The Most Valuable Commodity In Online Marketing

Dave Hendricks is COO at LiveIntent, an advertising platform that monetizes email. Follow him on Twitter @davehendricks.

What you did five or 10 years ago is probably more important than your 30-second visit to some e-commerce site that’s now bombarding you with cookie-fueled retargeted ads.

That’s why looking to the past – not to the future – is the key to success in the world of data.

Here’s a quiz:  What’s the most meaningful piece of digital data about you?

1)        One of the 100-plus third-party cookies dropped on you today.
2)        Your 2004 address or 1997 email address.

While you may not think of it this way, the oldest piece of useful digital data about ‘you’ is probably your personal email address.  Your email address is the Internet equivalent of a combination birth certificate, driver’s license and passport.  As a digital person, you are virtually born the day you get your own email address.

What’s so valuable about something that everyone has?

Uniqueness.  Email addresses are personal by design – no one’s been able to devise a better “openID” – and they establish a persona that is very descriptive.  AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail – your email tribe membership card is like a geologic sedimentary layer.

Longevity.  Unlike short-lived cookies, email addresses have half-lives that are growing every year – since people tend to keep their personal addresses forever.  How long have you had your personal email address?  Why would you ever get rid of it?  Probably not. It’s become your digital name.

Portability.  Email works in mobile as well as it works on desktop.  You carry your email addresses along with you on every device, unlike the device/browser-dependent cookie.  The first thing you do when you get a new device, to make it useful, is setup your email address (and for many, your Apple ID, which is an email address, of course). Services like “Last Pass” are the closest cookies come to portability are services.

Access.  Email addresses have become your de facto login for every site and app you visit and use.  It’s now practically impossible to use the Internet without an email address – even if you don’t subscribe to a single email newsletter.  Try it. I dare you.

With the third-party cookie under attack from Do Not Track, marketers have been looking for the next big thing. That’e email, thanks to the MD5 hash privacy-friendly 32-character one-way encryption of the email address. This simple process has allowed Facebook, for example, to create a “custom audience” targeting product that allows retailers to upload hashed customer data segments to target their subscribers who are spending time on Facebook – and show them an ad consistent with their customer status.

And when paired with a cookie downloaded at the time an email is sent and opened, email-address hashing works for display retargeting too.

In the coming months, you’ll start seeing so-called “custom audience” capabilities arrive from Twitter, PayPal, Amazon, you name it. Any site that requires an email address as an account login can get into this game. As marketers realize the superiority of the email hash, they will be bringing long-tail CRM data online, and we’ll all be better off for it. After all, who wants to spend for a prospecting campaign to their best customers?

Take another look at your old email address. You’re looking at the future.

Image via Shutterstock.

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