Digital MarketingIdentity-led media: the best path forward in a changing world

Identity-led media: the best path forward in a changing world

Discover how embracing identity-driven media can pave the way for a brighter future in our ever-evolving global landscape

Brands across all verticals are rethinking their targeting and measurement strategies, motivated primarily by the crumbling of the third-party cookie. But what many fail to realize is that a truly future-proofed approach can’t just address a cookie-less world. There are other important shifts in marketing that must be part of the equation to avoid piling one band-aid on top of another over the next decade. Let’s talk through the other changes at play and why identity is the strategy for media management, measurement, and optimization. 

The critical trends beyond cookie deprecation 

The third-party cookie gets the most attention because it’s a forced transition, but there are changes happening across consumer behavior and martech that are just as, if not more, important. The first is rising customer expectations. Media has shifted from a brand-driven endeavor, where the goal was to change consumer behavior, to a consumer-led endeavor, where the brand must adapt to deliver what customers need and want. That means marketers need a full view of their customers – not just demographics and media engagement behaviors, but the broader picture of what’s happening in their lives and what’s capturing their current interests to understand what they need. 

That’s become exponentially more challenging because of the second shift – the collapse of the funnel. Consumer journeys are more complex than ever before, thanks to the emergence of new connection points and new purposes for established platforms. Remember when the only devices were desktop, mobile, and tablet? Today’s devices include everything from smart watches to gas pump displays and continue to expand as retail media reaches new heights and new verticals. And platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and the like that used to serve primarily as social, or entertainment channels are now used for product education and purchase. 

Why identity is the right solution 

A holistic marketing approach needs to address customers’ needs throughout a new, winding journey without relying on the third-party cookie. We firmly believe that first-party customer data must be the cornerstone for any solution to effectively solve those challenges. Let’s dig into three key areas of media and how identity helps. 

Media activation 

Activations are where we get to show customers that we understand them by delivering valuable messaging at the right time and place. Some brands are choosing to use non-ID contextual solutions, and while those do help with scale, they won’t deliver ideal customer response without a connection back to first-party data signals. The first-party data that feeds into modeling algorithms will help you reach a stronger, more relevant prospect pool than non-ID solutions can – meaning that you’ll have a better chance at resonating with those folks and converting them to actual customers.  

To get the right combination of offer, message, and environment, media and creative must come together seamlessly, which is best achieved through identity. One of the main benefits of an identity solution is that it can evolve over time. If your first-party customer data is limited or disorganized today, using an identity foundation across prospecting efforts can help grow your first-party database (and ultimately market share). Once a user visits your website, identity solutions can unlock that individual for cookieless retargeting and personalized experiences to point of purchase. 

Media measurement 

Another critical aspect of growing marketing share and customer pools is brand media – but we’re not talking about the unmeasurable awareness plays from the Mad Men era. Today, all media is performance media, and identity is what can help you link brand advertising to business outcomes and incrementality. That means you can optimize it, prove its ROI, and give it the budget it deserves to keep your customer database healthy. 

Beyond branding, identity-based measurement will also help replace some of the commonly used measurement tactics in display media. When the third-party cookie disappears, so will view-based event streams; and with privacy laws asking customers to opt-in rather than opt-out, click-stream solutions are also hampered. Having identity resolution that connects the dots of user engagement without these measurement tools is critical for continuing to see the full picture. 

Media insights 

In combination, activation and measurement work together to fuel your optimization cycle. Audience-led insights allow you to more effectively optimize each segment and create testing plans. A foundation in identity means that you’re not beholden to testing by format or geo or channel – you can test strategies for a specific audience based on their needs and how they’re responding to your media. And with an identity-centric measurement system, you can get the results you need to evaluate the test appropriately, regardless of where in the journey it’s being applied. And so, the optimization cycle continues, with targeted adjustments that move the needle. 


There are a lot of reasons that identity is the best solution for the future of marketing – but we know it can be complicated. If you’re just beginning your identity journey, you’re in good company: even the largest organizations are still in the early stages of unlocking value. But the clock is ticking – in a literal sense for cookie deprecation, and in a more abstract (but still important) way in terms of delivering customer value. Make sure you’re ready by building your identity-led media strategy today. 

Emily Anthony is the Head of Integrated Planning at Merkle.


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