Cookies are fast losing their value as ad targeting vehicles, in particular when compared to custom audiences. Not only are cookies are deleted, synchronization of cookies across devices would require a permanent common log in.

Custom audience targeting sidesteps the weaknesses of cookie-based targeting, using a hashed email address as the universal targeting identifier. This email address is one’s “passport” to the service environments provided by Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Microsoft, among others.

Social media giant, Facebook pioneered the concept of custom audiences, launching its product in 2012. Advertisers seeking to use Custom Audiences on Facebook simply upload lists to the service (for example, customer/subscriber email addresses, phone numbers, app user ID numbers, or Facebook IDs), target this group, or even use the data to target “Lookalike” audiences (groups of people whose characteristics are similar to the uploaded list). Such “lookalike” audiences can be built from users on Facebook, website visitors, or mobile app users. According to Adobe, using “lookalike” audiences led to a three times improvement in conversions against ordinary Facebook targeting for one advertiser.

In April of 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google may soon launch a similar service. If this happens (and Google has an enormous database of user logins, gathering them from every point in its empire, from Android to Gmail to YouTube), online advertising may undergo a quantum leap in terms of accuracy, effectiveness, and ROI. For example, it may now be possible for an AdWords advertiser to target search ads using keyword data, search history, and actual buying behavior, a wonderful and powerful data triumvirate.

It is then noted that custom audience targeting is the future and marketers need to prepare for this new era well in advance. To prepare here are five things to do:

  1. Encourage users to email signups on your website. Email subscription forms are usually buried in footer areas or other areas on a website that are rarely viewed. By making your email signup large enough and give users a reason sign up by using several incentives why they should.
  2. Optimizing physical touch points with customers. Marketers with a physical presence can use POS offers to hel increase email sign ups. Incentives (again) should be promoted so that opt-ins are secured.
  3. Ramping mid-funnel content on your website. “Mid-funnel” content is key to moving your prospects from awareness closer to conversion. This content becomes more critically important in the age of custom audiences, because prospects expect something of value in return for disclosing their (increasingly valuable) email addresses.
  4. Pushing email sign ups across offline marketing campaigns. QR codes on print collateral can point users toward a signup form. Use a special offer only available through email signup. Provide incentives at trade shows for people to sign up. Create a custom URL for your video and radio spots that includes a signup form. Use every tool in your marketing arsenal to get opt-ins.
  5. Experimenting with custom audience targeting. Getting experience with custom audience targeting now will give you a killer advantage as this new targeting methodology grows in importance. Set aside some budget to begin accumulating intelligence and a set of best practices.
  6. Custom audience targeting is a total game changer. With the current cookie-based targeting will be here for the next few years, it might just be ending as of today. Marketing should be able to get ahead of this big transformation that is really just around the corner.