No Silver Bullet: Identity Resolution In A Cookieless World

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Adam Paz, VP at Viant Technology.

Despite the significant marketer demand for identity-based solutions and the ad industry’s acknowledgment that we need a new form of identity resolution, few platforms are equipped to deliver on that need, leaving advertisers scrambling for a silver bullet.

But there is no silver bullet to solve for identity resolution as there is no single identifier that can replace a cookie or an IDFA. Marketers looking to solve for this challenge need to dig deeper and ensure their platforms are ready for the death of the cookie, and it all starts with knowing what questions to ask.

How are you defining identity resolution?

In the simplest terms, identity resolution is the process of resolving data back to an individual or household. This process is done by matching personal identifiers (e.g., name, email, physical address, phone number, etc.) to digital identifiers (e.g., cookies, mobile ad IDs, IP addresses, etc.) across devices and channels.

Said another way, identity resolution is about hosting a unified record of identity that allows a marketer to use any available identifier to create the link to an individual or household.


Many platforms can deliver device resolution via cookies or device IDs but, with the demise of cookies, these platforms are now attempting to develop solutions under the guise of identity to continue enabling this linkage. Make sure to look under the hood, because the solutions many are selling, while not bad, are not true identity resolution.

What is your approach to identity resolution?

It’s all well and good to assert that your platform is people-based but it’s entirely different to articulate how you are matching personal and digital identifiers. Delivering identity-resolved approaches for both media activation and attribution is no easy feat.

For example, many platforms will probabilistically aggregate devices by associating two devices to an anonymous ID. While this is an informed assumption, it is not a true identity resolution solution.

While identity has dominated the discussion of late, it takes years to develop the understanding to activate scaled, compliant capabilities to face a cookieless future. There are solutions for marketers that will continue to deliver addressable advertising provided they are able to host, hash and match personal and digital identifiers in a centralized fashion.

That said, marketers need to ask their ad tech platforms how they are accomplishing identity resolution and not simply accept the latest version 2.0 branded term or fancy phrase.

Is there a silver bullet that replaces the third-party cookie?

Much of the discourse around the alternative to cookies focuses on email address as the primary personal identifier to bridge a user identity across devices and channels. While an email is a critical piece of this puzzle, relying on an email login alone will fall short.

For effective identity resolution at scale and a future-proof platform, DSPs need to have the ability to match on all manner of identifiers and not just the email address. Identifiers will vary by channel, but can include things such as IP addresses, lat/long coordinates or CTV IDs. This is particularly true of any shared devices such as the television.

Future-proof platforms should have the ability to host, hash and match on multiple personal identifiers, not just the email address. With that centralized understanding of a consumer, the different players in the ecosystem – marketers, data providers and publishers – can collectively grow and enrich their audience profiles holistically and therefore target appropriate audiences through their campaigns.

Is the household important to this equation?

A holistic approach to identity resolution can, and should, account for both the individual and the household. Having a deeper understanding of the consumer household is critical to the identity resolution conversation for two significant reasons.

First, the television is still a central part of the media mix. While brands are now leveraging different forms of TV advertising – traditional linear, CTV, OTT, programmatic linear, addressable linear, etc. – the TV is still king. More than ever, marketers need to have the ability to effectively deploy against and measure the impact of that device.

Second, even as individual-level tracking becomes more challenged with the aforementioned changes to cookies and IDFAs, the household remains a more persistent and reliable digital identifier. A number of data providers, including many that provide offline purchase data, are mapping that at the household level, making this an important layer for targeting and attribution.

Brands and agencies should always ask their partners how they identify a household, to ensure alignment.

In the end, managing reach and frequency across channels is a challenge we hear about constantly and will only be more difficult in the future without a true people-based platform partner.

Follow Adam Paz (@adamlpaz) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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