‘Plays to our advantage’: As the third-party cookie crumbles, TransUnion pitches its data capabilities

As the online advertising industry races to establish what will replace the third-party cookie to allow them to continue targeting users on the internet in a more privacy-conscious way, TransUnion is preparing to step out of the sidelines and establish itself as one of the key data providers in a marketer’s toolkit.

TransUnion is best known to consumers as the decades-old credit bureau. But it also has a growing media and marketing solutions business, where it competes with the likes of fellow credit-reporting companies Experian and Equifax.

TransUnion uses its proprietary credit database (which it says is aggregated and anonymized when used for marketing purposes) and data from other third-parties to offer services to marketers. Those services include audience segmentation, data onboarding, identity resolution and “prescreen campaigns” that only target people whose credit ratings are high enough to qualify for certain finance products.

In 2018, TransUnion hired former MediaLink managing director Matt Spiegel to led its digital marketing solutions business. Alongside that role, Spiegel now also heads TransUnion’s media vertical, working to forge partnerships and deals with companies in the publishing, broadcasting, ad tech and marketing tech sectors.

“We recognize that the media vertical and players in it over the past several years would not have seen TransUnion show up in a way that suggests that these are the capabilities we are bringing to the market at scale,” Spiegel said. “2020 is about making it clear that we are meaningfully invested in this category of solutions.”

TransUnion made a signal of that intent in May last year by acquiring the marketing tech platform TruSignal, to help expand its lookalike audience and predictive audience modeling capabilities. Earlier that year, TransUnion also announced a partnership with Tru Optik, which offers a data-management and measurement platform for over-the-top television.

Organic U.S. revenue within TransUnion’s “emerging verticals” segment — which includes Spiegel’s department — grew to $193 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, up 6% on the same quarter last year. The company noted on its earnings call this was a slight decline in growth from the last several quarters. TransUnion CFO Tod Cello noted that over the course of 2019, the company had reshaped the media vertical to further develop its “people-based marketing technology.”

Spiegel said the current triumvirate of the ad industry’s hot topics — the death of third-party cookies, data regulation and user privacy — “plays to our advantage.”

“We are building solutions that start from that people-based approach because we touch the data and we have an ability to handle those regulations and requirements,” given TransUnion’s heritage in the highly regulated credit reporting space, he said.

One challenge TransUnion might face as it steps up its outreach to the marketing community is making a case that it has enough direct connections with publishers in order for its identity solutions to stand out from its competitors, said Paul Cimino, global head of data strategy at Prohaska Consulting. Companies including LiveRamp and ID5 have been heavily investing in building out their identity graphs, for example.

“It’s a very tough assignment,” Cimono said, but in TransUnion’s favor, he added, “I think the purchase of TruSignal was a major move; up until that point I didn’t think they were getting anywhere and were beholden to other intermediaries to sell their product [because] they had no view of the internet at scale.”

To that end, Spiegel describes TransUnion as more of a “data originator” that partners with different companies to help link disparate identity signals together — starting with the approximately 500 million business and credit histories it stores in its database.

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Still, another challenge might simply be that TransUnion arriving too late to the party in what is now a mature market, according to a marketer at a consumer-packaged goods company who did not want to be identified for this article.

“Is the juice worth the squeeze?,” the marketer said. “Once you build in one of these [data] partners, it’s really hard to rip out. To test TransUnion versus Experian, that’s a lot of unsexy work.”

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