built that spans them both. It can finally unmask those anonymous impressions and clicks from digital marketing and link them conclusively to being existing customers – or incremental value.

Most importantly, deterministic onboarding delivers. Forrester found in the US that it can drive a 5% uplift in sales, because customers can be identified and targeted more effectively. Onboarding can improve digital marketing budget efficiencies by 10%. It can drive a 12.3 fold uplift in ROI, and crucially, a 2.5 fold increase in new customers making a store purchase following digital campaigns.

Onboarding can provide that long-missing connective tissue between online and off. It goes a long way to making the previously claimed more concrete and to improving certainty in an increasingly uncertain world. Isn’t that what market research is all about?

Richard Foster is managing director at LiveRamp