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Reaching People, Not Devices: How ID-Based Targeting Is Devouring Cookie-Based Targeting

  |  June 25, 2014   |  Comments

Cookie targeting is about devices, while ID targeting is about people, providing better control for advertisers and allowing for realistic frequency caps and better attribution modeling.

Twitter recently opened up retargeting to all advertisers. Previously, this retargeting was only available through ad partners such as AdRoll or Criteo. Now, with just a small line of code placed on a website, any advertiser can deliver ads to users on Twitter that have previously visited their website. Facebook did the same late last year with the release of Website Custom Audience. Running an FBX campaign via an ad partner became unnecessary for advertisers at every level.

Retargeting campaigns are extremely effective regardless of which platforms you run them on. Users are 70 percent more likely to convert from a retargeted ad because they are already familiar with the brand, products or services. In fact, 25 percent of users said they enjoyed seeing a retargeted ad because it showed a product or service they viewed previously. Imagine that - consumers actually enjoying ads!

We could stop here and advertisers would be happy with the results, but retargeting on Twitter and Facebook offers another major benefit for brands - both social networks use IDs to target users, not cookies, allowing for cross-device delivery and attribution. Let's take a look at the differences between cookies and IDs.

Cookie Targeting Is About Devices

Cookies aren't about people, they are about devices, and depending on how users access the Internet, multiple people may be using the same device throughout the day. For example, a home computer could be used by mom, dad, teen daughter, and teen son. Each person has different online behaviors, interests, needs, and ultimately, different purchase paths. This can result in wasted ad spend for advertisers if they are retargeting the teen daughter based on websites visited by the dad.

The real issue, however, involves the multitude of devices that one person uses through the day. A single person could have a separate work PC, a home PC, a tablet, a mobile phone, and a smart TV (likely at minimum). These myriad users and devices create a disjointed landscape for users and advertisers, cause wasted spend and make it extremely difficult to measure performance or create a proper attribution path.

ID Targeting Is About People

Targeting by IDs is different, however. If a user visits your website, and the site has implemented the appropriate retargeting code, Twitter and Facebook can identify that user's ID. If the user leaves without making a purchase or completing a desired action, they will be served an ad on Facebook or Twitter. That ad could be served on a desktop, iPhone, tablet, or any device as long as the user is logged in to the same account across all devices. It creates a more consistent and relevant experience for the user. It also provides better control for advertisers, allowing for realistic frequency caps and better attribution modeling.


Example of how Twitter retargeting works. Source: Twitter Blog.

Privacy Concerns With ID Targeting

While Facebook and Twitter can target the person, they don't actually receive any personal information, so privacy concerns need not be considered. When the data is input into Twitter or Facebook, it is encrypted or hashed, meaning the ID information is randomized to result in an output that does not resemble the original input. Twitter and Facebook cannot see this information and neither can the end advertisers.

Why Social Is Leading the Cross-Device Targeting Pack

Social media is all about people and relationships, so it makes sense that social networks would be pioneering the move from focusing on devices to focusing on people. But Twitter and Facebook aren't the only sites that allow for ID-based targeting. Google, Amazon, Apple, eBay, and Yahoo can all target ads based on user login information (this likely explains why Google forces you to create a profile and log in to every product and app).

Will ID Targeting Devour Cookies?

The short answer is yes, but not just yet. Cookies are still widely used for advertising on desktops across a variety of digital platforms. For many, it's the only way to reach users at all, and the positives far outweigh the negatives.

ID targeting isn't the only way to target cross domain. One way is through device-specific IDs, such as Android ID and Apple IFA. Probabilistic targeting, which involves creating statistical models of aggregate ad data to determine who uses certain devices, is another way. Both have their downfalls, though. Device IDs only work on the specific device itself and can also be disabled by the user. Probabilistic requires the handling of massive amounts of data, and ends up being only 60 percent to 90 percent accurate.

Twitter and Facebook don't begin to capture the entire online and mobile landscape, but it's a good place to start and one of the best solutions at this time for reaching users across devices and delivering a consistent experience.

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Angie Pascale

Angie Pascale is the director of marketing at Indaba Group and cofounder and vice president of search and social at Interstellar, where she leads customer engagement and platform optimization strategies for e-commerce brand partners.

Pascale has provided content for a variety of industry conferences and publications, including the Google Website Optimizer Authorized Consultant Summit, Search Engine Strategies, SMX Social Media Marketing, and eMarketing Association Conference.

Prior to Indaba and Interstellar, she was the director of social and SEO at Location3 Media, a leading digital marketing agency in Denver, Colorado. She graduated from Penn State University with a bachelor's degree in English. Follow her at @angiepascale.

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