The Identity Connection: Activating Identity

You took a really big step by adding an identity partner, but like most things in ad tech you can’t expect to flip a switch and watch the magic happen.

Activation, though, is where things get exciting—sure you’ll be able to garner looks from new advertisers and grab higher CPMs, but you’ll also get a better understanding of your audience.

“Better” doesn’t do it justice—you will have the sweeping comprehension of your user base that you have always dreamed of. Not only will that open up fresh opportunities for sales and product, these learnings can be shared across the whole organization to tighten the revenue team’s bonds with other departments.

Before we get carried away, let’s discuss the next steps you need to take. It may sound like something from a New-Age self-help book, but we first suggest looking inward, before turning your gaze outward to brave new markets.

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What You Seek Is Within

Integrating an identity provider is like plugging into a giant repository of data, powered by a seemingly endless supply of identity graphs. Premium publishers with data science teams should enable raw feeds that will keep them busy analyzing for generations. But more modest publishers that don’t have a cache of data scientists cooking up insights in a lab might be overwhelmed by the amount of data coming their way.

Fortunately, your identity partner’s work has only just begun as well. As we mentioned in The Identity Connection Playbook, consultatory services from your potential partner should be high on your list of requirements. And identity provider insights are not just for that modest set of publishers without data science divisions. Data science crews can work cooperatively with identity partners, layering their insights on top of internal findings.

At the same time, you can’t just approach them and say, “Whaddaya got?” Be in control of the relationship and have audience goals. First off, it would be great to grab more holistic pictures of your traffic that uses cookie-limiting browsers like Safari and Firefox.

With an identity partner in place, this “unidentified traffic” suddenly resembles valuable consumers; any extra insight you can hold adds leverage in advanced products like PMPs. In general, your partner should be able to tell you what your users are doing outside of your properties by leveraging second- and third-party data.

Next, have your partner analyze your current audience segments and see if they spark any trends—particularly audience overlaps that didn’t pop out to you. Your provider should be able to add a panoramic view of your users—on the demographic, psychographic, location, and even purchase intent fronts. Your sales team will be much better stocked the next time you call on your top clients. Finally, you can establish the authentication they desire while also guiding them to the most appropriate or approachable users.

And of course you can look at it the opposite way—what new advertisers could you seek out and pitch based on your audience insights? Are there non-endemic opportunities that you’ve overlooked? What new passions can you unlock from your most engaged users—the ones with highest repeat visits and total time on site every month?

Say your car enthusiasts overlap strongly with audiences interested in high-end stereo equipment—perhaps it’s time to give Bose a nudge. Big brand dollars are only a few analyses away.

Deep Questions, Deeper Answers

But let’s not stop there… Think bolder. Pose a question or a tricky hypothesis to your identity partner. Maybe it’s some hunch you’ve always had but couldn’t prove, like readers of articles about jazz tend to belong to higher income households. Or perhaps it’s something super timely and widespread.

A publisher tested their identity partner by looking for contrasts in audiences that were heavy readers of Covid-19-related content and those who weren’t. The results were quite interesting, and a little unexpected. While both groups looked the same on a demographic level—i.e., age, gender, and household income—the content preferences and product interest diverged wildly.

The “C19” group devoured news, health, and local content, while non-C19 readers stuck to sports and entertainment. The former group indexed high with CPG brands, and the latter showed an inclination toward luxury brands.

Timely, interesting topics are only limited by your imagination… And with an election coming, there will be all kinds of interesting traffic trends to parse.

Finally, your identity provider works with a lot of other publishers and advertisers. They can give you insight into overall movements and trends in the space—whether that’s as simple as advertisers increasingly booking direct deals that garner additional publisher contextual or intent data or private marketplaces leveraging second-party data sets.

In effect, your partner should be able to share the hottest advertiser interests to better direct your sales teams and programmatic efforts, while also noting best practices among your publisher peers.

Out to Market

So we weren’t totally on the level before when we suggested you can’t just flip a switch with identity and watch the revenue roll in. Yeah, an identity solution does almost magically make your “unknowable” (cough, cough, mobile Safari) traffic identifiable by buyers leveraging identity solutions.

For direct sales, this is straightforward—suddenly you have a whole lot more valuable inventory (iPhone users notably index more affluent) to offer your top advertisers. Beyond that, because an identity solution is a huge help in building more robust audience segments, they can be assembled rapidly and shipped out to answer RFPs pronto. Rapidly answered RFPs allow more RFPs to be answered, and potentially new advertisers walking through the door.

But we know you’re interested in programmatic, especially as a lot of direct sales efforts appear stalled because of the pandemic. And of course, programmatic is more complicated than it appears.

In a practice called traffic shaping, SSPs actually employ algorithms that send traffic to DSPs and buying platforms they think will offer the best bids based on a variety of factors, such as browser source or DSP bandwidth limits. And bids for impressions on cookie-limiting browsers aren’t great because it’s dark traffic.

But another factor in traffic shaping is whether the impression is “targetable.” With an identity partner, the answer is yes, and buyers also leveraging identity solutions will bid higher for authenticated traffic. So it’s essential all parties involved in the transaction are aware identity targeting is present. Get on the horn and let all your demand partners know your identity situation ASAP.

The most exciting frontier in programmatic, however, is private marketplaces. As identity marketing reaches critical mass, it becomes a standard data layer for all programmatic transactions. Publishers can leverage first-party data—or potentially second- or third-—via key values in the header, offering advertisers great granularity as well as demarcation from their peers.

The key, though, is that the traffic is authenticated—buyer and seller are on the same audience page, so the pub’s added attributes are finally treated as a true differentiator.

Never Too Early to Make a Plan

The digital advertising reckoning of 2022, when the third-party cookie officially sunsets, comes closer every day. Even if you’re still working out which identity partner(s) are best for you, you should be making a plan for what you want to do with that provider as soon as their wares are installed: get a holistic picture of traffic from cookie-limiting browsers, bolster the data in your own segments, find new advertisers, and start monetizing “dark traffic.” These desires can even form the basis of what you seek in an ideal partner.

Wrapping your head around identity and what you need from an identity partner is tough. But taking action once you have that provider in place? Well, that’s when you start pushing your identity tech to the limit, reimagining your audience strategy, and bringing hard cash to the bank.

That’s when things get fun.

This is the first article in the Identity Connection series. Read article 2 on buy-side post-cookie strategies here; article 3 on creating a portfolio identity strategy here; and the Identity Connection Playbook here.