These 5 Data Trends Will Totally Reshape Ad Operations—hopefully for the Better

Data may be the new oil, as Ops Programmania Keynote Megan Pagliuca, CDO of Hearts & Sciences believes it to be, or it may be the new plutonium as Jim Balsille, retired co-CEO of Research In Motion and Chair for International Governance Innovation testified in front of the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy in Ottawa recently. Whatever metaphor it is in 2019, five key data trends are totally reshaping the future of advertising.

Over the past few weeks, as we’ve been gearing up for Ops 2019, I’ve had some fascinating discussions with advertisers, agencies, publishers and ad tech vendors about how the role of data is dramatically changing in publishers’ and advertisers’ strategies. What I’ve been learning is that—although recent privacy regulations and the impending cookieless future tend to feel a lot like the coming of a great big flood, all that’s really happening is is an opportunity for advertisers and publishers to readjust revenue strategies and build better relationships with their audiences.

Privacy Practices That Prick, Not Bleed

GDPR in the E.U. and CCPA in California are regulations that aim to revolutionize the way anyone with a digital property collects, processes and shares their users’ data. Compliance centers around asking consumers for consent when collecting their data and disclosing to them how their data will be used and who will be using it. These regulations are transforming the advertising business with a momentous alteration to how targeting and tracking will work on owned-and-operated properties. But there’s no sense in fretting these changes, it’s time to face this brave new world, as any move towards compliance is a move towards a better overall user experience and a strengthening of the fractured relationship between media companies and their users.

But there are other privacy movements underway, by the duopoly and others, that feels a lot more sinister, even though they’re packaged as providing users with more transparency and control over how their data is collected and used. For instance, practically every browser—Chrome, Safari, Edge, and Firefox—have implemented (or will implement) some form of privacy tools that either block fingerprinting or enable users to block or delete cookie trackers. While these moves will greatly impact how users are measured and tracked as they move from site-to-site, some of the players are promising advertisers a method of attribution. Other measures, like Google’s auto-deletion of location and search history, and Facebook’s Clear History Tool, as well as Amazon’s ‘Delete What I Said’ function on Echo—all put advertisers in a difficult position that will require some careful rethinking about how targeting and personalization will be done in the future. Sounds like it’s a good time to start investing more heavily into first-party data strategies.

First-party Data is Taking Center Stage

We’re living in a first-party data world after all. As third-party data’s future remains questionable, the spotlight is on first-party data as the holy grail to a publisher’s marketing and advertising strategies. Every publisher has it (and every advertiser too) but not everyone is managing and using it as effectively as they could be. Some publishers, though, armed with the resources, infrastructure and know-how are slowly ramping up their first-party data strategies to tell better audience stories to advertisers—not just who they are, but more deeply looking into what drives them to do what they do on their digital journeys across their own properties and the web. If data is oil, well then insights are the dirt you dig to get there. Some publishers are even getting better at ingesting their client’s first-party data and merging it with their own to better segment and deliver more valuable impressions to advertisers.

Another growing trend and opportunity for publishers would be selling their first-party data on the open market to be bought programmatically or perhaps selling directly to a brand through private exchanges. Privacy regulations could change how all of this plays out in the future, but it’s too soon to tell if it will hamper current efforts.

Identity Resolution Moves From Nice-to-Have to Should-Definitely-Have

As consumers move from device-to-device while journeying across the web, it’s becoming harder to identify who they are, where they’re coming from, where they’re going next, whether they’ve engaged with an ad or piece of content or whether they’ve read an email or downloaded your app. This is where identity resolution starts to play a critical role. Identity resolution is a means of completing and expanding the view into each person within your first-party data. It allows for enriching personalization to specific segments of your audiences at the right times in the right places.

While many argue that the email is the single best road to an identifier, others scoff at the idea explaining that people often use different email addresses for different things and some even make up some fake ones along the way. An identity graph has been one way that publishers connect all identifiers associatede with an individual to a universal ID. A CDP (Consumer Data Platform) is another way of developing a unique identifier to build a clearer picture of an individual (more on that below). And there are also various projects underway within the industry, like the IAB Tech Lab’s DigiTrust ID, The Trade Desk’s unified ID, and the Advertising ID Consortium to produce one universal ID to rule them all, providing interoperability across the web. As tracking within the walled gardens becomes more complex, anyone who adopts a unified or universal ID will help to expand the reach for anyone else who also adopts it.

There’s also Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) and Google’s Advertising ID (AAID) that stitch a unique ID together of a user across their app usage for advertising purposes. Some have even wondered if Apple’s IFDA could be extended to the mobile web, and desktop as well, to solve for identity resolution in a post-cookie world.

The Rise of the CDP (Consumer Data Platform)

In 2018, Gartner named CDPs as one of the top six rising marketing technologies. According to a 2017 report by the Consumer Data Platform Institute, CDP vendors had more than $300 million revenue in 2016, and the industry is expected to grow at least 50% per year in the near future, reaching over $1B total revenue by 2019.

What a CDP does is collects customer data from multiple sources—all of the information about a user that’s generally siloed in a company, like login, email, subscription, social and mobile—and unifies it into a single, persistent profile to create and manage segments and then push those segments into an execution tool to make it actionable across other platforms. With a CDP, developing a unified profile enables publishers and advertisers to execute more personalized marketing and more personalized campaigns by providing a very deep understanding of users and a deeper understanding of content.

A CDP can also be integrated with a DMP to empower publishers with the ability to put equal focus on both user experience and advertiser performance.

Of course, the verdict is still out on whether everyone needs a CDP.

Blockchain Brings Revenue Opportunities to Publishers, Advertisers and Consumers Alike

You’re probably thinking that all this talk about blockchain bringing transparency to advertising is just a bunch of hype. But the truth is, there are experiments in the wild, like a recent test by Pepsico that drove 28% efficiency lift, that are proving otherwise.

The transition to web3 provides the right ingredients for marketers to better match brands to people and has a verifiable source of truth through the blockchain to provide transparency, reduce fraud, and remove the need to rely on centralized data collection. We’re only at the beginning of this transition, which will likely take years to come to fruition. Luke Mulks, Head of Advertising, Brave Software

Blockchain-based companies like Brave, are working with publishers and advertisers to create a balanced value exchange between them and their audiences, by providing a direct connection to people who really care about a particular brand or media company. Advertisers get to directly target people who are seriously interested in their ads because they ask to be connected to them. Publishers make money directly from people who want their content. And users make money, or earn rewards, for their attention. Now doesn’t that sound like a win-win for all? And since privacy is built into the platform, consumers don’t have to worrry about being tracked or having their data used in ways they hadn’t intended.

Meanwhile, companies like TapNetwork and Killi are helping users both protect and monetize their data, instead of users having to worry about their data being sold without their knowledge. Experiements like these are cropping up every day,and early feedback on all sides has been promising.

We’re definitely living in extremely challenging and exciting times.

Learn more about these five data trends, at Ops 2019. Here are some panels to check out: All You Need Is CDP, Privacy Please? The Contemporary Consumer Data Debate, What’s the Role of Data in Today’s Publisher Strategies?, What Does Personalization Actually Look Like? and When Blockchain Stops Being Hype and Starts Getting Real.