Best of Identity Architects 2023: Collective Responsibility

It’s been an incredible year for the podcast. We have spoken to brilliant industry leaders who have shared so many amazing insights, inspiring stories, and powerful advice. For the final episode of 2023, we take a look back at some of our favorite moments from the year. 

As we kicked off 2023, AI was top of mind across the entire media landscape. Organizations were just starting to explore the impact on how we plan, execute, and measure digital advertising. As we caught up with Di Mayze, Global Head of Data and AI at WPP, she shared the importance of understanding the impact of the data that is being used to feed AI.

"I'm really conscious about the unintended consequences of data and how that feeds into AI and then what we eventually will be asking the machines to do. And, well, let's say most people don't mean any harm whether you're accidentally or unintentionally offering different prices to different ethnicities or genders or whether you're excluding groups. The digital divide is real and could be helped by data but possibly is being made worse.”

The meteoric rise of data clean rooms

AI wasn’t the only technology on everyone’s mind. As we entered 2023, InfoSum predicted that the industry would move from a state of Clean Room Curiosity into Clean Room construction, and that’s exactly what we saw. For many, the first step in this construction was exploration of definitions and standards, something Shailley Singh, COO & EVP Product at IAB Tech Labs, has been leading on.

“It is hard to define a clean room because there are different flavors of it available. It's an evolving product category and people are coming up with different innovative ideas on how to execute a data clean room. So what the working group did was instead of having like a one or two line definition, we went about describing some of the key characteristics that define a modern data clean room that you should look at that helps you kind of cut through the bullshit and identify that is a proper data clean room.”

Today, data clean rooms are empowering organizations to unlock more value from their first-party data, and enabling them to better understand their customers. We talked to Chris Andrews, Head of Marketing Technology at Wake the Bear, on how clean rooms enable this in a privacy-first way. 

“Obviously, the work we're doing with you guys at InfoSum in the data clean room space, is obviously absolutely fascinating, it's been really really instructive over the last period of time that we've been working together to properly understand that and I think it's such an intuitive use case and intuitive solution to that problem. We've got this first-party data, we've collected this information, completely consented customers who are willing to engage with us, willing to understand that. You want to understand them in a completely compliant, completely privacy-safe way and so it's actually being able to query that to link up with other partners in the industry to go I want to learn about my customers, here's the information so you can tell me about your customers, let's connect those bits together and it’s completely secure. [...] We've been able to get some really useful insight quite quickly out of it.”

The growing popularity of data clean rooms has also led to the emergence of other media trends in 2023. First and foremost, has been the dominant conversation around retail media. In our first Identity Architects from down under, we caught up with Troy Townsend, Co-Founder & CEO at Zitcha, on how clean rooms are being used by retailers today. 

“Clean rooms are such an amazing opportunity for brands to be able to add value on top of the data set that they're collecting from a retailer's perspective and I think we're starting to see this growth where a retailer not only wants to help a brand connect across the retailer's assets but also how does the data that the retailer has helped the brand connect across their assets. We're going to start to see a massive growth trajectory in being able to run across a retailer but also run across the brand. So I think the use of clean rooms [...] to be honest I think it adds value on both sides.”

Retail media isn’t the only media channel being enhanced by data collaboration and data clean room technology. We caught up with Wade Rifkin, EVP/GM, Programmatic at Clear Channel Outdoor, on how data collaboration is being used for Out of Home Advertising. 

“Data clean rooms are a key arena for that type of privacy-centric data collaboration, first-party data enrichment, or activation that buyers are choosing to use, so we now can play in that space. [...] Second-party and third-party segments are absolutely things that we can not only collaborate on through data clean rooms but use to plan and buy against our inventory, and we definitely see use cases.”

Transitioning from third-party cookies to first-party data

One of the driving forces behind the rapid adoption of data clean rooms has been the transition from a third-party cookie-driven industry to a new privacy-first era of our industry where first-party data becomes an organization's most valuable asset. But this transition hasn’t always been smooth. We caught up with Mathieu Roche, Co-Founder & CEO at ID5, on this transformation.

“It's a fundamental transformation, I mean we're changing the engine in mid-flight. [...] We have to make that transition happen without the luxury of stopping everything for a year and rebuilding it from scratch on a new foundation because that doesn't work. So it's a really complex challenge and you need everybody's incentive to be aligned. And we need to put more pressure because there's no question of if, there's a question of when. And the sooner the better.”

