Brand marketers have been struggling with the death of Google’s third-party cookie and Apple’s recent changes to its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) and are unsure how these changes will affect their ability to reach and remarket to consumers. At the same time, consumer demand for personalization is increasing. With these opposing forces set to clash, there will only be one clear winner when it comes to engaging consumers.
We should all know by now that ad targeting based on Google’s third-party tracking cookie will soon cease and ads run on Google’s network will use a segment-based targeting strategy known as Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). Early indicators also show that consumers may be opting out of app tracking on Apple’s iOS 14.5 which will reduce the ability to target mobile ads based on consumer behavior. Blis, a location-powered advertising platform, reported that early numbers show only 46% of U.S. Apple users were opting into app tracking in early May 2021.
Consumers have made it clear that cookie-based advertising and the practice of advertisers following them from website to website is not desired. The 2021 Consumer Trends Index report polled 5,000 global consumers and, while 73% said that personalized offers based on past purchases were “cool,” 66% said ads based on cookies and tracked behavior were “creepy.” Brands that are searching for a cookie replacement or new ad tech that will facilitate the practice of inferring intent from browser history are not paying attention to reality.
Knowing consumer desires, issues
If marketers take “the marketer” out of their own head for a moment, it’s easy to understand why consumers aren’t looking for a better ad, but rather want a better experience. It’s just human nature. For example, if you met someone for the first time on the street today (yay vaccines!) the conversation is most likely going to involve a string of questions and answers between those individuals. One person might even ask, “Hey, do you like spaghetti?” If the answer is, “Yes, I do,” then the questioner may recommend a local Italian restaurant.
However, what would be the reaction if it were posed this way? “Hey, I’ve been following you for weeks from your home, to your office, to lunch spots and everywhere in between, and I noticed you might like spaghetti. Is that true?” The response would almost certainly be different and could even trigger a call to the police. Tracking people’s behavior without them knowing isn’t cool. It is creepy. But asking consumers explicitly to share some specific information is not only preferred over tracking, but it can lead to a great conversation.
The death of cookie tracking could be one of the biggest influences on how to reboot the brand-consumer relationship and establish a path to personalization at scale. In fact, brands like Discovery Communications have long subscribed to having conversations to better personalize offers, content, and access with their consumer audience.
The information gained from these conversations is called zero-party data—that is, data shared explicitly with the brand directly from the consumer. In Discovery’s case, the company used a value exchange with customers, offering a chance to win a multimillion-dollar dream home. Entrants were asked to answer a few questions regarding their personal home improvement needs, including which types of projects interested them, their budgets and even timelines.
With more than 100 million entries, Discovery now had a plethora of data needed to personalize and monetize offers and content within emails, SMS and across their web properties on a one-to-one level. By having these conversations with consumers, Discovery was able to rely less on paid advertising to remarket, and it also provided data fidelity that can't be inferred or deduced by tracking.
The necessity for change
Now, this might seem like a diamond-in-the-rough use case, but it’s not. Cheetah Digital, an enterprise marketing platform with the ability to collect billions of zero-party data points, has hundreds of clients following suit. It’s also worth noting that the IAB suggests advertisers consider an “urgent focus on consumer-centric values and experiences, and to drop antiquated models in the industry value exchange.” IAB also states, “The greatest and most immediate threat to growth of the digital advertising-supported ecosystem is inaction by the key players.” The IAB went so far as to say it could be “lethal” to some if they aren’t ready to transition to this new value-exchange economy with consumers.
So, the death of the cookie should be a wake-up call for marketers to stop relying on tracking technology and start engaging consumers in the same way they communicate among themselves conversationally. Be bold, be transparent in how you intend to use consumer data and get it straight from the source.
It wouldn’t hurt if brands got more creative as well and stopped letting algorithms and AI create content based on inferred data. Maybe ask someone if they want that spaghetti ad before your AI engine sends it.