Cookie-less future: How data-driven marketing will changeKyle Wahlquist
Digital marketing strategies in a cookie-less future
Consumer privacy demands are not a new issue, but the misuse of customer data has driven a call for change. As a result, leaders in the tech space such as Google and Apple have adopted new customer data privacy measures, paving the way for fast followers. As part of these policy changes, many experts believe we are witnessing the death of the cookie, which has been the core foundation for marketing campaigns to date.
For marketers, these measures require the adoption of new digital marketing strategies for this “cookie-less” future. Though this change seems daunting for many organisations, in this article, we’ll explore the impacts, the opportunities, and our recommendations in light of evolving data privacy concerns.
Read next: Key takeaways from ‘What the FLoC? How do you prepare for a post-cookie future?’
What are cookies?
Before we begin, it’s important for us to define the cookie to better understand how marketers are impacted.
According to Kapersky, “a cookie is a method used to store information about your computer to identify you as an individual visitor by storing unique identifiers like registration numbers or session IDs.” In most cases, a cookie simply collects and stores data about consumers, allowing advertisers and websites to personalise customer experiences. Personalised experiences often involve personalised website landing pages or targeted advertisements.
While most are familiar with the cookie, not all cookies are created equally. There are two types of cookies: third-party and first-party cookies.
A third-party cookie is a small amount of information stored on a user’s device (e.g., laptop, mobile phone, tablet, etc.) by someone other than the website owner. The data these cookies collect can be sold to other advertisers for a better understanding of your digital behaviours, all without having to collect that data directly from you. This allows advertisers to track users across different sites and serve ads based on behavioural trends. These third-party cookies are the kind tech leaders like Apple and Google are working to reduce.
First-party cookies, on the other hand, are directly stored by the website (or domain) you interact with. These cookies allow website owners to collect analytics data, remember language settings, and perform other useful functions that provide seamless user experiences.
One of the main differences between first-party and third-party cookies is that third-party data is accessible to any website that uses the third party’s server code. This is why third-party cookies have begun receiving strict regulations.
How are cookies used by marketers?
Today, many marketers and advertisers use third-party cookies to track consumer behaviour across the web to better serve targeted ads based on behavioural trends. Tracked data could be anything from search history and websites frequented, to social media sites used. All collected data is utilised to create a more detailed view of the consumer so targeted ads match the person being served.
Conversely, first-party data is collected and utilised by direct interactions with an intent to enhance the customer experience. As a personalised experience throughout user interface is now an expectation of many consumers, a brand’s first-party data collection is now more imperative than ever. Some of the most advanced brands today are using this data along with artificial intelligence (AI) to create opportunities for their consumers, such as next best action suggestions, resulting in higher conversion rates. While owned data can be shared through internal channels, the overall goal of owned data use should be to provide the best consumer experience while protecting user privacy and ensuring customer data integrity.
To illustrate this, below is our reference architecture which depicts aspects of 1st party data, 3rd party data, and how it fits into various components of your digital marketing technology.
How data-driven marketing works and why first-party cookies are here to stay
HubSpot defines data-driven marketing as “us[ing] data to inform all marketing decisions, from creative assets to campaigns. It places customer data front and centre to ensure all marketing efforts are relevant to customer interests and behaviours.” The first and most important step before applying any data is to understand your customer. This is true of any marketing effort whether it’s data driven or not.
If you don’t understand your customer and their needs, then you are bound to make decisions that cost you money with little return in the long run. Building personas, collecting and maintaining your data’s integrity, and staying compliant are all keys to running a successful data-first strategy.
The driving force to build this strategy will be to understand what people are searching for. Google readily provides this data to help brands better understand their users, and the volumes of people with similar problem-to-solution journeys.
Once you start acquiring more users through organic channel growth, you can create experiences that will provide value to your users. As users trust your brand, you will earn first-party cookie data through the experiences you build. The first-party cookie data will provide you with a deeper understanding of your customers.
What does a cookie-less future mean?
As privacy is becoming a top concern among web users, the leaders in the industry are being put on notice to adjust their policies to meet their consumer demands. The shift away from third-party cookies is causing not only tech giants like Google and Apple to adjust their policies, but will also require most brands and marketers to rework their marketing strategy and spend.
