Calvin Chan, Chief Operating Officer, AdMaster
For the time being, web-based cookies will remain the primary technology used to measure digital ads. This is simply due to the absence of an effective, viable alternative. However, web-based cookies have two major drawbacks – they have a relatively short lifespan and they do not work on mobile platforms – which will provide significant incentive to digital marketers to come up with new tracking tools.
In the meantime, marketers can use flash cookies, which are harder to delete, to extend the lifespan of cookies. As for what will eventually replace web-based cookies, Apple’s identifier for advertisers (IDFA), social ID mapping and Wi-Fi router matching are just a few of many promising replacements that will allow marketers to measure behaviour across multiple devices.
Yes, it is still relevant. Most of online adspend (97%) in China still comes from PCs, which means cookie data is not only relevant but necessary. Not only that, the two key areas of digital buying growth—programmatic and online video—are and will be PC focused for the next few years. Both still need to be measured and optimized by cookie data. Furthermore, market dynamics in China are also different; the “Do Not Track” (DNT) movement has received far less traction here. It is the combination of differing views on privacy and the scale of online shopping where cookie tracking helps with relevant recommendations (in Q2 alone, Rmb628.8 billion was spent on online shopping), which make Chinese netizens far less likely to be averse to cookie tracking. So, in China at least, the death of the cookie is a long way away.
Where we are seeing innovation in tracking is in the mobile space. Mobile online traffic is now 59% of all traffic and tracking behavior on mobiles has proven tricky. Part of the challenge for mobile tracking has been the inability track people across what they do on their mobile browsers and apps. Tracking agencies have just introduced SDKs and fingerprinting to facilitate tracking among their panels; this at the very least will give us a more complete view on what people do on their mobiles.
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Of course, every marketer hopes for a single user view not only across the mobile web and app but also across devices. Again the issue of relying only on cookie data is the inability for us to track users across multiple screens. Google has made some headway with Universal Analytics and they’ve put some might behind AdID (their cookie replacement tracking technology), but there is still a long ways to go to ensure that data is robust. Tracking agencies in China are pushing forward with data fusion to provide a single view of consumers; merging web cookie data, mobile SDK data and in the near future Smart TV tracking.
The challenge today for marketers is not that data is not available, but that the multiple sources of existing data don’t lead to a clear currency in online marketing measurement. Not only are we tracking users across different devices, success metrics vary too. Bounce rate versus click through rate versus impressions versus time spent versus transactions versus conversion… The list is endless. As more devices become common place in the next few years, beginning with Smart TVs and wearables, the need for a unified metrics and tracking solutions will be even more crucial. Until then, cookies will have to do.
Simply put, cookie data is still relevant. Perhaps this tech is being phased out with DNT in the west, but in China cookies are still the dominant targeting medium. Here in China, we’ve only recently started. It’s likely to take more time before any other new ways get introduced or gain traction.
This year in the China market, we’re seeing a lot of push for Programmatic, but to be frank, the tech that companies are adopting in China today is still DSP and RTB, not quite programmatic yet. However, vendors like iPinyou are very active in the market. Also Google introducing the concept of a Private Market Place (PMP), where brands and agencies will have the ability to build up “more” premium inventories within the PMP, which moving forward should set new standards for Programmatic in China as well as around the globe. We anticipate seeing more publishers introducing their own DSPs to the market due to the vast data they can collect (Baidu just recently introduce its own DSP).
Phorm is an interesting one, tapping into the ISP data (basically collecting the user interest data). This technology is not new in the West, however the company is only recently active in China.
Newer mediums probably include location-based data and fingerprint-recognition algorithms. We still haven’t yet tested these on any actual campaigns and adoption probably varies across categories.
Cookie data is still relevant, but it is not as good as we would like it to be. It used to be a good tool because of a lack of better alternatives. But in this age of Big Data, we need more personalized, real-time information with rich customer profiles that can give us deep insights into our current and prospective clients.
Social data that is readily available, such as Weibo in China, cannot give us the rich personalized data we need. While WeChat has great penetration and is very relevant for brand engagement and customer service, its marketing and data services are still rather limited for now.
So while cookie and social data do not meet our desire for unique (Big) data, the BAT ecosystem (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) is gradually opening up their data, and the first experiments are emerging.
If we take BAT’s unique customer data and we combine it with any customer data the brand has (loyalty or CRM program, client profiles, etc) and we add the social data that we can mine from social networks, we are able to create a very rich profile that enables us to create rich, relevant and timely messages for consumers. In addition to defining the Moments of Truth, in which we need to engage with our consumers, this rich data will give us more insights into our customers - helping with product development and customer service.
Data security and corporate (data) governance are important topics in this field. We will see neutral data exchange platforms emerging, as companies want to keep control of their own client data, but simultaneously need to leverage the data these big platforms are offering.
There is a big task for agencies to help our clients navigate this new world, and to start creating experiences, built upon big ideas and fueled by data.
There is still (after more than 20 years) a lot of confusion about web cookies. As Wikipedia says, a cookie is a "small piece of data sent from a website and stored in a user's web browser while the user is browsing that website”. Most often it is used to uniquely identify a client (browser) so that current and past behaviour can be identified as coming from the same agent. This is critically important for collecting “click stream” data online.
Click stream data remains a critical weapon in the arsenal of advertisers. It tells us what visitors are doing on our platforms. As such, they form the basis of almost all digital marketing KPI’s, reporting and optimisation.
Increasingly, optimisation focussed marketers are trying to understand the “why” behind consumer behaviour on their properties. Click stream data is not enough for that. Other tools used here are usability tests, A/B and multivariate tests and surveys.
Due to increasing concerns about cookies, especially in the west, other technologies have been developed that serve a similar purpose (URL query strings, Flash cookies, window.name tracking, etc). Implementations vary, but the objective to track the user’s click stream is the same.