Happy birthday, cookie, here’s a new topping

At 20 years old this month, the cookie is feeling its age. Its lack support for smartphones and tablets means fresh blood is required, in the form of ‘device intelligence’, to track online behaviour and bring the personalised desktop experience to mobile and tablet. By Carolyn Bollaci.

 

20 years ago this month, Lou Montulli, an employee of Netscape, had the idea of using web cookies to retain information about visitors to a website. A year later Microsoft was supporting cookies in version two of Internet Explorer.

Today they remain the tried and tested way of tracking online behaviour. Research by internet measurement company Keynote shows that 86% of major sites not only plant their own cookies, but also place third-party tracking cookies on their websites. Many of those are from advertisers – it’s the key mechanism for promoting content to users based on their online behaviour.

So cookies are a good thing. They streamline the online experience – whether it’s returning to a site as you left it, skipping steps in a process or ensuring when you see advertisements they are relevant to you.

There’s one big problem, though. Smartphones and tablets generally don’t accept third-party cookies. And these days almost half the time we spent on the internet is with a mobile device. Imagine, all that time online with no easy way for advertisers to target users. Worse yet, consumers are using these devices at prime shopping and researching time: in the evenings and at weekends.

Enter stage left, ‘device intelligence’. It’s a means of leveraging the work of the cookie without placing anything on the host device. Basically, it gathers what it can from a device and its configuration to identify a user. Just as with cookies it doesn’t use personal identifiable data, but the hundreds of variables gathered from the phone provides a high probability of accurately tracking ongoing behaviour.

This technology doesn’t replace the cookie – it works with it. Cookies will be used when they’re available and linked to an identifier which is mapped to that user’s devices. Where cookies are used in conjunction with device intelligence the accuracy of identifying a user can improve by as much as 10-25%, providing greater pinpoint accuracy for campaign planners.

One big advantage is that this methodology can be used to track a user over a long period of time – well, at least for the life of their device. That’s a big step forward. In these days where marketing automation techniques are nurturing leads for B2B companies with long sales cycles, a year or two of tracking is imperative. Over that time most people would have cleared cookies at some point – or their virus protection application would have done it for them – making such ongoing tracking unattainable.

Device intelligence also means advertisers aren’t tied to the proprietary solutions offered by major media sellers. An open standard means behavioural information can more easily be blended with other data to create highly targeted advertising campaigns and to effectively track the outcomes.

It’s a technology that is particularly pertinent in Australia, given our love of mobiles – analyst firm Telsyte has forecast this is the year that smartphone penetration will exceed computers. Tablet devices will overtake the beleaguered PC a couple of years later.

Tracking the same user across multiple devices will be a significant step forward. Right now, planners really can’t track someone from their desktop to their mobile to their tablet. They’ll be seen as three different consumers. But tracking an individual across each platform through the combination of cookies and device intelligence will unleash a new era of digital advertising – big screens to build brand, tablets for product discovery and mobile phones for offers on the go, for example.

So, happy birthday to the humble cookie. We know you’ll be around for some time to come, but you’ll have to accept that device intelligence will be a buzz phrase this year and advertisers have every right to be excited.

 

Carolyn Bollaci
BY Carolyn Bollaci ON 30 June 2014
Regional vice president, Australia & New Zealand, Sizmek