For years, cookies were the connective links that helped marketers understand and reach consumers, but no more. Navigating this uncharted terrain is doable though. The keys to success are privacy-friendly, identifiable connections and relationships with those who have them.
Lots of factors have forced marketers to look beyond the cookie – from consumer privacy demands and California’s sweeping privacy law to the rise of so-called walled gardens and an increasingly fragmented media landscape.
That cookies are losing their usefulness is no surprise to anyone. Yet, with cookies going the way of the dodo, marketers need new ways to identify consumers and measure marketing performance. That means they’ll need to make a big shift away from the old-school audience targeting they’ve known.
Now more than ever marketers will need It to invest in first- and second-party data to augment the insights they once got from third-party cookies. To do that, they’ll need to partner with publishers and content producers who already have the right consumer relationships to sustain effective, personalized marketing. And they’ll need to make the value exchange clear to consumers.
Behind walled gardens, marketers need identity for holistic brand messages
For marketers, the importance of managing consumer identity is nothing new. As early as 2016, Forrester said, “it’s becoming more critical than ever for firms planning to link systems of insight and engagement to foster seamless and relevant cross-channel customer experiences.” They understood that marketers need new ways to create smooth interactions across multiple touchpoints with people – not cookies.
In many ways, consumer demand for better privacy safeguards led us toward our identity-centric marketing landscape. People wanted more control over which brands have access to their data and for what purposes. The California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 compelled marketers to give them that control. As a result, consumer data will no longer float around through third-party cookies in the near future. Consumers can choose whether to give brands access to information through a more fair value exchange.
Consumer identity is at the core of how brands can manage this value exchange with people. If you follow the money, you’ll see this is already playing out. Just look where advertising budgets are gravitating. Right now more than 70% of digital ad dollars flow to places with direct links to identifiable consumers, not cookies.
Many of those interactions with identified consumers take place behind the walled gardens of the three digital ad revenue leaders – Amazon, Facebook and Google. Why? Despite their privacy difficulties, overall, these brands have done a good job of developing trust with consumers. After all, people still use Google every day for convenient services. And they’re still on Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram. In fact, eMarketer data shows time spent on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat is on the rise as people connect with friends and loved ones during the pandemic.
The value exchange is clear: these giants provide content and services consumers not only want, but they rely on. So, in exchange, people are willing to give them access to identifiable information like emails or phone numbers as well as interest-based clues that help those platforms sustain and grow those relationships through customized offerings.
As they have built relationships with consumers, Amazon, Facebook and Google have grown their consumer identity gardens. They possess troves of authenticated consumer identity data, so as a result, they’ve limited the effectiveness of third-party cookies on their platforms. It makes sense; they just don’t need them. They’ve gained and maintained dominance, in part by making it a challenge to access that precious consumer identity.
Increased use of mobile devices, where cookies were unreliable if not entirely inoperable, also contributed to this shift. But as third-party cookies become obsolete, marketers still need to create seamless, personalized interactions with consumers across multiple touchpoints. So, they need to access the identifiable consumer data that’s behind those walls. That means either partnering with the walled gardens or with entities that already have those relationships.
This is imperative for marketers who want to reach consumers with a cohesive message no matter where they are, and gauge campaign effectiveness. For instance, without a holistic view enabled through identity infrastructure across channels, marketers would not be able to engage with the same customer on their work and home computers. They would not be able to make direct mail offers reflecting online purchases. And they would not be able to tie their marketing efforts back to measurable insights generated by ad servers, DSPs, platforms and publishers.
How identity partnerships creates better privacy and customer experience
As marketers trek through an advertising environment without cookies, a privacy-safe consumer identity approach is super important. A recent report from Winterberry said that marketers should “prepare for a potential cookie-less future and monitor the role of Mobile Advertising IDs and other Personal Identifiers.” Part of that process, suggested the report, should involve integrating “privacy as a (non-exclusive) marketing discipline” throughout an organization.
Some may think the idea of consumer identity is at odds with privacy. But it’s not at all. In fact, consumer identity protects consumer privacy because it connects marketers only to the information they need to know about a consumer in order to provide a relevant, trustworthy experience. Partnerships that link marketers to consumer identity held by publishers, platforms and other content producers can help reinforce trusting bonds between people and brands.
A PwC study found 65% of customers said a positive experience with a brand is more influential than great advertising. That’s saying a lot. Good experiences with brands happen when they are privacy-safe, relevant and customized in a way a consumer sees as fitting for the relationship. Positive interactions between consumers and brands help to generate first-party data by generating trust. It’s the basis for what Forrester calls an “identity backbone.”
Here’s a timely illustration of what I mean. A lot of us sheltering-in-place right now are looking around at the same four walls, tempted to change what we see. Let’s say you’ve got the home renovation bug. You’re thinking about knocking down a wall, and your partner would love to change the paint colors in the kids’ rooms.
With so much time at home, you decide to do the DIY thing. So, you visit your local hardware store to pick up some supplies. Because you’re the one who made the purchase and there’s no reason for the hardware retailer to know you’re married with kids, the store doesn’t have data revealing that.
The store does, however, know what it needs to know: the items you bought. As a regular customer you’re a loyalty program member, so you’ve provided your email and address already, and you got loyalty points with your purchase. To most consumers this is a clear and worthy value exchange. It’s even more valuable when you receive an email with a 10% discount on your next purchase.
Identity resolution makes this possible. Consumers are comfortable with it because they appreciate the way it makes their lives easier and improves a relationship with a brand they actually choose to engage with. But identity becomes even more valuable for them when it is used to ensure walled gardens and brands only get the information consumers want them to see.
Let’s say your partner decides that rather than just knocking out a wall, you should add an expansion to the back of the house. Quarantine can have this effect on people! He goes online to check out home loan rates. You have a joint checking account, so the bank does know you are married. You have a 529 college savings account for the kids, too. As your financial services provider, its relevant data it makes sense for them to know.
Either one of those brands might want to reach you with an offer based on those interactions on a walled garden platform like Facebook, for example. In this case, having a trusted and privacy-safe connection point that links brands to consumer identity ensures that the hardware store, the bank or the walled garden each sees only what you have given permission for them to see.
Put simply, while you know your own complete personal identity, each entity in that value chain only knows your identity as a consumer through its own separate lens. Their views differ from brand to brand. There’s no data crossover unless a consumer has OK’d sharing of information that each brand already has separately.
More consumer control, more trustworthy relationships
Your hardware store, your bank, and yes, Amazon – each of those brands have built up enough trust to get consumers to agree to hand over access to some identifiable data.
Maybe your bank isn’t only trying to sell you financial products. To generate a more trusting relationship with its customers, it might be providing helpful content. Pacific Northwest Credit Union Advantis is doing just that. In addition to allowing customers to skip a loan payment, the small financial co-op has relevant and welcome content on its website including an article featuring “5 tips for financial stability during uncertain times.”
These are examples of positive, relevant brand experiences – identity backbone builders. Not only is developing trust necessary to connecting with consumers in a cookieless world, it helps marketers build even more trust with them by enabling even better engagement. Through partnerships with the right publishers, walled garden platforms, and identity resolution partners, marketers can connect with consumers to create trusting bonds and great brand experiences.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Devon DeBlasio is the Product Marketing Director of Identity and Privacy at Neustar. He is also co-founder and board member of the THREEE Marketing Council, a collection of advertiser, agency, and technology leaders working together to promote efficient, effective, and ethical marketing. Prior to Neustar, Devon lead Product Marketing at the shopping commerce platform, Curalate, as well as Sizmek (formerly PointRoll).