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A post-cookie world: why identity is the answer for financial institutions

By Bernard Yu, SVP, Corporate Strategy at ADARA.

Google’s announcement that it would be retiring the third party cookie from web browsers went largely unnoticed by commentators outside of the world of marketing technology; but its implications are business-wide and critical for any brand employing marketing at scale. Finance brands have no less to lose – having built marketing strategies based on the insights afforded by the presence of the cookie.

Through tracking customer activity across the web and between sites, financial marketers have been able to build user profiles and create targeted, personalised advertising campaigns based on user patterns and behaviour. From understanding someone’s life stage, such as a first-time buyer – identified by their visits to Rightmove and Purplebricks – who might be interested in a mortgage offer, to realising a profile with a penchant for travel who might want a travel reward credit card, the use case is clear for the cookie.

However, the cookie is a somewhat unscrupulous marketing device. The crackdown on usage, a trend noticeably launched by Apple with its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) in 2017, has come around because of legitimate concerns around user privacy and whether it is a truly ethical way to source customer data. Luckily, there is an ethical alternative that will be not only a replacement but an upgrade from the cookie, in the form of identity graphs. However, the time is now to start preparing to be sure of readiness for the implementation of the cookie ban in 2022.

Identity matters

Personalised advertising is an essential, and the baseline of customer expectations today. This is currently mostly down to cookies in finance marketing. What’s more, the measurement and attribution of a given campaign also relies on cookies – without something else stepping in to fill the void, it’s a huge loss. In a cookieless world, data is limited to walled gardens and first-party information such as purchases, name and location. The issue is, cookie usage is far from transparent – and it is not fair on the end customer who is easily not able to look into how their data is being used.

However, there is an ethical answer for finance brands looking to both gather crucial data from customers and build out effective profiles for personalised content. Based on data integrity and accuracy, data co-ops like ADARA provide financial marketers with the ability to personalise marketing messages while maintaining high levels of transparency – crucial particularly for regulated industries. This allows data sourcing, but the crucial step is to build the relationships between data that build a truly valuable picture of the consumer that finance marketers can then use to target effectively. This is the essential step in moving from a cookie-based world, to an identity-driven one.

An identity graph is built when a series of data points are layered on top of first-party data, which can be linked back to a single profile – using persistent identifiers (such as email addresses) to ensure that there are groups of real people whose profiles we understand well. This allows online and offline targeting of real individuals, in a far more effective and ethical practice than that of cookie-building and identity.

This is because every partner in a data co-op agrees to certain rules around its handling to ensure it is GDPR compliant and held to the highest ethical standards. Essentially, customer privacy comes first in this equation. Customers know their data is used for marketing, and as long as it is held and used ethically, are generally comfortable with it.

In the long run, this is actually a better system than the temperamental third party cookie: it means finance brands can be sure they are marketing to a real individual and that marketers can pull together disparate information on an individual with more confidence – including historical data. Persistent data does not expire, as a cookie’s does. It also allows brands to leverage people-based marketing channels like Facebook and YouTube cohesively as part of a wider strategy.

Identity in practice

In practice, this could be hugely powerful for finance brands. Credit card lenders, for example, can use ADARA’s identity graph to understand who to target with certain offers. If traveller data tells us that an individual is a frequent international flyer, offering a card that waives foreign transaction fees could be a hugely compelling incentive to that person. Alternatively, it might alert brands to when a person is moving – and thus mean an effective change in marketing messaging to that individual. For investment and wealth management services, knowing when someone gets married or has a child could make the difference in understanding the right moment to market their services.

These are examples of use cases from ADARA’s 600 million-strong identity graph of customers, built from first-party data from over 270 partners. As a result, we can produce 5,000 distinct segments. From this, financial clients are able to mix and match the data sets they need for their target customer group.

Rather than mourn the loss of the cookie, we should welcome the back of a technology that is temperamental in its effectiveness at best, and invasive to customer privacy at worst. The identity graph is an ethical and effective solution – if marketers start working on it now, they will be ahead of the game when the cookie crumbles in 2022.