06/04/2020

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Preparing for life in a cookie-less world: ADARA’s Garner on building identity graph and an alternative data co-op

The first question I asked Scott Garner, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of...

The first question I asked Scott Garner, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of ADARA, how he felt being in Singapore when it’s in Dorscon (Disease Outbreak Response System Condition) Orange Alert, he said, “I’d be okay if it wasn’t for the people around me worrying.”

Garner, who had scheduled a trip to visit customers in South-east Asia a couple of months ago, said, “I don’t think I gave any serious thought to cancelling. I am following guidelines and as long as people want to meet me, I say, let’s meet. I am not nervous at all – washing hands is simple and easy.”

He
said he was encouraged by the conversations he’s had, having visited Bangkok
and Singapore. “People are in town, and they have time, and they want to listen
to new ideas.”

However,
even as we met last week in Singapore, the US was starting to go into panic
mode with more cases being reported in the country. “Now I don’t know if they
will ask me to self-quarantine, but I have no problem with that,” he laughed.

“We
should not succumb to fear and be a bit braver,” he said. 

In
fact, other than the Covid-19 crisis that’s preoccupying the world right now,
Garner believes there are bigger longterm threats and disruptions to travel
brands – chief of which is how are they preparing for life in a cookie-less
world.

In
January this year, in what has been described as a “watershed” moment for the
advertising industry, Google
said it would begin phasing third party cookies out within two years from its Chrome
browser, a decision it said was prompted by privacy regulation laws in the US
as well as Europe.

Google Chrome has a 69% market share
on desktop and 40% on mobile in the US, according to StatCounter data. Other
popular browsers such as Apple’s Safari, which commands nearly 52% market share
on mobile in the US, has already implemented similar measures to prevent
tracking users.

The implications are huge for data
marketing companies that are not prepared – third party cookies are the
backbone of the programmatic advertising industry. They are an essential pillar
of online ad targeting, collecting small bits of consumer information to inform
marketers and publishers’ campaigns.

Said Garner, “Google says it will
happen over two years but we expect it could be shorter, like, six months when
third party cookies will become useless. What we have to do now is move fast
from a cookie world to an identity world.”

Garner explained, “Third
party cookies allow brands to connect with customers outside the walled gardens
(Google, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn). First party cookies are fine – those
that require users to log in – they won’t be affected by what Google and
Facebook are doing. You can restructure first party cookies to emulate the
functionality of the third party cookies.”

Most vulnerable are travel sites
that are cookie driven and that allow users to access content without a log-in.
“In the future, I can see that log-in could become the norm, but how will it
affect meta-search sites like KAYAK or TripAdvisor?” asked Garner.

And not to mention the decision as well by Google Flights not to charge airlines for direct links, which will put more pressure on the meta-search model.

Scott Garner: “Google says it will happen over two years but we expect it could be shorter, like, six months when third party cookies will become useless. What we have to do now is move fast from a cookie world to an identity world.”

To fend off disruption to its model,
ADARA has been building an identity graph – defined as a database
that creates linkages between all identifiers that are associated with an
individual customer – and working with brands to create an alternative
data world. Think of it like summoning a rebel force to create another data
universe to compete against the walled gardens, of which Google is the biggest.

“Travel brands have two options –
status quo which means tying yourself even more to Google and ceding customer
acquisition or join a data co-op like ours, which offers an alternative world,”
said Garner.

There is resistance from some brands
to join this data co-op. “The concept of sharing is new. Everyone feels, my
data is valuable, and there is fear over privacy issues – brands not wanting
consumers to know they are monetizing their data – but as long as you make your
customers aware of what you are doing, most people are okay with that,
especially if you deliver relevance.”

To overcome brands’ fear of losing
control over their data, ADARA has a data rights management platform that
“gives the data owner full control over how it is used, and ensures no-go
areas. Google doesn’t give that option at all, there’s a tremendous amount of
your data out there which you don’t have control over.

“Brands want to know they are getting value, and so the onus is on us to let them see that when they use data for customer acquisition or personalisation, it creates incremental value for them.”

Currently, ADARA has almost a
billion active unique traveller profiles, which are cookie-based and the size
of its identity graph is currently 600 million.

The graph is robust in North
America, however in Asia Pacific and EMEA, it is more fragmented, and this is
what it wants to work on – building out its identity graph in those two
regions. 

Even as it transitions to an identify
graph model, ADARA is also reviewing the way it charges –subscription fees are
replacing fixed payments and revenue shares, in some cases. Think of it as data
streaming where a client, for a fee, gets to mix and match the data sets it
wants to use. “We have 5,000 traveller segments so a client can pick the
segments it wants.”

What all this adds up to is the race
to create the next data platform in a cookie-less world and many companies are
vying for pole position, including ADARA. Being the travel expert, it feels
it’s in the best position to win the race. “We need a strategic alternative to
reduce dependence on Google and we can create incremental revenues out of
this.”

And if anyone has concerns that ADARA could become the next data monster, Garner said, “In all seriousness, there are plenty of rebel forces out there so there’s no worry about anyone creating another monopoly.”

Featured image credit: showcake/Getty Images