As any industry goes through significant change, it can be an easy option to simply swap out the old with the new. But when we spoke to Justin DeBrabant, SVP, Product at ActionIQ, he stressed the importance of falling into this trap. 

“Brands cannot look to replace what they did in the past with new technologies. There's not going to be a one-for-one mapping where they just swap out acronyms. [...]. It doesn't work like that. There needs to be a shift in strategy. And I don't think everybody fully recognizes that or acknowledges that and so sometimes they're just looking for the next thing to fit in the exact slot that existed before. And I think that's the wrong approach. If brands try to do that then in two or three years they're going to be going through this whole process again as the technology and the privacy landscape shifts once more.”

For many of us, it feels like we’ve been on the journey to a cookieless ecosystem for several years. Yet still today, there are technology providers and organizations heavily reliant on third-party cookies. So when we spoke to Christopher Reher, General Director Data at Axel Springer All Media, we got his perspective on this inertia. 

“Get over this last hesitancy, accept that the change is there. There are so many discussions still where people hope that it's going to be postponed once more and the old business models are going to work out, third-party cookies are going to stay, and I still see business models pitched that are completely based on third-party cookies and that's not going to work. [...] I sometimes wonder how such a future-focused industry like ours can always be so hesitant to move. [...] The way we're doing advertising, but even more like personalization of digital service, is going to change masterfully, and it's already changed and trying to stick to the old ways is not going to help because anyone who tries to defy the change is always going to be rolled over by the wave. [...] We can only win this thing if we work together.”

As we head into 2024, what will it take to finally move our industry away from third-party cookies? In our penultimate episode of Identity Architects in 2023, I had the chance to speak to Therran Oliphant, SVP, Head of Data & Technology NA at EssenceMediacom, who touched on why it needs to be more than privacy, it has to be performance.

“The industry is almost like a macrocosm of the individual. In that, oftentimes, when there's a level of comfortability, there has to be some sort of push. And there also needs to be clear value that comes from making a change. And until people see that value, i.e., businesses in this context, they will not make that change. I think what we're starting to see is there are companies who are on the forefront who have some use cases who have been able to actually show that what we're putting in place, from these privacy enhancing technologies perspective, is value add, right? The marketer, I mean, we know the CMO is the shortest-tenured c-suite individual in all of these businesses. And I truly believe that showing the performance capabilities of privacy-enhancing technologies will move us much faster, there will be some velocity finally to moving toward getting off of third-party cookies or the broader, I think, value add of respecting privacy while still utilizing consumer data to drive marketing.”

It has never been more important to be consumer-first

The one perspective that came up time and time again during our conversations on the podcast, was that of the consumer. While it can often feel like the consumer is absent from the room when we have these conversations, as we discussed with Anita Klinkosz, Audience Architect at Havas Media Group, the consumer is always in the room. 

“We are all consumers. So honoring consumer expectations about their data, about their privacy really means building a better ecosystem for ourselves too. [...] We all need to agree on how we collect consumer data, what do we give in return for that data, how that data is being handled, and how it's activated. [...] Privacy and compliance are huge parts of our everyday conversations with our clients, they are a huge part of how we approach building strategies and how we service our clients as an agency.”

As the famous phrase goes, with great power comes great responsibility. When organizations collect customer data, they’re not just taking on the power to use that information to drive richer customer experiences. They’re also taking on the responsibility of being a guardian of that data. When we spoke with Margaret Jobling, CMO at NatWest, she discussed this balancing act. 

"We have to engineer ourselves and organize ourselves to deliver what our customers need from us at the right time and be part of the solution for their worlds and as brands unless we do that we're going to be extinct. And therefore, our job is to make sure we really understand the people we serve, and we're doing the right thing for them. [...] We're in a very privileged place where we have the ability to make an impact. We need to use that carefully and responsibly."

Putting the consumer first would seem like the obvious move for customer-centric organizations. But as we caught up with Stephen Shepherd, Media Strategy and Partnerships Director at dunnhumby, he explained why it’s not just about importance, it's about avoiding taking the easy option. 

“I think if you're adopting a customer mindset, you have to think about what is good for the customer. I think the challenge in the industry is actually not necessarily taking the easy option which could be about lots of advertising saturating whether it's a website or a store with advertising, but making it relevant and making it focused on the customer, which may not be the easiest option. But actually [...] if you're delivering customer first and relevant targeted solutions, that's what your customers will engage with. [...] It's not just about delivering whether it's media revenues or other objectives make it about the customer I think is the key.”

