Nov 22 2021
Rachel Chan

Programmatic I/O 2021: Takeaways on Identity and Contextual Targeting


For many attendees, myself included, AdExchanger’s Programmatic I/O Conference was their first in-person business event since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The energy and enthusiasm were palpable, and rightly so, as the conference offered a diverse set of topics and guest speakers to pique the interest of every digital marketer.

This year’s discussions focused largely on one theme: identity solutions for the cookieless world. Read on for my key takeaways.

Identity Considerations for the Cookieless World

With the deprecation of third-party cookies, there has been a rise in technology to manage first-party data, as well as a rise in collaboration. It was shared that 7 in 10 marketers still need to better leverage their first-party data, and that only 1 out of 10 consider their first-part data strategy to be “very mature.” That being said, identity solutions—including contextual targeting, which I’ll touch on later—need to be part of any digital marketing strategy moving forward.

When activating first-party data, marketers should now think of the consumer. The strategy should focus on quality—not quantity—because good ethics makes for good business. This is about avoiding friction and respecting the consumer.

Ideally, the publisher should be managing controls on consent, but we need to rethink consent as well. The consumer may be telling us not to collect all their data, but instead, just what we need. So it isn’t about collecting as much data as possible, but taking a step back and asking, what do we need to market effectively? What are the consumer's needs and preferences? Take time to understand your core consumer by looking at the data. It may be helpful to reverse engineer your strategy with the end in mind.

Marketers need to be part of the solution and be willing to collaborate, test and share. Testing will require an investment as you revisit taxonomy, train your teams, or partner with ad tech. Testing can involve anywhere from 10-20 identity partners to find the right combination, and by sharing our learnings, everybody in the industry wins.

Utilizing Contextual Targeting

AI-enabled contextual targeting is on the rise in response to the deprecation of third-party cookies. Contextual targeting is a great privacy-friendly option as it provides real-time data to understand what a user is looking at, and ads are served when a user is already in a desirable frame of mind. It’s a good low-funnel tactic that delivers the brand message to the user and can be tracked by view-through conversion performance.

When using contextual targeting in relation to the loss of cookies, it's important to understand relevant moments for your consumers. It was recommended that we optimize for results—that is, aim for maximum reach and then dial in to increase precision to drive conversion.

In a nutshell, we can look at contextual targeting with a 3-tier approach by:

  • Focusing on generic terms
  • Staying up-to-date on consumer trends, and
  • Understanding our audiences and being opportunistic.

In Sum

To summarize, here are my takeaways on how marketers can get ahead and prepare for the cookieless future:

  • Grow your collection of first-party data.
  • Reestablish direct relationships with publishers.
  • Invest in tools required to house and activate first-party data, such as a customer data platform.
  • Auditing partners and anticipated performance will be key.
  • Conversations with executives and C-level stakeholders need to begin now. Educate them on the long-term impacts of the cookieless future.
  • Identity resolution is a fluid decision and capability for most companies. Be agile. Test, track and change, as there is a need for constant evaluation.
  • Understand what to do with your data by looking at new metrics and KPIs such as cohort measurement, brand lift and surveys, and media mix modeling. Aggregated measurements will also become important.
  • Advertisers are holding alternative identity solutions to slightly different standards depending on the need they need to fill.
  • It’s less about finding a winner but more about finding a winning combination of partners or solutions.

All in all, Programmatic I/O 2021 was a momentous occasion for digital marketers. As we look forward to forging a new, privacy compliant "normal" for our industry, it was great to be reminded of the wealth of knowledge and experience we collectively hold. As long as we keep sharing knowledge and ideas, the digital marketing space has a bright and exciting future.

Looking for more information about how to succeed in a cookieless future? Check out our guide, Beyond Third-Party Cookies: Your Guide to Overcoming the Identity Crises, for a deep dive.

Download the Guide