How do I prepare for a cookie-less future?
The cookie-less marketing movement provides many organisations the opportunity to transform into an omnichannel marketing organisation.
To begin, companies must determine the quantity of customer data which is currently collected through third-party cookies versus how much data they inherently own.
Digital marketing strategies will need to analyse all workstreams to understand which are utilising data they will no longer have access to when third-party cookies go away. The key will be to create audiences around owned variables and knowledge to fill in these new gaps. While this may seem daunting, the sooner companies start to view these holes as opportunities, the better positioned they will be for the “new frontier” and can gain a leg up on the competition.
Up until the “ban” of third-party cookies, many advertisers and marketers spent a majority of marketing budgets on paid advertisements that were supported by third-party data for targeting specific audiences. This approach did not always result in a better experience for the consumer, leaving them to wonder “why should I allow my personal data to be shared if I am getting nothing in return?”
The solution that appears to be the most effective is an equal exchange of customers’ personal data for optimal personalised experiences. Pairing this with initiatives to focus more on top-level traffic sources and more organic audience targeting and acquisition builds experiences with brands that are based on trust and brand authority in each space. The trust and strategies a company creates today will continue to shape their marketing and brand loyalty for many years.
Enter the shift to omnichannel marketing. The pivotal strategy that regains the trust of the customer, optimises marketer’s spend, and fuels the first-party data they need.
What is omnichannel marketing?
Omnichannel marketing is presenting a consistent consumer experience across all touchpoints and interactions with brands. Omnichannel marketing is an approach that deprioritises (not eliminates) the brand, products, and services of a business, and focuses on the audience and their intent.
This change in go-to-market strategy is not unlike the changes that organic marketing and SEO have been focusing on for years, which is why there are so many interdependencies between the two approaches.
A brand can build customer loyalty and even affinity, turning consumers into brand advocates if channel marketing is cohesive and tells the story the consumer is eager to hear and participate in. If a brand falls short at even one interaction with a customer, they risk losing a loyal brand follower.
Given marketing’s long-standing SEO practices and maturity, marketers can find the tools to tailor an omnichannel strategy around their audience-first approach.
Given that omnichannel marketing is focused on an “audience first” approach and organic marketing practices and SEO are very mature in this space, it makes sense that in an omnichannel marketing approach, marketers will gain the most efficiencies by making the organic channel their core channel.
In a mature omnichannel marketing approach, all other paid channels can maximise their efficiency in both cost and performance by leveraging a robust organic channel. Because of these efficiencies, and the fact that you don’t need cookies or first- or third-party data to create a high performing organic channel, the organic channel should be the primary focus in the cookie-less future.
What's included in each channel marketing strategy
Below are some of the top digital channels utilised today and how they contribute to omnichannel marketing:
Organic channel is often referred to as your “owned channel” because it leverages data and resources you control. If you invest in it, you can regularly compound your traffic, unlike leasing your traffic as often done in paid channels. Additionally, your organic channel is what manifests from your experience stack, or the combination of your websites content, design, supporting application/s, and underlying infrastructure.
All these things play a part in how your business acquires users from the largest possible channel, the organic channel. For your organic channel to work, it must focus on the audience and meet users where they are at in their problem-to-solution journey. Additionally, the organic channel generally has a higher conversion rate than others, while offering a lower total cost of ownership.
Out of the digital paid channels, paid search is a popular, but increasingly less effective channel. Paid search is often used by marketers to be brand focused and product/service based. Paid channels are where creative groups get to lead and is typically the driving factor in brand marketing. In paid search, the audience is generally deprioritised, and the brand messaging around products, and services are generally the priority. Due to this, paid search as well as many other paid channels are generally not as cost effective and return lower conversions and ROI than organic marketing.
Additionally, if companies are not careful, paid search can cannibalise otherwise “free” traffic from organic search. As re-marketing is a primary tool for pay-per-click (PPC), and as that often is dependent on cookies and tracking third-party data, PPC will likely become less effective for many.
