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Industry momentum behind a consumer-friendly identity solution is picking up pace, says The Trade Desk’s Michelle Hulst.

Seven months and counting before cookies disappear, major players in the advertising industry are aligning behind the need for a central identity solution — one that promises to preserve the value exchange of content for relevant advertising. A cookieless future looms. But have no fear, Michelle Hulst, the chief operating officer of The Trade Desk, tells The Current.

“It’s an exciting time,” says Hulst. “We’re using what one could see as a potentially negative thing happening to the industry and turning it into an opportunity to do things better than they’ve ever been done before.”

When the powerhouse Publicis Groupe announced earlier this month that it was signing up to Unified ID 2.0, it galvanized many in the industry to move faster toward this identity upgrade, says Hulst. The collaboration between Publicis and The Trade Desk allows Publicis to use its first-party data on Epsilon’s CORE ID platform and make it interoperable with UID 2.0, thus allowing brands to create relevant campaigns at scale. At the same time, consumers will have more control of their data and privacy.

Says Hulst, the Publicis announcement is a “massive endorsement” from a holding company that is really instrumental in this space. She is quick to point out, this does not preclude other players from participating with UID 2.0, which is an open-source solution and interoperable by design. “We have seen a lot of uptick from our agency partners, who are asking ‘How can we publicly declare that we're on board as well?’” she says.

To dig deeper into the concept of a privacy-conscious identity solution and why it’s attractive to advertisers, publishers and consumers alike, The Current grabbed a few minutes with Hulst for her insights on the future of identity in the post-cookie world.

Are advertisers actually looking for an upgraded solution or are they simply using cookies until they expire and then looking to replace them with something else?

Advertisers will welcome an upgraded solution, but their primary driver right now is to make sure that the tools that are available to them via cookies don't disappear because they understand the value of data-driven advertising. That is definitely something that advertisers have come to understand over the past 15 years plus since we've been running ads using data.

So, the primary driver is to make sure that that occurs. As part of this experience, they're going to realize the benefits of this upgraded experience, as well. You're not going to see the type of drop-off that you've seen before with third-party cookies. You're going to have a better consumer experience because the consumer is giving proactive consent and they have control over their data. All those types of things are going to help.

How does the solution help advertisers deliver their stated goal of personalization at scale?

If advertisers have their own first-party, CRM data, for example, UID 2.0 allows them to onboard that directly into the Trade Desk platform, or other DSPs or platforms that they work with that are aligning on UID 2.0. This will really allow their data to be as close as possible to the points that the advertising decisions are being made. And then they can also enhance that first-party data with third-party data.

So, it really helps advertisers. They can create a robust advertising experience for their brand and reach the right consumers, while also being able to measure the effectiveness of that advertising on the backend.

It speaks also to interoperability, which is a key part of the UID 2.0 solution. Why is that important?

Interoperability is key because the goal of having an identity solution work for the open web is to make sure that we can have it as scaled as possible. And that doesn't mean that we need to have every single person that is logged in for it to work, but we do want to help advertisers get as much reach as possible. Interoperability allows UID 2.0 to work with other identifiers that are out there, to achieve broad scale across the open internet.

Do you think there will be one identity solution to rule them all?

There will be more than one ID that the industry ends up aligning on. Some advertisers are working with other companies, like LiveRamp for example, right now. They might be working with them for certain identity solutions, and they might be using their ID currently. The goal is to be interoperable with UID 2.0, to allow for an even broader reach.

There will be other solutions beyond just individual-based identifiers. We have seen that with the announcement of Google FLoC, for example, but I think other types of cohort-type solutions will probably be available. You can think of logged-in users as a mega panel, unlike any that we've ever seen. And then another important factor is that contextual advertising will continue to play a role in a cookieless environment. But the key to a central identity solution is going to be a consented identity component.

We reported on research from Australia where eight out of 10 people say they don't feel in control of their online personal data. So, how important is it to get the single sign on (SSO) part of this consumer experience right?

The SSO will play an important role for the long tail of the open web, specifically for publishers that don't offer a login currently. In other words, smaller publishers will still be able to engage consumers, and attain consent from them.

With UID 2.0, consumers are going to feel in much more control of their data because they're giving proactive consent, and they can revoke that consent if they want to at any point. And they can also go a layer deeper to understand how their data is being used. The challenge is really striking that fine balance of being able to make sure that the consumer is educated and that education has to be clear and understandable. I think that's really critical.

What kind of potential does UID 2.0 have in the connected TV streaming space?

It’s important to remember that much of today’s digital advertising environment does not rely on cookies. The great thing about streaming TV, for example, is that much of it is email-based already. Because of that, it's very easy for somebody to convert to UID 2.0, which then allows all publishers to gain the benefits of UID 2.0. Some of those key benefits are around frequency capping — which improves the viewer experience — and overall reach across the open internet.

If you think about it with CTV, it’s fairly fragmented right now. And advertisers are looking for that connectivity to be able to do things like frequency cap across channels and devices. This is something that UID enables.

We're in this transitional state at the moment. Why is it critical to seize the narrative?

It's important because it's an open door that invites publishers and advertisers to have a conversation with the consumer about how their data is being used. The deprecation of third-party cookies is forcing the industry to look at things differently, and ultimately reevaluate how they engage with consumers. It’s an opportunity to have an important conversation.