How Third Parties Can Hurt Your Marketing Analytics

Are your digital marketers creating gaps in customer privacy? They could be unless they vet tags and third-party app access.  Here's how to do the vetting.

Ever have that feeling that too many people are at a party or an event? Well, imagine it digitally and you'll probably describe the current marketing technology or martech environment to a T.

In supporting marketing campaigns, analytics solutions have faced an invasion of third-party efforts that can add confusion in measuring meaningful results. Much of these efforts are benign in nature, but analysts must not leave them unchecked. If they do, branding and consumer privacy catastrophes are a risk.

We've been seeing hints of these challenges as analytics usage has advanced over time. One example is marketing campaigns that run outside a media plan's original scope. Agencies that create digital advertising campaigns for retailers are increasingly discovering their ads appearing on additional sites inserted with third-party tags.

The end result creates confusion on which party is capturing which data with which tag. Referral reports reveal these additional sites that are augmenting ad reach. But a downside from the augmentation is potential erosion of data control. If these sites are outside of the network originally planned for a media buy, then the data becomes skewed by these unexpected sources.

Another example is tag bloat, something that happens when the various tools on a given HTML page add additional tags. These additional tags can potentially increase the page load, which slows response for a website. That means page rendering in browsers or response to links is slower, creating a poor user experience. Data bias can occur as more tags are added over time.

A third example is based on how the user relationship of tag is viewed legally. The technology used and the relationship to that technology introduces regulatory risks. For example, take the cookie, the venerable text file used in browsers. Whether a cookie is added via first-party or third-party (set by a web service you may not be aware of) determines the legal risk. First-party cookies are generally low risk. Third-party cookies sometimes breach compliance through identifying what you click on and tell advertising websites to display that type of product or service wherever you go afterwards. Website owners based in the EU territories must disclose or seek permission to use this type of cookie. The key to compliance is disclosure or permission.

In all, marketers must consider mapping their analytics as an ongoing endeavor, not just a one-time event. There are now many unfamiliar ways to insert more data over time than may have been originally intended. Analysts must be more vigilant on data sources, acknowledging that vetting data quality impacts other kinds of breaches more severe than having poor data for a model.

Take the campaigns that run outside the media plan. Brands can become exposed to unintended audiences, a precarious position given consumer activism occurring in the current political climate. The consumer activism associated with opposition to or approval of the Trump administration is a clear example. Consumers, more empowered and vocal on social media about their experiences, are selecting and deselecting brands based on their feelings on Trump and whether a particular brand shares their sentiment. The Twitter profile, Sleeping Giants, has asked Twitter users who see brands advertising on the pro-Trump Breitbart site to highlight that ad placement and contact those brands to ask that they suspend their ad spend. Kellogg has been the highest profile brand that has discontinued its appearance on Breitbart. Sleeping Giants has said that more than 490 brands have been notified of their programmatic ads appearing on the controversial media site.

The introduction of new media will make vetting the relationship with outside parties more complex. App developers, for example, define first or third party differently, leading to confusion on which developer permissions are allowed. Mobile apps rely on third-party integrations for user details and to enable convenient sign in.

Data layers and tag managers have already demonstrated business value as programmatic advertising has grown. They have rightly positioned analytics teams at the center of the third-party storm. Analytics practitioners must be the bouncers for third-party sources, keeping their organizations honest about who is invited and who should stay away.

And as we have seen from the current consumer boycott activity over which brands are associated with Trump, everyone is deciding which party they want to attend.