Often, when discussing how to be more customer-centric, the concept of value exchange comes up - what can businesses offer to their customers in exchange for their data? This was exactly the topic Søren Dinesen, CEO at Digiseg, touched on when we spoke to him early in 2023. 

“We are in a position where we can choose what direction our society should go in and consumers not only want control, the current user experience of opt-out is not where it should be. [...] The tradeoff is not clear. What am I giving away [as a consumer] when I do this, and maybe it shouldn't be a consent button. There needs to be a better way. I don't have the answer for what it should look like but I'm just saying that what we do now is broken."

When considering how an organization can use its customer data, it’s important also to ask whether an organization should use that data. When we caught up with Nic Travis, Head of Paid Digitial Marketing at Lloyds Banking Group, he talked about the importance of data ethics. 

“It's ethically what should we be doing with customer data. Would a customer reasonably expect that with the consents that they've given us and the transparency for our current disclosures would they reasonably expect that we would use their data in this way. And I think there needs to be more focus in the industry around ethics, and organizations setting their own ethical standards of who do you want to work with, [do the] adtech partners reach your ethical standards. [...] Data Ethics is what keeps me awake at night, making sure that we do the right thing at all times with the trust that has been put in us by our customers.”

Becky Harris, Vice President, Global Head of Ad & Data Products at Dynata, expanded on the idea of ethical data collection, especially concerning the ongoing discussions around measurement. 

“I personally think first we don't need to collect data just for the sake of collecting it. You know, really focus on what success looks like for measurement in your world, ensure we're collecting the right data from the right people for the right reasons. I think we have a stance to ensure that we're not handling data that we do not need to be handling for sure. And secondly, I would say that we need to focus on the individuals who are willing to provide their data in the first place. I definitely think there needs to be more intrication for consumers and what's actually happening with their data. You know it isn't all bad. There's so much hype around that. But I would love for them to be able to make an educated choice in a way that they are comfortable with that value exchange.”

Every company is at different stages of its first-party data journey. However, the companies that will be most successful in this journey have a clear plan that centers on the consumer. When we spoke to Patrick Zinga, Media, Data and Technology Lead at Heineken UK, he discussed the importance of being consumer-first. 

“We're still on our own journey. In terms of realizing the impact that first-party data acquisition can actually have on planning for the future everything that we do is all about the consumer. And having the consumer at the heart of everything that we do and the best way to essentially do that is to speak to them directly [...] and the best way for us to collect that data is understanding our consumers more, understanding the value exchange more than anything else. So whatever we do, we try to bring it back to the audience because each of our brands have different audiences, different demand spaces that they focus on.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion

One of the personal mantras I live by is “be the person you needed when you were younger”. Throughout the year, we had the opportunity to speak to individuals who are not only incredible industry leaders but also inspiring female leaders. During Women’s History Month, we spoke to Hannah Browne, Director, Products at Acxiom, on female leadership and how we can foster an environment that empowers the next generation of female leaders.

“There are two things that are critical. The first one is we need to be hiring women into our upper tiers of leadership. I don't know all the statistics, but women in technology have a good representation in lower and middle tiers and in upper tiers, it’s just completely abysmal, and it just completely falls away. We need to make sure that women are represented there so that other women can see them as an inspiration and that we're not having a biased approach to hiring. But I think one of our biggest prohibitors of that, and the second thing, is the fact that our maternity leave is not adequate in this country. We need to have way better federal and state benchmarks for maternity leave. We need to have at least six months paid maternity leave and women need to have continuation of things like their benefits and the 401k. Because women are having babies and not being able to put money into their retirement and are becoming impoverized in their later years, whereas our male counterparts may have taken paternity leave as well, but maybe not for as long a time, and they're getting a continuation of things like their 401k. Until we have better maternity leave, we're not going to be able to continue to have as many women stay in our companies for long periods of time and get the experience they need to be in the upper echelons of our management.”

We couldn’t agree more, so when we had the chance to speak to Jessica Gottardo, Head of Commercial Data Product at Global, we asked her how we break down barriers, especially in the area of data and technology. 

“The first is being able to reach girls at a young age to help break gender stereotypes.There are plenty of stereotypes out there [...] being the only woman in a room of men can be quite intimidating. And I think sometimes you feel like you need to speak louder or shout louder to be heard in that room [...] It's really just adjusting what those norms look like and I think it's not just explaining what the options are within industries and what's possible, it's explaining that data isn’t just numbers. [...] There is so much more to data than zeros and ones.”

