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When we look at how the advertising industry has changed over the last five years, it’s astounding to see how digital snuck up and rewrote the rules of engagement. Instead of making assumptions, digital forced advertisers to have a more accurate and deterministic understanding of a consumer’s identity to ensure true personalization.

In her annual Internet Trends Report, Mary Meeker painted an eye opening picture of what advertisers are dealing with when it comes to digital. Meeker noted that the amount of time adults spent with digital media in 2016 grew significantly over the past year, with average time increasing to 5.6 hours a day.

As the number of devices and time spent on digital platforms grows, the advertising industry is recognizing that the identity behind those devices is more important than ever. Knowing specific details about the physical being that sits behind something as abstract as pixel or cookie is essential to targeted, meaningful and genuine delivery of ads. Now, everyone is running as fast as they can to get to the point of understanding who those people are before grouping them into segments, showing them advertisements that aren’t relevant and sending consumers running for the adblock button.

Identifying Devices Over People
Amidst all the scrambling, most advertisers are still using probabilistic methods to determine who they think that customer is behind the screen. To do so, they start by looking at, from a device perspective — where that device is resting over time, where that device going, what traffic is coming from that device, what apps are being used, etc. Herein lies the problem.

However, more often than not, those device attributes don’t have a valid email associated with that particular assumed individual. There could be an email tied to that device, but who is validating it?

Artificial Identity Management
In an attempt to validate, digital advertisers have also turned to artificial intelligence. According to Juniper Research, “machine-learning algorithms used to enable more efficient ad bids over real-time bidding networks will generate $42 billion in annual ad spend by 2021, up from an estimated $3.5 billion in 2016.”

While AI has its benefits — it has certainly improved accuracy in analyzing consumer behavior and enabling real-time campaign optimization — the true extent of AI’s capabilities is identifying and learning about an individual on a persistent basis. When analyzing data, outside of other response information obtained, it’s hard to determine the true identity of the person associated with that response. AI can show that an ID is aligned with a particular device and activities on that device over a given period of time, but AI alone can’t determine the WHO. Yes, the data says there is a person there, but who are they really? And with so much data from so many different devices flying around, how are brands supposed to take that data and use it efficiently to gain a deterministic understanding of their customers?

Personalization Lies In Accuracy
We already know that when US internet users receive personally relevant content from brands, it increases their purchase intent. But there must first be an association between various touch points on an individual on a deterministic basis to help advertisers create the level of personalization that consumers so deeply desire. Because in the end, it all comes down to creating meaningful connections with customers by meeting the needs and wants of each unique individual.

Since this level of personalization all circles back to the accuracy of a consumer’s identity, it’s imperative to start by connecting the dots between siloed data points and understanding who that person is. Furthermore, advertisers should look beyond the device level. This is where most advertisers end up getting stuck. Without drilling down past the device or the pixel, advertisers are missing core demographics, psychographics and lifestyle attributes that give us deep insights into these individuals — that personalization is completely lost.

So how can brands fix this? Simple — by bringing into a consumer ID graph authenticated email addresses that are associated down to an individual and matching them to existing data to create a connecting point. This same sequence can then be applied to mobile numbers, IP addresses, social handles, physical addresses — wherever a connector can be found. Now an advertiser has a single individual at the center of each record that is tied to multiple connectors or types of attributes, which provides a more robust picture of who that person truly is. Once you know all of this, you can associate it with a persistent ID at the individual and household level. This allows advertisers to track consumer behavior across any website or location when an ad is presented to that customer. Talk about accuracy and personalization! A win-win for both the advertiser and the consumer.

In the end, we believe that all advertisers should be digging down to the core level of understanding deeply who a person is and then CONFIRMING through multiple instances that that person does indeed belong to a specific record. There aren’t many, if any, that are using a truth set to do that. But we’re here to help initiate that change in the industry and reinstate accuracy and personalization in the world that digital ever so slyly created.

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