You’re a publisher with a website that publishes about Keto and offers Keto diet plans and consultation. You know that your target audience includes 18 to 45 year olds from Tier 1 countries who are interested in health and fitness.

But first, are you certain that, say 10 out of 10 users, that you’ll spend on are exactly the ones you want to target? May be not. You might know what your ideal user looks like, but reaching the right individuals in the crowd can be daunting.

For example, using third-party cookies, you can discern the behavior of your audience by knowing the websites they visit. With this data in hand, people-based targeting becomes easier. But despite this, a lot of publishers and marketers skip the step of determining the origin of their users.

Meaning, can you find out how or from where did a user actually land on a websiteㄧwas it through research on a mobile device made hours ago, recommendation / referral from a friend received weeks ago, or just Google search made in real-time?

Lack of basic knowledge about users often leads to missed targeting potential, lost messaging, and above all, wasted ad spend. This threat makes it absolutely important for publishers and marketers to decode their ideal customers, but while remaining compliant. With that being said, what’s the resolution for these challenges? Let’s find out.

What is Identity Resolution?

It’s very common for Internet users to switch between multiple devices and platforms during their daily web browsing activities. Thanks to this, devising the most effective ways to target users, that too in a privacy-compliant way, has become tougher.

Identity resolution helps gain a holistic view of users by identifying and analyzing an individual user across devices by connecting different data and touch points. It is also considered as cross-device identification or targeting.

It creates a cohesive user-profile that is referred to target users at the right time and devices on which they are most likely to engage.

The user-profile enables publishers and marketers to perform people-based, contextual targeting in a more organized and measurable manner. Basically, you’ll be able to tell that User A, who saw your ad on desktop, is the same person who is mobile User B.

How does Identity Resolution Work

To plot the right data, identity resolution tools and technologies refer to identity graph. The graph is a database that houses user/customer profiles with all the known identifiers that correspond with individual user/customer.

An Internet user can be associated with one or many identifiers like email or physical address, mobile number, device and customer ID, account username, loyalty numbers, and browser-based cookie data.

Identity or ID graph aligns such data to build profiles that match with individuals, including behavioral data like past online purchases or website visits. However, the information made available by identity resolution and identity graph often raises the privacy-compliance question.

With access to abundant data, publishers and marketers get the platform to deliver customized and highly personalized ad experiences to their audiences. They are also able to ensure that the right message reaches the right individual, further making the budget well-utilized. But what about user consent and data privacy? (We’ll come to that in just a bit)

Broadly, we can say the identity resolution process includes the following steps:

  1. Identifying which devices, platforms, or channels are users engage with.
  2. Drawing touch points between those devices, platforms, and channels and users’ purchase journey.
  3. Matching individual users or households with each device, platform, and channel based on predefined attributes.
  4. Confirming the identity of a user across all devices, platforms, and channels.
  5. Activating relevant adtech or martech campaigns based on the understanding of the the audience.

Types of Identity Resolution Approach

Now that we have understood the objective of identity resolution, let’s now understand the two approaches on which it is performed:

  1. Probabilistic: In this kind of ID matching, user profile matching is done by tallying the available digital data points (anonymized identifiers) like IP address, device, browser, OS, location, wifi network, and browsing patterns including behavioral data. For e.g., you might see entries that use ‘different devices’ but have some ‘identifiers in common.’
  2. Deterministic: In this kind of ID matching, user profile matching is implemented by tallying personally identifiable information (PII, which is first-party data) like email or physical address, mobile number, credit card number, or log in/sign in information.

Going by the definitions, we can say that the deterministic approach seems like a sure-shot method compared to probabilistic. Though, probabilistic may also prove a better-fit depending on the publisher or marketer’s use case.

Benefits and Must-Knows

Identity resolution, with its methodologies, gives access to organized user/customer data. Knowing this fact, we can say that identity resolution empowers adtech and martech with:

  1. improved targeting potential
  2. clearer user attribution between user and data
  3. deep understanding of individual user

But simultaneously, there are also factors that should be known on a safer side, such as:

  1. If you are already collecting data, conduct an audit to ensure your data collection methods are compliant with the current regulationsㄧCCPA/GDPR.
  2. Try not to settle for easy-going IR vendors who work with an oversimplified approach, e.g., linking an ‘email address’ to a ‘device type’ may not fetch you a perfect match user.
  3. Since there’s no way to cross-check the provided data and user profiles, publishers or marketers must stay wary of IR vendors who deal in fallacious data results.

What about Privacy Concerns?

With the growing privacy concerns, publishers and marketers should first understand the compliance framework of identity resolution. It is possible that the latest additions to the GDPR framework, which kicked off over a year ago, may not fully align with your identity resolution methodologies, if you’re new to it.

Apart from the GDPR, you might also want to understand the CCPA framework, if you are subject to the regulation. CCPA or GDPR, whichever is the case, it is important that the ‘communication’ makes it clearly understandable to users that their data is going to be utilized.

The matter of privacy concern in identity resolution revolves around user consent. It is important for publishers and marketers to consider the ‘control aspect’ on their end as users always have the right to revoke their consent at any point.

“It can take ages to build trust with your customer base—and seconds to destroy it all. Be mindful of collecting data in an above-the-board way, and keep those four C’s in mind: communication, consent, choice and control,” says Digiday.

Closing Thoughts

Publishers and marketers get access to a large volume of user data through cookies, third party vendors, and other sources. However, it might still be challenging to draw sensible insights out of the puzzle-like information.

Interestingly, identity resolution, to an extent, allows publishers and marketers to determine what they have to show or offer to the audience. The whole idea of IR narrows down to one goal: empower adtech and martech with user data that is simple to decode, makes sense, and allows effective targeting.

In conclusion, let’s say if you’re looking at more than one user in a house who uses multiple devices and platforms, you should be able to know whom to target, on which device, and when.


Shubham is a digital marketer with rich experience working in the advertisement technology industry. He has vast experience in the programmatic industry, driving business strategy and scaling functions including but not limited to growth and marketing, Operations, process optimization, and Sales.

1 Comment

  1. New Media Works Reply

    Excellent article — too bad there is no “reblog” button available. 😐

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