As an LGBTQ+ leader, I’m personally always conscious of the importance of being visible and vocal all year round and not just for Pride. But every year, Pride does still play a crucial role in creating a heightened spotlight, not only on the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community, but also on the joys of our queer community. So when I spoke with Lucy McKillop, Joint-CEO at Outvertising, she shared why Pride is still so important in 2023. 

“Pride is important and it's not just important, it's necessary. It's like an imperative. Because without Pride, the queer community doesn't necessarily have the opportunity to protest, to celebrate, to have a dedicated time or period to feel like there's a culmination of our energy. [...] On the one side, yes, it's really important that these opportunities are generated for the community but I think we've hit a point now where the pride month ‘celebrations’ need to be backed up with tangible action.”

Predictions for 2024 and beyond

As we wrap up 2023, 2024 promises to be the year of big change. One of the industries that has transformed significantly over the last few years has been TV. So when we caught up with Matt Hill, Director of Research & Planning at Thinkbox, we discussed where he sees the industry going over the next five years. 

“What I do see is that in five years' time TV is going to be in a really interesting place in bringing together the best of both worlds. By the best of both worlds I mean it's the ability of TV to tell an engaging story across thirty or sixty seconds of airtime in an environment that's trusted and respected in people's favorite content alongside all the targeting capability that the online world brings and I think online's been promising for years and these efficiencies and this enhanced effectiveness to advertisers and I'm not sure we've completely seen that realized. But I think in five years' time we could be seeing some really exciting stuff.”

Privacy has evolved significantly over the last five years, with the introduction of the GDPR being a tentpole moment. So when I had a chance to speak with Toon Coppens, Director Advertising Data & Identity at DPG Media, he discussed how he hopes the privacy landscape and the industry's approach to the GDPR will change in the coming year. 

“We hope that the debate in the industry goes back to the spirit of GDPR because we GDPR is really something important and should be about ‘Isn't your data being broadcasted, isn't your data leaking across the whole industry’ and so on. Five years after the start of GDPR we saw GDPR going a little bit in the wrong direction in my opinion. It's only about, do you ask for consent in the right way? [...] It's the wrong kind of discussion. It’s all about how do you ask consent and is there a reject all button on the first screen. And it's leading to what we are seeing across all of Europe. You have an accept all or a reject all button and if you push the reject all button just like Facebook now is doing, there is a popup ‘please pay’. It's not only Facebook but also a lot of media companies in France, Germany, and Austria are using this approach and at the end it's for a consumer. It's about paying with your data or paying with money where I'm not sure if that's really the right thing you want to do under GDPR.”

As an industry, we’re in a state of transition. It is often questioned who is responsible for driving this change forward. When I caught up with Dora Michail-Clendinnen, Chief Strategy Officer at The Ozone Project, she touched on the move to a sustainable media ecosystem. 

“We have a collective responsibility to grow and maintain a sustainable media ecosystem. This idea of a sort of collective ownership of that responsibility is quite important. [...] Ridding our industry of unhelpful ad tech metrics will begin to go a long way. [...] A commitment to focus on quality rather than low-value inventory across the open web, which, as we know, is just beset with problems, ad fraud, etc. It's all possible if we collectively agree we want to do better than we did yesterday. We should all push back on those who say it isn't possible and probably question their agenda.”

Too often, this transition is perceived negatively by the industry. But in reality, we have a unique opportunity to reimagine the industry and rebuild it for a better future. So when we caught up with Samantha Jacobson, Chief Strategy Officer at The Trade Desk, not only did she discuss the opportunities ahead, but she also touched on why it’s so important we get it right this time. 

“I think we just have such an opportunity ahead of us to change the ecosystem. Advertising has been around for ages and ages and ages. I think that advertising layered with technology gives us the opportunity to make consumers' lives better and I think it's up to us to embrace that, to take risks, to reimagine what the world can look like and to lean into it collectively. Because no one company is going to be able to do it alone. So I think it takes that collaboration and that coalition. But I also hope we don't fuck it up.”

A massive thank you to all our Identity Architects of 2023. I’ve got to speak to so many incredible people and hear so many inspiring conversations and stories. We’ll be back with a brand new episode in January. But until then, thanks for listening, and Happy Holidays.