March 23, 2021

Understanding customer journeys will be essential in the privacy-first future

Our ability to target customers at an individual level across the internet is going to be affected by Google’s removal of support for third-party cookies. That means that marketers are going to have to develop a deeper understanding of the customer journey in order to reach and influence their audience.

Regardless of how many P’s you think there are in marketing, privacy is one we all need to add to our list. Google recently announced that it will phase out support for third-party cookies in 2022 and won’t be creating any alternative identifiers to track individuals across the web. The replacement will be Google’s Privacy Sandbox, but there is currently limited information as to exactly how this will work. Apple’s release of the iOS14 update earlier this year now also gives consumers more power to give informed consent over the use of their data and the ability to opt out of targeting.

Safe to say, our ability to target individuals across the internet is changing and marketers can no longer enjoy a silver bullet targeting solution to reach their customers.

It all might feel like a bit of a free fall and as the privacy landscape evolves. But not to worry, disruptions push our imagination to its limits. When we can’t lean on tools, strategy can illuminate the path forward. If we want to continue to reach our audience, it’s essential that we continue to keep customers at the heart of everything we do.

How did the push for privacy begin?

Privacy regulation has started to tighten up since GDPR was introduced in Europe and CPRA in California, and big tech players have also introduced new privacy features to win back consumer trust. But, why?

Well, we will do our best to break down the very, very complex issue of privacy to it’s nuts and bolts. 

Essentially, the internet is an incredibly helpful, free source of information and entertainment which has grown at lightning speed.

‘Free’ online resources, such as social media platforms, search engines, and news sites help people to find information and connect with one another. However, their revenue models are built on advertising, and in order to attract more advertisers, they need to offer consumer eyeballs and data. 

Long story short: more users = more consumer data = more advertisers = more revenue.

However, complex issues such as misinformation, personal data consent, and bargaining power have emerged from that model as the internet has grown rapidly.

Regulatory bodies are recognising that if people are using a free product, they are in fact the product. Consumers are also only just beginning to understand that there is a value exchange every time they use online tools, and that they are handing over their personal information with every digital interaction.

Enter the push for privacy from regulatory bodies and some big-tech players, which is an attempt to give customers more control and transparency over this value exchange so that they can give true consent as to how their personal data is used.

How will privacy changes affect marketers?

Well so far, we’ve been having our cake and eating it. Data and advanced machine learning have given marketers the ability to measure and harvest purchase intent on a silver platter.

But has this been in our best interests? Many advertisers have become addicted to performance-based advertising, which leverages a platform’s availability to target in-market audiences and drive sales. The allure of immediate ROI has become so strong that long-term, strategic, brand-building initiatives have historically been put on the back burner. 

This notion of one-to-one, personalised advertising now has to be balanced with the need for privacy. Third party cookies are being phased out, and marketers have to find ways to build out their first party data sets. 

Marketers will have to gather their own customer identifiers and build up their customer data platforms. In most cases that will require customers to hand over their email address. If customers are more informed about how that email address will be used, then marketers are going to have to think that much harder about what experience or brand proposition they will offer in return for that data exchange.

Tracking and attribution are also going to change as we lose visibility over customer behaviour. This might be best reflected in the looming sunset of the current version of Google Analytics’ Universal Analytics in May 2022, and it’s replacement with Google Analytics 4 (GA4). 

Google has stated that GA4 will no longer track users at an individual level in order to better protect privacy. Instead, it will shed more light on common user journeys all the way from their first site visit to the final conversion. 

The customer journey will earn a special place in marketing strategy.

Marketers are going to be forced to take a step back from platform reliance, as many of the tracking and targeting tools (such as third party cookies) that we are used to will be phased out.

We can’t push a few buttons and let a platform find our audience for us. Going forward, marketers have to go back to basics and develop a deeper understanding of who their audience is, where they spend their time, and how to influence them. That may see them leaning on more contextual targeting practices or forging strategic partnerships with complementary partners and publishers.

It won’t be enough to harvest purchase intent based on signals from people. Rather, marketers have to develop audiences, and uncover cohorts whose behaviours correlate. We won’t just optimise channels, we will be enhancing the entire experience along aggregated customer journeys. 

Decoding a customer’s decision making process is devilishly complex, but it’s also a lot of fun. The insights we can gain along the way can deliver true competitive advantage.

Is it a bad thing to be forced to use both sides of our brain? Absolutely not. We’re also all being faced with the same challenge and this could level out the playing field. The marketers who embrace the privacy journey and put customer experience on a pedestal could find themselves leaps and bounds ahead in the near future.

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