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Don’t Have an Identity Crisis: How to Get Started with Identity Resolution

Given all of the existential threats that 2020 has heaped on our shoulders – the pandemic, the climate crisis, social unrest, murder hornets, and the election – the death of the cookie may not rank in your top five stressors (driving you to consume that extra glass of wine or bourbon at the end of your day). However, if you are one of my digital peers, it just might be. Rest assured, help is on the way.

First off, let’s get on the same page about what “the death of the cookie” means. In January, Google announced that the Chrome browser will expire third-party cookies after 24 hours at some point in 2021. Basically, third-party cookies – cookies that are placed on your browser while you are on a website, but which come from a different website or business, aka a third-party – will become unusable, or “die”, after one day. Bonus stressor: Google has not specified exactly when they will implement this. It could be on Jan 1, or six to eight months from now.

So what? Apple did this with the Safari browser in 2017 with Internet Tracking Prevention (ITP), and the world didn’t end then.

Well, at that time Apple’s Safari browser represented about 15% of all browser traffic, and as marketers, we just shrugged it off. Today, Google’s Chrome represents about 60% of all browser traffic, and the smaller browsers are rapidly following Apple and Google’s lead. If you do the math, that’s the rest of them.

Why should I care?

What your media and analytics teams already know, and which you may be less clear about, is how reliant you actually are on that third-party cookie. For example:

How important is retargeting to you? 90-95% of your non-walled-garden retargeting cookie-pool size will diminish after the Chrome policy goes into effect.

Have you invested in multi-touch attribution (MTA)? Many of those MTA solutions are fueled by third-party cookie data. So, that ocean of data you swim in today will evaporate into a puddle.

Do you use third-party digital data segments to build prospect audiences in your DMP or DSPs that “look like” your current customers? All those data attributes (age, gender, income) are tied to those third-party cookies…cookies that next year won’t “look like” anything. Oh, and speaking of DMPs and DSPs, how are you going to onboard your CRM file into them, and how will you get those segments to recognize audiences across ad exchanges? You might think to use device ID instead. Um, best not read about Apple’s June device ID announcement right away. It will only depress you more.

This isn’t even everything.

There’s more impact around personalization, site experience, and omni-channel insights, but I hope you are starting to get the idea. We’ve been reliant on the third-party cookie for most of this century, it supports almost everything we do as digital marketers.

Oh no, I’m in trouble…

Before you stress too much, take comfort that there is a silver lining. You can take back control from the browser makers and device manufacturers because you have one thing that they can never take away from you: your relationship with your consumers and the data that this creates.

You can rebuild and restore many of the capabilities that will degrade when the Chrome change occurs by building your own private identity graph (“graph” is a fancy way of saying your cookie tied to your customer ID) based on your first-party data signals (a cookie from your website domain which will not expire in 24 hours). Rather than lease access from, and therefore cede control to, “public graphs” such as onboarders and walled gardens like Google and Facebook, you can stitch identity together based on your rules, with transparency, using your owned data.

Transitioning from reliance on third-party identity to first-party identity is one of the most important strategic imperatives you can do to remain competitive for a few simple reasons:

1. As described, the third-party cookie threat is real and imminent. This is not a drill.

2. First-party relationships and first-party data are not under attack by increasing privacy regulations, but third-party relationships are. A brand’s direct-to-consumer relationship is not being questioned. Need proof? When was the last time you thought about CAN-SPAM? Consumers are comfortable with this paradigm and the value-exchange is understood.

3. It’s not difficult to get started. With the right identity partner, you can begin building this new reality within a few weeks and have something to show for it within a month. For example, a large retail client was able to link 20 million+ consumers – real people, not cookies –  to its first-party identity in 30 days.

How do I get started?

1. Tag your site with a first-party identity resolution service

This type of tag will use a first-party cookie that you can then link to consumer identity signals such as email addresses, mobile numbers, or name and address. You are going to have to tell your website team that they need to implement a new tag and taxonomy, and when they complain about this, which they will, tell them the majority of the third-party tags on your site today will be mostly useless in six months, so don’t delay the inevitable. Merkury’s Digital Consumer Recognition (DCR) service, aka the Merkury Tag, does exactly this and is built on the largest repository of first-party cookie to email hash linkages in the industry. The Merkury Tag can jump-start your results while the third-party cookie is still available to us, by “bridging the gap” between your first-party cookie and a real person ID through the scale of Merkury’s third-party graph. However, you have a limited amount of time to take advantage of this, after those third-party cookies are gone, they’re gone for good.

2. Ask for email addresses every chance you get 

Every email address, mobile number, and name/address you collect is an opportunity to connect to your first-party cookie. This will require two important steps:

  • Develop a compelling value exchange for the consumer (you need to give them something if you want them to give you their email address).
  • Use tactics like light boxes, loyalty rewards, offers, and personalization triggers to offer a value exchange at the right moment.

3. Integrate with your Email Service Provider (ESP) and rev up your CRM program

When your first-party identity tag is integrated with your ESP, every email open and click is an opportunity to connect your first-party cookie to an email address. And I mean every email, not just your promotional CRM offers but all of your operational and triggered emails as well.

With these three things in place, you will be able to weather the upcoming paradigm shift and be on your way to reclaiming the lost capabilities tied to the death of the cookie. Now imagine a new digital utopia where you not only reclaim what was lost but also add new capabilities you didn’t previously have.

The Merkury team at Merkle can help you accelerate this process. Contact us now to learn more about how our Merkury Digital Consumer Recognition pilot can help your company.