By Conrad Lisco, Chief Strategy Officer at Fyllo
In the marketing industry, we have a fondness for buzzwords. They neatly encapsulate complex ideas, roll off the tongue with ease, and have an inherent appeal that draws stakeholders. “People-based marketing” (PBM) has been a standout, enduring buzzword. For the past decade, it’s been our rallying cry, promising to deliver personalized experiences to consumers based on their identities.
However, when we pull at the threads of this term, we find that it often serves as a euphemism for something less personal: user-based targeting. We leverage names, email addresses, offline data points, and online digital identifiers to track ‘people’ in their digital journeys. Yet, these people are, in reality, ‘users,’ defined by basic demographic information, associated online identifiers, and behavioral patterns.
This raises an essential question: does knowing a user’s email and name truly mean we know the person? Can we claim to understand a person if we overlook the content they consume, the information they engage with, the contexts they navigate? Genuine people-based marketing transcends identity. It’s a harmonious blend of audience and context.
Adjusting to a Cookieless Era
The impending demise of third-party cookies has ignited a spectrum of responses ranging from alarmism to complacency. Despite the varying opinions, a consensus emerges: we’re entering a new era where traditional user-based targeting techniques need a comprehensive reassessment. This shift from cookies is not an apocalypse but an opportunity—a wake-up call urging us to evolve our approach to understanding audiences.
Within industry circles, there’s an assumption that first-party data, deterministic targeting techniques, and emerging universal identifiers will be our saving grace. These alternatives, while promising on the surface, are still in their embryonic phase and harbor their own unique set of challenges and associated costs. This reality is something many stakeholders haven’t fully come to terms with. These alternatives, although essential, are not a magic bullet that will miraculously solve all the issues at hand. It would be a critical mistake to pin all our hopes on them alone.
A Balanced Diet
The answer, then, might lie in a balanced approach. We need to employ a mix of deterministic, probabilistic, and contextual data to achieve the kind of addressability we enjoyed with cookies. It’s crucial to integrate these elements, not as disparate pieces, but as parts of a whole that work in tandem to enhance our understanding of the person behind the user.
With this perspective, ‘people-based marketing’ starts to evolve, gaining a fresh significance. It expands beyond identity, beyond the metadata of a person, delving deeper into the content they engage with. It explores not only their behavior but also their interests and preferences, presenting a vivid, semantically-rich portrait. It signals a shift from merely ‘targeting’ people to genuinely ‘understanding’ them. In turn, contextual targeting evolves from targeting pages to targeting real people.
Looking Towards a Truly People-Based Future
The future of marketing is, without a doubt, intrinsically people-based. In this new paradigm,people are not merely users reduced to their digital identifiers but unique individuals, each with their distinct contexts, content preferences, and lived experiences. This redefined concept of people-based marketing presents an opportunity where ad tech can leverage its capabilities to make a substantial impact. It offers a way to seamlessly combine audience and context into a single, unified understanding, thus creating a more effective and empathetic marketing strategy.
As the industry grapples with the phasing out of third-party cookies, there’s a scramble to forge new connections, with an intense focus on first-party data and identity. But with advanced semantic understanding, contextual targeting now offers a legitimate alternative to this paradigm.
As an industry, we must acknowledge the necessity of shifting our focus from an outdated, reductionist interpretation of ‘people-based marketing’. It’s time to reassess what we truly mean when we say we understand our people, our audience. For the people-based future to become a reality in the present, the concept itself needs to evolve and mature. As the era of cookies gradually comes to an end, it is our responsibility to ensure that our understanding of ‘people’ doesn’t crumble with it. Instead, we must strive to craft an understanding that is more robust, more nuanced, and more in tune with the reality of human complexity.
That understanding is only possible when we combine audience and context together.