Blog / From Cookies to People: An Introduction to People-Based Marketing

From Cookies to People: An Introduction to People-Based Marketing

When cookies crumble and panels disappoint, consider people-based marketing.

For decades, Nielsen ratings have been the dominant currency for buying and selling ads in the media space—a flawed methodology, according to NBCUniversal’s Linda Yaccarino, who says that Nielsen’s data fails to tell the whole story in today’s digital age.

This issue has plagued nearly every industry. The closest many of us have ever gotten to understanding consumer behaviors has been through proxies or research panels and anonymized cookies on the web. Consumers remain elusive, hopping between various channels and losing us between multiple devices.

But the solution to this problem is close at hand, according to Thomas Mathew, Zoomph’s chief product officer. It begins with a mind-switch from tracking proxies to keeping up with real people.

Where panels and cookies fail

In our connected era, our consumers are active on multiple channels and devices 24/7. The web cookie struggles to keep up with mobile behaviors or actions across various browsers, presenting only a fraction of your consumers’ online behaviors and lacking transparency into the motivations behind a click.


chart comparing cookie tracking against person ID tracking
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Focus groups attempt to tackle this problem, but sample sizes are always too small. Not to mention, they’re biased and exclude real-time behaviors.

“The whole selection process [of focus groups] naturally has an inherent bias which will reflect in the data,” says Mathew, who points out how participants may be reimbursed or selected based on key markets. “They don’t reflect natural behaviors.”

A new focus on people-based marketing

What if we could view people across their entire digital footprints? What if we knew our customers outside of the context of their transactions, and could understand their everyday interests or associations with other brands? Could this help our brands fit more seamlessly into their lives and make our marketing look, well, less like marketing?

Mathew says it’s possible. Social media and digital services have produced new forms of global data that can be viewed from the perspective of every user. Login-based services, like streaming sites and social media, support persistent person IDs, making them “more indicative of buyer personalities because you can get so much more data on specific individuals whom you can study over time.”

Where the cookie fails to keep memory of your consumer, login services help. And as consumers create and engage with content for hours in a day, the data around their identities grows, painting a fuller picture of their genuine values and opinions.


how cookie and people based tracking work


People-based marketing involves collecting this type of information, as made publicly available through an individual’s various social profiles. It involves personalizing your marketing to expressed interests as opposed to surface-level demographics and purchased data.

“This digital economy is a ‘me economy,’ so for advertising to be relevant to me, it must be able to identify and reach me as a person,” states a 2017 Marketing Imperatives study by Merkle.

In its most ideal state, people-based marketing allows for just that. The challenge?

“You reach an information overload point because there are so many different signals that happen at once,” says Mathew. “So, the key question becomes, how do you smartly look at multiple digital touchpoints and roll them up into meaningful, actionable buckets? That’s where technology comes in.”

Scaling people-based marketing

To execute people-based marketing, Mathew recommends a hybrid approach. Your brand should blend its own first-party data with data from third-party channels, spanning social media, ecommerce, and streaming services.

An independent data vendor can help you collect this data and crunch it at scale with enough breadth, and in accordance to privacy laws.

For example, Wasserman sports agency uses a machine-driven audience profiling toolkit to take into account data from social media, U.S. Census reports, and more to a get a big-picture view of consumers. This lets them gauge passions and interests, and to identify marketing opportunities within a given audience segment.

In the same sense, your company can achieve a more granular understanding of your audience by matching your contacts to their social profiles (after receiving proper consent) or to lookalike profiles, then learning what they care about day in and day out. With the right technology, you can isolate relevant datasets and start making more informed decisions on how to spend your ad dollars.

A return to direct marketing

Merkle’s study asserts that people-based marketing isn’t entirely revolutionary.

“This ability to use PII about real people to target at that individual level…might sound familiar. Database marketers look at the rise of this targeting and think ‘we’ve been doing this since the 80s; it’s called direct marketing,’” reports Merkle. “The USPS allowed us to target individuals with mail, the telco companies allowed us to target by phone number, and the email service providers gave us the ability to target by email address.”

Mathew agrees—but notes that there’s a middle ground.

“Rather than doing everything at a one-to-one level, you can define personas or segments of people and still provide personalized experience to those personas,” he says.

“Yes, the philosophy has been around for a while, but it can now be executed in a way that you could never do before,” he adds. “Data is much broader, and systems are much faster that what could’ve been done at a small scale before can be done at a much larger scale right now.”

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