Exploring the future of audience identification

James Collier

James Collier, Regional MD EMEA, AdTruth

Since the invention of the cookie, audience identification and recognition has been the foundation for growth in digital marketing, enabling targeting, attribution, audience analytics and data enrichment. As we enter a new device era – where smartphones and tablets are as prolific on the web as desktop, if not more – the need for more advanced audience identification is vital for the continued rise in digital marketing.

Accessing the internet using multiple devices has become the norm, with 61% of UK adults now using a smartphone and 44% of households owning a tablet. Over 60% of online adults use at least two connected devices every day and 40% switch between devices mid-activity, starting on one device and finishing on another. Although marketers are beginning to understand and interact with this trend – with mobile advertising spend up 68.4% year-on-year in 2013 – many are still concerned about the issues around identifying and tracking mobile audiences, resulting in a reluctance to adopt a mobile first approach.

So what are the key barriers to effective audience identification and how can these be overcome?

The key barrier to mobile measurement is an over-reliance on the traditional form of tracking – deterministic identifiers. These offer a one-to-one match between an ID and a user. The cookie provided the common currency for web identification, but other device-generated identifiers include Google’s Android ID and Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) to identify users in app. However they have three key shortcomings:

  • Blind spots: Third party cookies are not permitted on Apple’s Safari browser, which accounts for 59.1% of website traffic  on smartphones and tablets combined, while Apple does not permit IDFA to be used unless apps are running advertising – and neither the Android ID nor IDFA is available on mobile web
  • Divisions: Cookies are deleted and get lost during computer or browser updates, while a single device will not be recognisable as the same device under each means of identification, dividing a consumer and their activity into different IDs. In mobile where cookies aren’t deleted, they bear no relation to the same consumer in app
  • Activation: Given the need to protect consumers when using PII, and as a result of corporate rules on how their identifiers can be used, the owners of audience data have limited freedom to activate their connections to – and understanding of – consumers

An over-reliance on deterministic IDs leaves marketers at the mercy of a fragmented digital marketplace, with more devices, platforms and data services operating in a complex privacy framework leaving individual consumers and their activity represented by multiple, misunderstood identities held in silos.

As a result, progressive marketers are increasingly turning to alternative identification methodologies. Statistical identifiers work off the probability of uniqueness for any single device, and offer not only an alternative to deterministic identifiers in environments where they are obsolete, but they also complement deterministic identifiers when they are present.

Rather than a one-to-one match with a consumer, advanced statistical IDs can re-identify a device around 85-95% of the time. However in response to the previous shortcomings, advanced statistical IDs do deliver:

  • Fewer blind spots: They work in all environments, meaning any activity can have an ID associated to it
  • Fewer divisions: They can last an average of 28 days, and remain consistent in any environment on the device
  • Better activation: No personal information is required to connect data from different data silos to the same device

In other words, when used effectively in parallel, the tools are there for a more actionable and complete consumer view. The challenges that marketers now face is deciding which audience identifiers to use, when it is appropriate to use them, and how best to piece them together.

In response to this challenge, AdTruth created an ID Resolution Tool to educate and empower marketers trying to navigate the complex landscape of digital. This online interactive service provides marketers with an understanding of their ability to identify users according to their audience bases – and the extent to which they are going blind. It also highlights the impact on divisions when mobile app and browser activity can be bridged.

To make the most of the opportunities offered by the new digital frontier of multi-device usage, marketers need to be able to track and measure audiences across mobile environments – and match that to a consistent ID online. By marketers not being afraid of using more than one identifier or choosing the most appropriate identifier for any given scenario, they can finally measure and optimise multi-device campaigns in this mobile first present and future.


Written by:

James Collier,

Regional MD EMEA, AdTruth

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