A few big tech providers are considering phone numbers as the next great method for tracking metrics both online and offline. However, privacy restrictions and user reticence could present potential barriers to its successful integration.
Tech companies are salivating over phone numbers because they present a great opportunity for bridging the gap between online and offline metrics. They are considered a much more comprehensive method than typical cookie tracking.
“It’s extremely hard to prove ROI when someone goes offline and you lose them from a cookie perspective,” said Guy Weismantel of Marchex. “That’s why the phone number becomes an interesting proxy.”
One of the reasons that phone numbers are held in high regard for analytics is that they are considerably more permanent than cookies, device IDs, and email addresses.
Certain identifiers such as IDFA on iOS platforms and Android Ad ID can last much longer than cookies, but they are still required to be refreshed when a user purchases a new device or make changes to their advertising settings.
In addition, although many users use email addresses across multiple devices, most users typically have multiple email addresses as well. Some are used for spam and ad collection and others may be for personal or business use. This is not ideal for marketers to obtain the full picture of user habits.
However, people have a tendency to hold onto their phone numbers, even if they switch phone carriers along the way. The mobile phone has become the primary method of communication, which makes it far less likely for people to switch their number frequently or even at all.
Phone numbers also generate better people-based attribution as opposed to cookies. For example, if a user sees an ad for a store, calls to make an inquiry, and actually shows up in-store, it is totally trackable as long as location services are enabled.
However, phone numbers might not take off as soon as some tech providers would like because scalability still presents some issues.
Until more data is directly tied to phone numbers, email addresses will still be the big player on the field. Apps, brands, and platforms will need to become more active in collecting phone numbers for their permanence to become more valuable than the frequency of email addresses.
A few publishers such as Snapchat and Kik have already started offering users the option to add their phone number to the app, but email is still the primary form of data collection. Many brands have invested heavily into email programs, so it will remain to be seen if they want to continue their focus on email, or if they will be eager to add phone numbers to their efforts as well.
However, before any of these changes can be made, a greater value exchange must be presented to users. Most people are hesitant to share their phone numbers with apps or unknown sources, so it could take some time before phone numbers become the next great thing in analytics.