Match Rates Are Just the Beginning. It’s Time to Dig Deeper.

September 17, 2019

Match rates have emerged as a critical metric in people-based marketing. Brands view match rates as a fundamental, easy-to-calculate method for gauging an onboarder’s ability to find and recognize users within the advertiser’s audience data set, and advertisers routinely rely on them as a means of validating and comparing potential onboarding partners. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that match rates are the industry’s new “click-through rate” — a guiding light for our era of addressable marketing.

But match rates don’t tell the whole story.

Don’t get me wrong: Much like the click-through rate, match rates have real utility. But also like the CTR, they are deeply flawed as a standalone method of understanding effectiveness, because they don’t actually answer the question that advertisers care about most: How much of my audience can I reach in a truly meaningful way?

Too often, advertisers and their demand partners take a list, match it to another list and then declare victory. But from the brand perspective, creating a match is not the same as creating a dialogue with your customer. In fact, even campaigns with competitively high match rates still allow the customer to disappear — most often in the spaces between the different onboarding events that match rates typically measure.

Matching What, Exactly?

In general, match rates happen in a vacuum. High match rates look great on paper, but they do not ensure that the IDs being matched are connected to current, in-market consumers.

Advertisers reliant on on-again, off-again batch onboarding find it difficult to discern the true addressability of an audience beneath the match rate that accompanies each batch, because these matches do not occur in real time. Consumer actions and transactions that go unrecorded in the lapses between these onboarding events irrevocably distort and compromise a brand’s understanding of the customer journey, making only a much smaller portion of the matched audience truly addressable at the moment of activation.

The issue of data freshness is another huge concern when it comes to determining a matched ID’s true usefulness. If IDs are stale, or if a batch has not been updated recently, it’s possible that fewer than half of the matched IDs might be meaningfully reached at any given time.

We need to look deeper, past matches to the actual point of activation, or else run the risk of counting as “matched” customers that are, in reality, no longer there to be counted. We need to shift the focus to addressability.

Metrics That Matter

Addressability connects a brand’s product, content or offer to the people most interested in it, at the time they’re most interested in hearing from the brand. A campaign’s addressability rate is in turn a far more comprehensive and far more consequential metric, because it calculates the actual percentage of an audience that is known to the brand once the matching process is completed, rather than when that data was onboarded for a specific campaign. This addressability — all the way through the chain, both technically and practically — ultimately makes the difference in a brand’s marketing efforts.

Measuring addressability in real time allows advertisers to optimize around relevance and timing to deliver effective brand engagement at scale. In essence, addressability gives marketers the power to scale relevance.

Intelligent, thoughtful skepticism should apply to all KPIs and metrics. We’ve seen, for example, the downside of prioritizing scale and CTR over all else, leading to ad blocking and poor user experiences. People-based marketing has come a long way; so too should the metrics by which it is measured, as well as the standards by which those metrics are judged.

Jessica Graeser

Jessica Graeser is Signal's Director of Marketing.

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