What is Audience Onboarding? (And Why It Is Better Than Cookie Targeting)

By Jeff Cracolici

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Marketing Manager & Digital Expert

In recent years, digital marketing has made great advances in developing tools and strategies for more effective ad campaigns and analytics. One of the most important breakthroughs and a key part of the future of digital marketing is Audience Onboarding. Understanding Audience Onboarding is imperative for both direct marketers looking to test the waters of digital marketing, as well as digital marketers looking to stay ahead of the game.

What is Audience Onboarding?

Audience onboarding is the process of uploading your prospect or customer file to a digital platform and having that platform match your file to a specific user base.

Two of the most popular examples of digital advertising platforms that allow for Audience Onboarding are Facebook and Twitter. Under both platforms, you can upload a prospect or customer file to their onboarding platform, which will match the individuals on your file to their Facebook or Twitter profiles. From there, you will be able to target your ads to only those specific profiles.

Here is a simple walk-through of the Audience Onboarding process:

A customer/prospect file is uploaded to an onboarding platform. From there, the individuals on the file are matched to a specific user base. As can be expected, not all individuals are matched. When the matching process is done, those who did match are made available for targeting on advertising platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.

When it comes to the matching criteria, there are several different options.

Some of the larger platforms, including the two mentioned above, have the option to onboard and match your file to their user base by email, phone number or unique platform-specific identifiers.

A growing number of vendors, such as LiftEngine, now give marketers the option to also match an audience to a user base through name and mailing address. Typically, this leads to much higher match rates and far more accurate matches.

Why are Third-Party Cookies Bad?

In order to examine why Audience Onboarding is such an important development for digital targeting, first we need to look at the legacy method of targeting – cookies.

Since widespread public access to the Internet began in the 1990s, cookies have played an important role in advertising because of their ability to loosely target digital audiences. Cookies are small pieces of coding that are placed on your web browser by the server of a website you visit. A cookie notes basic web activity and reports it to the party that placed the cookie on your hard drive, thereby allowing the party in question to deliver more targeted advertisements to your device based on what websites you visited.

While cookies help marketers target to some ability, they have several disadvantages. First, cookies are tied to devices and not individuals. This means that they populate data based on online behavior of all users of a device, not actual consumer information. As a result, cookies often are wrong or contain conflicting data, which means your ads are often served to individuals for whom they are not suited. Ultimately, this leads to wasted ad dollars.

For real-life proof of this, just look at the great tool from BlueKai that shows you what the cookies on your device think they know about you. Chances are that you’ll find a lot of conflicts and just plain wrong data from your cookies.

The second major disadvantage of cookie-based targeted ads is that they are served to anyone on the internet who matches their loosely-based criteria. Since almost anyone can see these ads, this leaves them prone to click fraud. Click fraud is an illegal practice that occurs when a purposely built program clicks on an ad for the sole purpose of generating revenue for the programmer. Since in many instances digital ads are bought on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis, these clicks result in significant fraudulant charges to the advertiser.

In fact, the New York Times reports that $6.3 billion dollars worth of global ad spending will be wasted this year alone because of click fraud.

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Why is Audience Onboarding so Important?

Audience Onboarding is important for marketers because it remedies all of the problems of cookies, which is huge for digital marketers, but it also opens major opportunities up for direct marketers.

Since Audience Onboarding ties customer or prospect files to online users, a wealth of actual customer information can be taken into account when targeting. All of the same data modeling, segmentation, strategy, and methodology used in the offline world can be easily applied to digital platforms. This means that Direct Marketers can run digital campaigns as an extension of what they are already doing, and Digital Marketers can target more intelligently.

Also, because Audience Onboarding’s ability to target exact users online, ads are only shown to specified individuals and not open to the entire internet. This has a couple of great benefits. The first is that it eliminates virtually all click fraud since bots are never served an ad upon which to click. Second, marketers can tie back responders and buyers to specific ad buys, which paves the way for more intelligent analytics.

The Takeaway.

Regardless of your role – direct or digital – Audience Onboarding presents an incredible opportunity. Understanding, harnessing and mastering the power behind such platforms will be a must in both the short and long term.

About LiftEngine

Since 2005, LiftEngine's primary mission has been to help clients better understand and connect with their most responsive prospects and customers, online or offline. Our expertise is behind the marketing campaigns of 400+ clients.

Behind LiftEngine is LiftBase, our proprietary addressable consumer database. Comprised of 250 million US consumers, 140 million US households, and 1,000+ enhanced data elements, LiftBase powers our audience development services and industry-leading products, PortalLink and LaunchPad.

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Published on Jun. 26, 2015, Last Updated on Sep. 22, 2023