The way we buy products has changed a lot in the last few years. Consumers today are enamoured by models allowing them to buy their favourite products and services on a monthly basis, from music on Spotify, food on Blue Apron, to make-up on Birchbox – even Adobe’s own Creative Cloud suite is available on a subscription-based model!
But nowhere has the subscription-based model proved more transformative than the entertainment industry. Viewers no longer wish to behold themselves to the programming schedule of free-to-air networks – they want to subscribe to a range of original content they can stream whenever and wherever they like. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are all Video on Demand (VOD) services that cater to this appetite, and last week Apple became the latest to throw their hat into the ring with the launch of Apple TV plus.
Subscription-based VOD is changing the way people watch television, but it’s also gradually changing the way people consume advertising. Some VOD services, like Hulu, feature advertising alongside their programming. However most don’t. Netflix and Amazon Prime come in under this category, and Apple is the latest player to eschew advertising. This is presumably seen by Apple as a selling point for its viewers, but it’s also a missed opportunity for brands to connect with and get to know their audiences on the platform.
It’s already difficult enough for marketers to keep track of their audience’s entire journey across mobile, desktop, TV and apps – just to name a few. And the multitude of channels is just the beginning. Some channels have different ways of tracking users than others, and some – for instance walled gardens – prevent brands from accessing a full picture of user activity on their platform. Apple TV represents a trend for subscription-based VOD to close themselves off from brands altogether. Forget walled gardens – these platforms are walled wastelands for marketers!
These new media consumption trends cast doubt on the ways marketers are currently building audience profiles, not just on VOD, but across the board. Let’s face it – the industry needs to rethink the way we profile, and it isn’t because Apple TV plus decided to deprive brands of advertising opportunities. It’s because the old methods of building audience data online – namely cookies – are becoming defunct.
The writing has been on the wall for cookies since the rise of mobile devices and apps, neither of which support the tracking technology. Apple’s own Safari web browser blocks cookies altogether using a technology called Intelligent Tracking Prevention, which was recently strengthened in a version 2.2. Google’s Chrome browser was itself recently updated to give users more visibility and control over the way their cookies were used by third parties. Chrome’s approach is much more balanced than that of Apple, giving user’s greater privacy control without completely depriving third parties from the opportunity to get to know their audiences better using data. However, it’s also another piece of evidence that momentum is shifting away from cookies.
So what is the future of audience profile building? At the moment, we’re seeing the industry explore other methods of profile building like Uniquely Identified Data (UID). This method uses alternative identifiers to make sense of a user’s behaviour, like IP address, user agent, and gateway IP address. UID is much more accurate than cookies because it’s a more complete way of tracing a user’s journey online. It also offers brands the ability to build up their own user databases more securely, and with less reliance on opaque walled-garden environments. This is the method employed to build user profiles on our own Experience Cloud platform, for example.
The industry’s shift from cookies to other more overarching forms of user identification underscores the overall importance of a broader shift in audience profiling. Consumers are increasingly demanding content that’s personalised to their own specific needs and preferences, and this is requiring marketers to rethink the way they target. Building campaigns based on demographics or cohorts is no longer specific enough. Brands need to tailor their communication to individuals, and this requires a finer and more sophisticated approach.
That’s why brands are looking to unified profiling – that is profiling that looks at an individual’s journey cross-channel – and they are turning to Data Management Platforms (DMPs) to help piece them together. DMPs centralise and correlate data at a user-level, pooling together information from a range of touchpoints to build complete user-based profiles. Marketers can then use these profiles to deliver more relevant and consistent messaging to users based on a more comprehensive understanding of their behavior and actions.
Such insight can also be used to detect new target audiences based on the performance of existing segments, for example consumers who may be interested in running pants after having already purchased sneakers and browsed drink bottles. Adobe’s own Experience platform performs this functionality using AI to accurately predict a user’s interests based on the behaviour of lookalike audiences. This helps brands target their campaigns more effectively and yield greater returns from paid media spend.
The media environment is evolving and fragmenting, and this latest product announcement from Apple is only the latest step in a wider transformation. We are seeing approaches to user profiling adapt alongside this shift, as brands attempt to keep track of their audience as they jump from one channel to another. This is all part of a more fundamental effort to engage users as individuals. Technology presents marketers an unprecedented opportunity to get to know their customer, and interact with them on a much more personal level. And it’s paving the way to a much more unified approach to audience profiling.