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People-based marketing across device and across channels (with pinpointing deterministic accuracy) is a critical new superpower that — so far — only Facebook has up and running.
Facebook derives its superhero strength from consumer logins, which it gains access to because consumers actually log in from multiple devices. When a user logs into Facebook from more than one device, Facebook’s Atlas, a powerful ad platform, can map one anonymized ID to the next device using the login data as the universal identifier. (Google could do this, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t actually built it yet.)
Interestingly, with great foresight, AOL’s Tim Armstrong had been focused on acquiring a superpower solution of his own and has done a bang-up job. That’s certainly the lion’s share of what attracted Verizon as a suitor. However, like everyone, AOL has been struggling to connect the dots. Connecting the dots more often than not means mapping a de-identified email address to an ID (your email address does not change cross-channel or cross-device), and that had been AOL’s Achilles heel. AOL had identifiers smattered across its properties (AOL, TechCrunch, Engadget, etc.) and had to piece them together. Conversely, market leader Facebook had all the logins in one place. Clearly, Facebook was in the driver’s seat.
Leading up to the big news, the marketing industry had been on high alert for quite some time expecting more entrants into the people-based marketing space that Facebook’s Atlas carved out in September of 2014. These efforts to wrest the people-based marketing dominance from Facebook’s grip were behind Twitter’s acquisition of cross-channel advertising technology TellApart and behind Oracle’s acquisition of Datalogix and BlueKai, and they’re what will be behind countless activity in the coming weeks and months. We were waiting for a blockbuster move, and boy, did we just get one!
Who would have thought Verizon would be the bold one? The industry expected a more traditional marketing cloud company to make the move and incorporate the different pieces into their platforms. But they didn’t expect the disrupter to be a carrier. Verizon — which is most well-known for its ubiquitous storefronts and television advertising asking “Can You Hear Me Now?” — has moved into the elite of the future convergence of ad-tech and marketing cloud with one bold move. As trite as this joke is at this point, yeah, we can f*&king hear you now, Verizon.
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Of course, this acquisition was not solely about people-based marketing. AOL’s value goes beyond the 100 million plus IDs, the attribution technology, the data management platform, and the targeting capability. It extends to AOL’s access to original content and its video, both of which are supremely important and give AOL its own distinct channels for distribution as well as media-savvy.
But this giant move is truly all about Facebook. The industry is still struggling to understand why Facebook is being successful where no one else is. Is it truly due to better ad-tech weaponry? In two words: Ha! No. Atlas was a former ad server in disrepair, restored expertly, to be sure. At the end of the day, it’s like outfitting Iron Man’s suit on top of Peter Griffin’s body.
But it doesn’t matter. Since Facebook has the logged-in users, it has the almighty translation layer superpower with which to ascend to the top. The combination of the translation layer, the ad-tech, and the vision to wield that superpower, not solely the ad-tech, is what matters.
This AOL and Verizon convergence means there is another translation layer on the rise, and it leaves also-rans like Yahoo even further in the dust. This deal has combined AOL’s capacity for building IDs for cross-device targeting with the astounding assets Verizon brings to the table.
It took great vision and execution to amass these technologies that put this to work. AOL is now able to add its translation layer enabling technology to the pipes and infrastructure of Verizon:
- Verizon asserts that it touches 70% of all connected digital traffic, across more than a billion PCs, TVs, and mobile devices.
- Verizon has 1.5 billion connected devices and a service that’s never going away (Facebook has about 210 million monthly users in the US and Canada in a service that’s declining in popularity).
Let there be no doubt: Verizon matching its data to AOL’s capabilities puts it on the cusp of being something very special. It can challenge the status quo and become the leader in the people-based marketing revolution with a few smart choices.
In the mainstream press, we’ll read that this move was about maximizing the original content and “advertising technology” that AOL has, but those of us in the industry know this is a misnomer. This isn’t about advertising technology, this is about jumping into the gap left by Facebook’s walled-garden approach to people-based marketing and competing with the practices of AOL’s open marketing. Competition to Atlas appeals greatly to brands and advertisers, and Verizon/AOL can now offer that in spades.
Others are scrambling to develop their own cross-channel and cross-device people-based marketing superpower, but, as with most things, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Verizon has, however, put together an elixir.
What few realize is that Verizon has a critical component, the rarest and most valuable component. This piece is the capacity to target someone on a mobile device. In other words, the ability to target a person, not a pixel. That’s invaluable because people are consuming media on their smart devices, which makes precision in targeting more important than ever. Hell, you’re probably reading this on a smart device, but you’re probably not making purchases on a smart device. Brands are reaching people, but they’re not buying, so the circuit isn’t complete. This acquisition can make that connection.
Verizon has the ability to link a known user to a mobile ID. By acquiring AOL, Verizon instantly unlocks the value of Verizon’s data by adding it to the AOL ID graph. This new ID graph (which acts as a translation layer) creates a true competitor to Facebook in the U.S. If Verizon continues with AOL’s open market approach, its operation will stand in stark contrast to Facebook’s current walled garden approach.
Hence, with their combined forces, AOL and Verizon are sitting pretty. This newfound joining of superpowers makes them very attractive to brands that want the elusive closed-loop attribution, an impossibility in Facebook’s walled-garden approach.
To summarize: AOL and Verizon have made a great start as true competitors to Facebook. With Verizon’s $200 billion market cap, adding AOL was a smart move but the company’s not there yet. With a series of small moves, it can capitalize and continue to build out its ID graph.
We expect this will not be the end of what has increasingly become a series of brilliant moves by Tim Armstrong, and the industry knows he will be kept on board. His record of success is just too powerful to ignore. Expect his vision to continue to lay waste to the walled gardens of Facebook like a barbarian at the gates.
Matt Keiser is CEO and founder of LiveIntent.
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