Transitioning to a cookieless world: how publishers can prepare

In the second part of a two-part interview, Mobile Marketing talks to Florian Lichtwald, MD & Chief Business Officer at Zeotap, about the future of publishing in a cookieless world.

2021 will be a year of profound transformation for the advertising ecosystem. Not only do publishers still have to contend with legacy COVID related challenges from 2020, they must also prepare themselves for a world in which both third-party cookies and mobile IDs are gradually phased out. Below, Florian Lichtwald, MD & Chief Business Officer at Zeotap shares his advice for publishers looking to navigate the constantly-changing waters of digital advertising.

Universal IDs: a post-cookie necessity
Once the third-party cookie is officially dead, publishers will need a way to connect users, advertisers and inventory. This “bridge into the marketing ecosystem”, as Lichtwald terms it, is the Universal ID – which is where companies like Zeotap and LiveRamp come in. As trusted third parties, they are responsible for creating user IDs that can be deterministically linked back to the individual, thus assuring brands that they are reaching their intended audiences. These IDs are capable of driving considerable revenue and media dollars towards publishers, so long as publishers are able to properly connect their media to those solutions.

Lichtwald notes, “There’s another aspect to it too, which is that you’re making it people-based. You’re moving away from the browser-based story, where you have a cookie, which is not the same in the Safari and Chrome browsers, where if you’re on your desktop computer or your mobile device, now you’re actually speaking about a people-based identifier. Because it’s more around an email or phone number, which are very common identifiers used to bridge into the universal IDs. Publishers need to learn, they need to start testing, to make sure that all the preconditions are in place. Logins are one part of it, the other part is the content piece, where some of them still have some catching up to do, and that’s something we are in daily discussions with all our partners about.”

What to look for in an ID solution
One primary issue, says Lichtwald, is that the ID solutions in the market are either not yet well-established or lack differentiation, leading to confusion over which ID solutions will become the industry standard.

“If you think about Universal ID solutions, which have deterministic, people-based identifiers like email or phone numbers in the background, there are quite a few aspects to think about. For example, are these partners connected to the marketing ecosystem today? Do they have publishers on one side, but also do they have DSPs and SSPs integrated into their ID solutions? Because they need to understand the ID. You might have one or 10 publishers onboard, but if the DSP and SSP doesn’t speak your ID language, you have a big problem, because you’re missing the translation layer.”

“You also need an offline graph that you can match against. You need to look at companies that have already built a graph in a privacy-compliant way, which is scalable, and which has real-time capabilities to match emails and phone numbers to a people-based graph. And there are not many companies out there that have built solutions that fulfil these criteria, that are scalable, and are present across international markets.”

“Another dimension is that you need a solution that can meet client demand. It’s not enough to just have an ID solution sitting there. An ID solution really works when you have clients buying against these IDs, therefore you need some kind of onboarding proposition, where clients can actually structure the data and they can connect to these digital IDs and activate campaigns. If you look at these three or four criteria, having an international solution; having a solution that’s integrated with the SSPs and DSPs; having an offline graph, where you’re able to hash any incoming identity against an existing graph; and also having a client-facing solution which actually can drive demand, then you are looking at the right factors. But if you bring all these aspects together, the market looks very small in terms of ID solutions that tick all these boxes.”

Act sooner, rather than later
Lichtwald emphasises the fact that, in order for publishers to thrive in the impending cookie-less internet, it is necessary for them to make fundamental changes as early as possible, even if they don’t immediately see returns.

He points out that “publishers should not shy away from Universal ID solutions if they don’t have logins today, or only have a very small percentage, because that’s something you can start exploring while in parallel you work on your strategy around logging in users. And that’s how we proceed with many of our engagements, where they start with 5-10 per cent, and have the objective of driving it up.” By adopting a Universal ID sooner, rather than later, publishers can ensure continued addressability and drive revenue without fear of significant disruption to their revenue model once cookies are no longer in use.

In summary, says Lichtwald, publishers need to get to a place where their users see value in the login.

“It’s not enough to just add another pop-up,” he says. “You can do that and there are really good examples where publishers have reminded users that: ‘You have read the second free article, if you want to continue, you need to login.’ So you can do this in a nice way. It doesn’t always have to be linked to payment, and it also doesn’t have to be linked to hard login walls.”

“There are intermediate solutions that many publishers are trying out. And you always have the spectrum from publishers asking you on the first page to log in if you want to continue reading the first article, versus some who are more in the middle, who have a mix of free and paid content, where you need to log in to read the second or third article. Then at the other extreme you have sites that are completely free and will always have to be completely free because there is some content users will not log in for, and it’s also something the ecosystem has to accept. But ultimately, Universal ID will drive premium content and will help premium publishers as they will be able to log in users and connect to their identities to activate brand dollars against audiences.” 

So, what do publishers need to do now?
In my previous article, I covered how publishers need to experiment with paywalls, and how it is also vital that they create a multi-channel, multi-device and user experience that enables individuals to seamlessly access content on multiple devices. Not only does this incentivize users to stay logged in, it also gives publishers the opportunity to offer greater value via personalized content or recommendations while enabling a greater understanding of their users.

Additionally, publishers need to determine which Universal ID provider offers the right mix of addressability, scale and integrations to futureproof them for a cookieless future. The four criteria to look for can be summarized as follows:

1. Ability to drive and meet client demand

2. Based on a deterministic identity graph that can be matched against a brand’s data

3. Easily integrates into marketing advertising platforms

4. Compliance with any existing privacy regulations that might apply, as well as highly secure

It is important that publishers recognize not only the need for such wholesale changes, but also the urgency with which they need to act. 2022 will be here much sooner than they think and there’s no other way but to figure all of this out before access to third-party cookies is cut off entirely.

You can read the first part of our interiew with Florian Lichtwald here.