Social marketing is your hybrid; it can come in both organic and paid flavours. If you have ever bought a Facebook ad, you are familiar with the paid side of this channel. Organic social can come from company profile posts or starting public groups dedicated to a topic about your brand or products.
Both sides of the social channel connect the consumer to the company and are very focused on awareness, building a larger audience, engagement, and brand image. In a post-cookie-less world, marketers won’t have access to the paid data they have traditionally used for audience targeting and will consequently need to start incorporating more organic social tactics.
This channel is used to stay in front of consumers, and messaging often differs as they see these as existing consumers. This is an area in marketing where users are going to have to become savvier if they want their emails to target users as well as they did prior to third-party cookie data going away. The adoption and use of customer data platforms (CDPs) meant to build first-party data for the business will help keep email messaging targeted and on point for your users.
How an optimised omnichannel marketing strategy changes the game
With the cookie-less future bringing a loss of consumer data, it becomes more important than ever to execute across all your channels as efficiently as possible. When businesses can shift to an audience-first approach and build their marketing strategy with an organic channel-first mindset, marketers utilise audience intents throughout all marketing initiatives to naturally grow their market share.
The organic channel is the one channel that all businesses own and can largely control. Therefore, utilising an owned data-led approach not only allows for a more cost-effective marketing strategy, but it also creates ownership of clear brand messaging delivered throughout channels backed by trusted data.
Utilising customer journey analytics to replace cookies as the base of your overall strategy
Aggregating customer data as they interact through your website will be critical to creating a customer view that will serve as the foundation for your overall omnichannel marketing strategy. Shifting from an individual focus to cohorts, updating the customer profile in real-time, and keeping data actionable will pave a path to providing a personalised streamlined experience all while respecting the user’s privacy.
Additionally, bringing in market volume data around what audiences are searching for as it relates to your industry and your brand will help flesh out journeys you may not otherwise realise. This method of “data-driven marketing” has already proven to have a stronger result than ones that are built upon inferred data. Shifting from a cookie-driven persona into an audience segment approach may feel more abstract, but it will allow you to more directly speak and market to your user’s needs and intents while gaining a more comprehensive understanding of market segments.
Start leveraging data across your channels
As we have seen time and time again, audience focus, a clear message aimed at the audience intent, and delivering the right message to the right person at the right time, are key to any successful marketing campaign. The shift away from third-party data to first-party data will provides marketers an opportunity to craft an omnichannel marketing strategy, equipping them for success in the new digital marketing landscape.
Remember to build all the tactics in your strategy around the audience and their intent, meeting users where they are at in their journey with answers to their needs in that stage. If your business has not already built an organic marketing organisation within your capabilities, now is the time to start.
Additionally, companies can start or continue investing in tools like CDPs where they can combine existing customer data without purchasing additional data enrichments. This will allow for the extraction of more value from the proprietary data already collected, such as greater segmentation abilities and progressive profiles with every customer interaction.
Furthermore, leveraging more in-house data will provide businesses with the ability to weave proprietary information throughout all channel and departments’ decisions. The ideal state would be where they are able to set themselves up to aggregate data on device IDs, IP addresses, specific geographic regions, and previous customer interactions to create audiences and then build off look alike audiences that cover all personas. This will provide a means to deliver unique messages to the customer throughout their journey.
So, what does the cookie-less world of the cookie-less future look like?
What the landscape will be like for marketers in the cookie-less world still appears to be somewhat uncertain but from the looks of it, there are brighter skies ahead for end users. For cookie-less marketing, budgets can now shift to focus on omnichannel strategies that are led by both audience intent and first-party customer dat to meet the users with the right messages at all touchpoints across their journey.
With a reduced need for invasive data collection from third-party sources, personalised and targeted messaging built from organic channel audience data can take its rightful focus. The key is to act now so that your company is not playing catch up in the cookie-less world. Being prepared for the cookie-less future starts today.
How we can help
Our Modern Marketing Transformation Practice at Credera is comprised of industry experts with decades of combined experience across all facets of marketing and technology.
If you’re investigating how to utilise the latest tech to invest your marketing budget more strategically, our team can help you assess your current infrastructure and identify opportunities to evolve, with commercially stunning results. To learn more, please get in touch.
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