The Devastating Effect of Lost Identifiers on the Fragmented Tech Stack

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By Julian Baring, General Manager-North America, Adform

The already-frazzled marketing landscape breathed a temporary sigh of relief when Apple announced that it was delaying the implementation of its plans to require users to opt-in to its IDFA tracking until next year. This relief, however, underscores a growing challenge among today’s brands and agencies that’s not going away—namely, the accelerating loss of relied-upon means of identifying consumers across channels.

Between Apple’s still-forthcoming IDFA update and Google’s planned massive step forward in the deprecation of the third-party cookie, marketers’ grasp on consumer identity in the digital age has never been more precarious. And yet, at the same time, consumer demands for personalized and seamless communications and experiences have never been higher.

Brands and agencies that have spent the past decade cobbling together best-of-breed marketing technology stacks will feel the loss of third-party cookies and IDFA intelligence most deeply. It’s these institutions—the ones that have carefully selected and strung together complex networks of disparate vendors and solutions over time—that will have the most trouble finding and executing identity workarounds in today’s ever-changing marketing ecosystems. That’s why, in the coming years, having access to an integrated tech stack will be more important than ever.

Where Fragmentation Falls Apart

Apple’s decision to delay its IDFA change and the fact that Google gave the industry two years’ notice on its elimination of Chrome third-party cookie tracking underscore a simple truth: These kinds of changes create huge problems for all players in the digital ecosystem, marketers included. However, when it comes to these seemingly nuanced changes to backend technology and permissions, a lot of brands and agencies don’t fully grasp the implications for their businesses until the effect is upon them. In the case of the current transformation of identity management taking shape right now, failing to strategically alter course in advance could lead to a devastating loss of marketing momentum and customer relationships. What was stitched together before – will almost certainly be stretched to breaking now and in the future.

Over the past decade, advertisers have been carefully constructing complex and bespoke marketing tech stacks, all with the end goal of being able to identify, understand and communicate with their customers and prospects in today’s ever-fragmenting cross-channel reality. When relied-upon identifiers that are used to connect the dots among solutions are lost within our industry, marketers typically need to layer on additional steps and solutions to their already-complicated tech stacks. For every additional connection with the stack, the challenge is compounded. Not only do you have to multiply the effort to patch lost connections by the number of solutions within a stack, but you also have to expect degradation of data fidelity as you move data from solution to solution in an attempt to create a “real-time” seamless picture of your customer. While this degradation might be acceptable when moving from just one platform to another, it becomes exponentially worse with every solution you add into the mix—from ad servers to DSPs to CRMs to DMPs and more. In other words, when you remove a single identifier in one place, its effect radiates throughout the system, to the point where customers become virtually unrecognizable from point solution to point solution.

The changes being made by industry behemoths will have a significant impact on our tightly linked ecosystem. As identifiers fracture across the landscape, it’s the brands and agencies with fully integrated stacks that will find it much easier to pick up the pieces and move forward in a way that preserves their customer understanding, relationships and by virtue ensure effective marketing communication.  How can anyone strive for and achieve “the right message in the right place to the right person” if the tools to identify the right person, deliver the right message and track to make sure that it was effective are all compromised?

To effectively manage identity for marketing purposes, companies must have access to a single customer identifier that can move seamlessly across their full tech stacks. By shedding disparate solutions in favor of a fully integrated solution, marketers will find it much easier to manage not only the forthcoming loss of third-party cookies and IDFA intelligence but also any other future change to the marketing identity landscape. The key to long-term success in making this transition is to seek out transparent full-stack solutions that enable an advertiser to truly own their user relationships, rather than merely renting them from one of the marketing landscape’s mega-platforms.

These days, big companies are erring on the side of consumer privacy as they build their platforms for the future—and rightfully so. To adapt, brands and agencies must look to reduce complexity within their own tech stacks so they can continue to deliver the personalized, seamless experiences that consumers desire, in the privacy-compliant manner they demand.

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