Big tech platforms are moving towards a more “privacy-first” internet and it’s having a major impact on brands that rely on paid targeting. According to a recent report, 41% of marketers believe the inability to track the right data will be their biggest challenge going forward. The end of third party cookies doesn’t have to signal the end of effective brand marketing. It can be the beginning of better brand marketing. But before we go forward, we have to go back.  

It is clear brands need a new marketing strategy based on understanding their audience and not just data. It’s time to exchange real value with your customers, rather than just outsourcing strategies to algorithms. Having worked in the marketing industry for almost 25 years now, and experiencing the digital and technical revolution first hand, it strikes me now more than ever that we need to look back and reconsider some of the lost art we relied on to build strong, enduring relationships with consumers.

The end of an era

The ruthless simplicity of paid targeting has been its strength but also ultimately its weakness. It’s been a numbers game with cheap impressions as the fuel. Well-publicised scandals have created a sea change in behaviour with more knowledgeable consumers understanding more about the transaction of their data and demanding change.

According to research by the Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans report feeling like advertisers, technology firms, and other companies track most of what they do online. The looming end date for the use of third party cookies from Google has caused something of a panic for many reliant on these methods. But actually this represents a great opportunity for a fundamental rethink in strategy. 

Rediscovering timeless qualities

This rethink needs to be about a new strategy commanding some of the timeless qualities of marketing, somewhat lost in the past decade as the Tech platforms’ hegemony ruled. This new world in many ways may resemble an older one with a focus on consideration and contextual advertising over direct targeting. Let’s consider the pillars this new approach should be founded on.

1) Power of the database and first party data 
In a world where the cookie is crumbling, the power of first party data and a database is crucial. Yet many brands haven’t invested in their infrastructure because they’ve been reliant on the ad platforms supplied by Google and Meta.

 With a quality database and a decent tech stack, you can build relevant loyalty programmes, subscribe to consumer models, and look at the lifetime value of a customer. Many CPG brands have smartly moved into the DTC space using built up first party data. A good example of this is Nestlé. They now operate ReadyRefresh, a beverage supply delivery service, a subscription service for its Proactiv acne treatment brand, and an ecommerce site for its petcare brand Purina.

In essence you can get closer to the consumer, derive greater understanding and build strong direct relationships. But of course you need to have the right skills in-house to be able to create actionable insights and ensure you bring your customer into your orbit rather than relying on push tactics. 

2) Creating a richer value exchange
A new approach is needed to develop a ‘permission granted’ relationship with consumers based on a value exchange. Central to this is understanding the value of the relationship you have with your customers. What are their passion points, lifestyle habits, what is important to consumers in that value exchange? This is a move from a transactional to a richer relationship.  

As Vivaldi CEO Erich Joachimsthaler describes it in his book The Interaction Field, ‘The future is going to be about creating value for everyone’. The focus should be on creating multiple touchpoints for engagement based around what’s important to your audience. Not merely the specific product you are offering. 

3) Joined up communications and experiences
In this new more organic world of pulling people into your brand, it is crucial that what you do is joined up and fully represented in all your customer interactions. Creating a gravitational pull, drawing customers into your orbit means a seamless connection between brand and every interaction, experience and communication.

Too often in the past few years, digital marketers have relied on tactics over strategy and have not aligned closely enough to the brand strategy. They’ve let the tail wag the dog with the algorithm dictating the construct of communications rather than the true meaning and purpose of the brand. They now need to consider their long- term marketing strategy to communicate the brand strategy. This moment is the right opportunity for that re-set. 

4) Effective use of partnerships and collaboration
Partnerships are a great way to widen the reach of your brand in a really effective way for win/win benefits to gain the third party data no longer immediately available. Which other brands and organisations sit within your consumers orbit and how can you work and collaborate with them to drive a greater value for the consumer?

As a keen cyclist I believe that Strava is a great example of where I am able to engage with new brands through the platform. They offer rewards from relevant third party brands for completing challenges. I do the challenge, I get the reward and then the third party brand has my data and are able to start building a direct relationship with me. So partnerships as a conduit to relationships is one way brands can cleverly win new customers.  

5) A broader perspective of the influencer
 The ad industry has become preoccupied with the power of influencers and creators in driving reach, engagement and conversion of audiences and indeed when done well certainly has great value. However now is the time to delve back in time and reconsider how brands can broaden their perspective on the role of influence and the influencer.

Brands need to consider how to better convert affinity and loyalty into advocacy of the brand. They need to examine what the circle of influence around the ecosystem is, and what it could be beyond the consumer. For example community, partners, collaborators, experts, institutions and even employees.

A great example of this is Lululemon’s Ambassador Program. It is a very unique program in that it is local, decentralized and focused on offline. Ambassadors are not high-profile professional athletes and instead are local community leaders from fitness studio owners to yoga instructors. But that represents Lululemon’s pillars of “sweat, grow, and connect”.

The Future

The changes to the use of third party cookies require a fundamental and urgent rethink in the approach to marketing. This needs to be far more strategic and insight led, and that starts by looking at some traditional cornerstones of good marketing. 

It’s time to invest in a database, create a rich value exchange, join-up communications, build effective partnerships and genuine brand advocacy. If the death of the cookie means we rediscover some of the timeless qualities of effective marketing, then it should be celebrated not mourned.

Cover image source: ev