This isn’t just a data problem; this change will affect marketers from all disciplines. The core foundations of data and digital media are about to be shaken up—in a big way.
Instead of simply trying to fix the issue or burying our heads in the sand and hoping that Google will offer a neatly wrapped solution, we need to challenge ourselves to think bigger than that. We should avoid seeing data privacy as an issue, and reframe it as an opportunity.
To put it more simply, rather than asking: “How do we deal with the issue of a cookieless future and still generate the results we need?” we should be asking: “How can we effectively interact with our target customers while respecting their data privacy?”
“Ad technology must evolve for a privacy-first world. Ads should work for everyone—publishers, advertisers, and most importantly, consumers. That’s why Google has gone further on our commitment to advance user data privacy, announcing that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor use them in our products.”
Google – announcement from March 2021 on their shift to a privacy-first web
Shift to a privacy-first approach
It’s essential to understand how these changes will impact your business over the next few years so that you can get a head start on your competition and prepare yourselves for a new privacy-first marketing landscape.
The first step is assessing your business readiness, specifically your marketing data maturity level. You should conduct an objective review of your practices across the following areas:
- Data curation and consent
- Reporting and attribution
- Marketing data usage (ad targeting, email marketing, etc.)
- Marketing technology stack
The implications of this review will no doubt be wide-ranging, spanning multiple departments including marketing, IT, customer services, sales and technical support. Therefore, it’s important to approach any changes in a centralised manner, with a strategy that enables data integration across departments and a clear strategy of how your organisation collects, stores and uses customer data for more effective marketing and sales activity.
Modify reporting and attribution
As so much of the analysis, reporting and attribution of online marketing hinges on tracking users through cookies, you’ll need to make some changes to ensure that you can still see how your ads are performing without compromising user privacy.
With the lines blurring between different traffic sources and multi-touch-point attribution along a user journey, companies are now focusing on the brand as a whole instead of monitoring individual channels, so you might want to change your approach here, too.
Step 1: Upgrade to Google Analytics 4
if you’re using Google to measure website performance then it’s time to upgrade to GA4. Google uses alternatives to cookies such as device IDs to identify users, and Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will include advanced machine learning in the future to fill in data gaps and preserve campaign insights.
Data from Universal Analytics will not be passed on to GA4 as they are completely different platforms, so running both in parallel as soon as possible is recommended to make sure you don’t lose important data. Here’s a great guide to everything you need to know about GA4.
Step 2: Investigate Customer Data Platforms (CDP’s)
Customer data platforms collate data from various sources and create a persistent, unified database of customer profiles accessible to other systems.
CDPs are widely reported to be the answer to tackling audience management challenges in the future “cookieless” world. They are rooted in people, not cookies or device IDs. And now that cookies are a disappearing phenomenon, you need to invest in something that has a foundation of people.
Step 3: Follow new developments and take action
There will be plenty of new developments in terms of data privacy, and you need to keep on top of them all so you can take action.
For example, If you’re advertising on Facebook, your campaigns will be affected by the recent iOS 14 update. To improve your data, you should verify your brand’s domain, update the Facebook SDK, and prioritise pixel events to mitigate data loss. You might also want to look into Facebook’s Conversion API as a long-term solution to cookieless tracking.
Google will always be the big one to watch in terms of digital advancements. They have recently announced they are delaying their role out of their privacy sandbox (and deprecation of third party cookies) until 2023.
This stay of execution from Google changes nothing. Interest in building a first-party data strategy was growing prior to Google’s postponed cookie deprecation, with 88% of marketers citing it as a key priority for 2021. There is no reason for efforts to stop, you just have an extra year to get your first-party data strategy in place.
Want some help? Check out our Marketing Data Audit; an essential first step to enable you to adapt to the new privacy-first marketing landscape.