Insight/ Tools

Can Fingerprinting Cause The Cookie To Crumble?


by Brent Gleeson
Internet Marketing Inc.

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Article Highlights:

  • The benefits of fingerprinting are based on its ability for multichannel attribution.
  • Fingerprinting does not collect any personally identifiable information.
  • Companies with significant online marketing budgets should consider fingerprinting as a way to gain more actionable, accurate data.

A more effective kind of customer tracking in the online market could eventually signal the end of the cookie: Fingerprinting more accurately identifies the buying pattern of a customer through multiattribution tracking, and is virtually unidentifiable to the customer.

The marketing world is used to the cookie method of tracking, where snippets of code are created by the Web browser and stored on a potential customer’s local machine when he visits a brand’s Web site. While the cookie remains on the user’s computer, his interactions with your Web site and advertising campaigns are stored and can be used within analytics implementations or to customize messaging to that user. However, cookies are typically deleted by the user after a period of time or flushed out by the computer itself.

Cookies are simply data records dictated by Web calls. For instance, you might see conversions happening from your branded PPC terms, but not be able to understand the entire click path that a user took or how he was originally introduced to your brand.

This is where fingerprinting comes into play. Fingerprinting was originally designed for banks to track consumer fraud. It’s extremely accurate. It is also somewhat controversial because the technology uses such information as individual computer settings to identify users across multiple computers. However, fingerprinting does not collect any personally identifiable information and consumers have the ability to opt-out. A cookie-based opt-out, ironically. Similar data can be found within cookies; however, with fingerprinting, the data is stored by the serving company versus cookies being stored on the user’s local machine.

The benefits of fingerprinting are based on its ability for multichannel attribution. There are many advantages to fingerprinting, including:

  • A user cannot delete a fingerprint profile, so it can essentially be used forever.
  • Fingerprinting tracks across multiple devices. This is based on the user id used on each device, then synching previous recorded history of each independent device.
  • Multichannel attribution using fingerprinting can track an endless amount of touchpoints and the entire click path.
  • Fingerprinting has the ability to attribute value to all marketing channels and identify the introducers, influencers, and closers, and for a much longer look-back window than the normal 30 days.
  • Fingerprinting gives marketers the advantage of making truly informed spending decisions based on understanding the true value that each marketing channel contributes to the overall marketing plan.

Companies can still gain solid insights using cookie-based tracking. Many companies don’t need data more granular than this. However, companies with significant online marketing budgets should consider fingerprinting as a way to gain more actionable, accurate data that has the ability to track consumer behavior across all channels (SEO, SEM, display, social media) for much longer than the normal look-back window of 30 days.

So how do you implement multichannel attribution tracking such as fingerprinting? According to data scientist and IMI colleague Justin Goodman, the on-site portion often requires a universal code snippet that is applied to all of the pages on your Web site. Then there is a second piece of code that will be initiated every time a user completes a desired action, such as an e-commerce purchase, a newsletter sign up, or a whitepaper download. At the time of the serried action, the conversion information is then sent to the data warehouse to store such information as an event name, user ID, conversion number, and a value for the conversion. Beyond the on-site implementation, media tagging is a challenge and must be done for all possible media in order to paint a full picture. Often this involves tagging all display creative--ensuring all campaigns user proper destination URL tracking, and that all pages of the site have the appropriate tracking code.

Many businesses today are making major strategic decisions without appropriately tracking and analyzing the data. Businesses are building or shrinking marketing budgets based on inaccurately analyzed, old school information. With all of the advances in digital marketing technology, it’s crucial that companies use the right tools to gather information and the right people to intelligently decipher the data. Is it time for you to start fingerprinting your customers?

About Brent Gleeson

Brent Gleeson is co-founder and CMO at San Diego-based Internet Marketing Inc. (IMI). He oversees digital marketing, branding, communications, strategic planning, thought leadership, recruitment, and business development. IMI was recently ranked No. 185 on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in the country. Gleeson also is a Navy SEAL combat veteran, serving in more than 150 missions in Iraq and Africa as part of SEAL Team 5.