The Cookie Crumbles

Intent HQ_JonathanLakin (1)The explosion of mobile browsers and apps is causing marketers to abandon the technology long associated with targeted advertising – the cookie. As more people spend more time online via their mobile devices than desktop, Jonathan Lakin, CEO of Intent HQ, asks how marketers will reach their audience in the future.

More and more people are turning to their mobile as the main device for internet consumption every day, whether it’s to catch up with friends on social networking, shop online or access information. At the end of 2013, Facebook announced that mobile accounted for 78 per cent of its overall usage, while online shopping was forecast to double, as one in two people shop with their smartphones. This growing use of mobile is affecting marketers in many ways, but a big one that’s not so often mentioned is the way it’s killing that old internet tracking technology, the cookie.

Deficient tool
To be frank, cookies were always a deficient tool for audience data, giving marketers individual behavioural profiles without any context. Cookies allowed companies to discover what certain customers’ had done at a specific point, but that data inherently becomes irrelevant very quickly. Why should you be bombarded with adverts for something you already bought weeks ago for a friend’s birthday, and that you’re just not interested in buying ever again? Additionally, on their mobile, your customers’ time is even more precious, so despite the fact that so far, targeting has been poorer than on the desktop web, targeted advertising needs to be even more effective.

Marketers are now beginning to realise that the kind of behavioural data we get from cookie-based technologies is one-dimensional. In order to build a real picture of a person, the data must go beyond these kinds of algorithms, to a human-like method of topic association that understands real-life affinities between subjects and interests.
While there are other approaches gaining credibility, such as device fingerprinting – where the connected device can transmit data about its properties, time zone and settings, and update it, or page-level behavioural tagging, modifying content according to the behaviour of groups of users on specific pages, it’s still hardly human-like. A far more powerful approach would be to get into the mind-set of the customer in order to find out what they like and why.

Personal approach
As our phones are inherently social devices, marketing on mobile, in particular lends itself to this personal approach. With mobile people want to access information and services very quickly so it’s important that marketers know how to put the right content in front of the right customers. And the most effective way to understand the likes, interests and real personalities of your customers is through social data.

As an example, Sports Revolution has used real-time social data to bring more relevant content to football fans through its stadium Live apps. Its Celtic Live app encourages users to log in with their social profiles, and then delivers exclusive content to fans through their mobiles to enhance their match-day experience. While fans may once have remained anonymous, they are now more trusting and prepared to give more details about themselves in order to respond to news and adverts. As this is social and not behavioural data, Sports Revolution is able to determine the most common interest categories among fans, and feed this loop by delivering content that matches those interests.

Intent HQ was tasked with leveraging the user base of the CelticLIVE mobile app to reveal detailed insights into the fan base. It was of course down to those logging in via their social networks that then enabled Sports Revolution to view an aggregate view of nearly 2,000 representative fans, that gave a better view of the group’s demographics and interests.

Audience intelligence
It’s not just sport that can benefit from this information; it is ubiquitous wherever audience intelligence is of value. Retail sites, charities and publishers can use social data partnered with intelligent algorithms to help get in front of the right customers, at the right time and with the most relevant products, events and news.

Naturally, Google has a very strong approach to using multiple data points to understand context in order to deliver better mobile experiences. Anyone who’s used the Google Now app on iPhone or Android may have been spooked at how it seems to know where you might want to travel or the football score you want to know, before you’ve actually asked.

Another approach to the aspect of understanding topic affinity in a human like way is to use Wikipedia, as the largest database of fully referenced human curated (relatively) reliable information ever created, it is a fantastic basis for an algorithm with a human like understanding. Looking at the way Wikipedia’s own pages link to and reference each other creates a very near complete replication of human-like understanding of topic affinity.

This kind of data, added to personal interest data shared on social networks, can be used to go far beyond the kind of web experiences that cookie-based data ever allowed us to create. Making a faster more relevant experience on mobile.
And as mobile devices continue to become a larger part of consumer behavior, generating online sales and transforming the way people shop, read news and interact, social data will supersede the cookie in allowing marketers to create more relevant experiences.

Jonathan Lakin is CEO of Intent HQ