It’s the end of the (digital targeting) world as we know it

We’re not scaremongering, this is really happening.

The established model of digital acquisition, built around targeted advertising fueled by anonymous user-tracking is being dismantled piece by piece.

We say this not to be alarmist, or to strike fear unnecessarily in the hearts of marketers, but to be realistic. 

Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes, and now is the moment to start thinking about what your funnel is going to look like in a year’s time.

Just read the words of Bill Tucker, Group EVP for Data, Technology and Measurement Practices at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). He’s been quoted as saying “The pressing issue is that there will be significant disruptions in how business is done in addressable media. Proper solutions need to be devised that enable the economic model of digital marketing to continue.”

What’s actually happening?

Third-party cookies, the currency that runs through the economy of targeted, programmatic advertising, are being taken out of circulation.

Safari and Mozilla Firefox have already phased them out, as you likely know. And Google has committed to their expulsion by the end of 2021.

Recently, Apple sent shockwaves amongst app developers when it revealed details of the latest iOS14 release. Or at least, it came as a surprise to those who’ve ignored the increasing font-size of the writing on the wall. 

The news that iPhone users will need to be canvassed for permission to track their unique Identification for Advertising (IDFA) number is just another tear in the fragile fabric of targeted advertising. 

It is of course worth mentioning that Apple has actually since decided to delay the enforcement of changes to its IDFA policy until early next year. It knows just how seismic this will be, and app developers need more time to plan.

Simply put, it’s easier for a customer to refuse permission in the first instance than it is to wade deep into one’s settings and manually withdraw it.

And that’s the kicker. The enforcement of data protection laws related to expressly given consent, and the end of assumed consent, is a massive deal. 

A user might not care all that much what’s done with their data when it’s hidden away from them. 

But when it’s all laid bare and the use of our data is put to us in plain language? That’s a very different story.

What does this mean for you, the brand?

Advertising budgets will remain stable, or at least in line with projections one way or another. But how and where that money is spent will change dramatically

In general, prospecting on the world wide web will not be the same. The nature of how you connect with a potential customer who has never visited your website will change.

We might not have a crystal ball, but we can read the tea-leaves and devine some likely implications.

Direct-buy ads will go up

Be prepared for a renewed focus on good old-fashioned, paid-for advertising space. Looking for audiences interested in buying your fitness products? Then it’s back to buying online media space from publishers with the right readership.

There will still be programmatic advertising in the mix by the way. There’s too much invested in that technology and the algorithms that underpin it to kiss it goodbye. But it will be powered by owned, earned first-party data instead.

So the publishers, and anyone offering targeted advertising outside of the walled gardens, will need to up their game when it comes to the ethical collection of their user’s data. 

The power of their offer to media buyers (and the premium they can charge for it) is tied to their ability to identify the interests of specific customers. 

The walled gardens will be stronger than ever

Digital engagement and advertising-Facebook's walled garden

The Cambridge Analytica scandal didn’t collapse the entire infrastructure as some commentators predicted (and some hoped). Data is still being collected, and used, on Facebook. And on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok etc

And the only real impact of GDPR has been to restrict data-sharing between, and outside of, the walled gardens. Nowadays what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook, you might say.

So long cross-channel ad attribution.

With no way of finding lookalike audiences in the wild, the walled gardens tended by the social media giants will be the only show in town.

Targeting new audiences through Facebook ads and promoted tweets will be more expensive, and hotly contested between you and your rivals.

The ‘pay-to-play’ model will be more pay and a lot less play.

It’s all bad news for AdTech vendors by the way. In the post-anonymous cookie era, they will be reduced to glorified groundskeepers in the walled gardens.

First-party data or bust

We’re not going to get into the debate about the value of third-party cookies and their role in personalised online experiences. That ship has sailed.

And we’ve long since been champions of earned first and zero-party data above all else.

Social media moguls are too, and with good reason. They have built billion-dollar companies off the back of it. They’re in the envious position of being able to bundle advertising consent as a requirement of using their platforms.

If you really want to thrive going forward, you need to take a leaf out of their playbook and focus on gathering first-party data.

Don’t worry, we’re not going to tease you with the solution. Here’s how it’s done.

Two ears, one (multichannel) voice

No more than a great face-to-face communicator often listens more than they speak, the leading brands understand that listening to the data is vital.

And in today’s context of cross-channel, multi-device digital engagement, listening to the data begins with identifying your users, wherever they engage with you.

One method we’re seeing more and more of is to gate-keep content behind an incentivised log-in event. In practice, it amounts to brands offering customers things like wishlists, bookmarked content, and saved payment details for smoother transactions, in return for logging in to their unique, individual account.

It’s all about encouraging customers to create accounts so that you can pinpoint their identity whether they’re using your website on desktop or mobile, or on a new device. And then, in turn, you can personalise and optimise their experience going forward.

To stitch all of this information together, and to ensure that you’re not letting valuable first-party data go to waste, you need some sort of reliable profile unification solution within your ecosystem. To demystify it, that’s really what the single customer view is.

This capability alone is one of the main reasons why customer data platforms (CDPs) have become so popular. They are built to ingest data from all sources, clean it, and attribute behavioural events and attributes to each individual user.

We also go one step further by assigning a new visitor to your website (or new download of your app) a unique, anonymous ID at a device level. This means that you can still measure their behaviour, and personalise future interactions, without knowing who they are just yet.

And when the time comes for them to create an account, or they become a paying customer, we make sure that this early data is stitched into the overall picture.

Strategies for ethical data collection

This is where we see the biggest (and most rewarding) challenge for marketers and CRM professionals over the next few years; ethical data capture.

From here on in, you need to start looking at new ways to ask customers to share data, and make it easy for them to do so. Barriers of any kind, whether the UI of your site or the underlying technology is at fault, will kill your strategy before it ever gets going.

You may or may not have heard about zero party data before, but it will be an increasingly discussed topic. Without wanting to wade too deep into it here, zero party data refers to openly shared information about a customer’s preferences and even future intentions.

That’s why the next wave of innovations in customer data will pivot around things like preference centres, where users can self-service marketing permissions and curate the content they receive. 

And where you can openly solicit feedback and information.

We’ve been developing preference centres with brands for a number of years now, and in terms of data collection, its yield potential is phenomenal. Your customers will appreciate the openness and convenience, and in return you get the raw fuel needed to personalise your messaging.

We also see massive opportunities for brands to introduce elements of gamification in a meaningful way. A quid pro quo, data for experience value exchange can absolutely help you acquire meaningful insights. 

Especially at scale.

Show loyalty to get loyalty

And finally, if you don’t currently have one in place, now is the time to start evaluating a loyalty scheme.

With fewer prospects at the top of the funnel, long-term retention must be given a renewed focus. An on-brand loyalty programme, with creative and worthwhile incentives at every milestone, will make a difference.

And it’s also an opportunity to find out more about your customers and what they want from you. Even at a basic level, something as simple as offering reward points for completing a survey can lead to data windfalls.

We integrate with loyalty platforms like Crowdtwist, and the benefit for mutual clients is massive. Data and understanding is great, but it always needs an outlet.

A call-to-action

So our message to brands right now is simple; start building your own walled garden. 

For a fraction of your monthly, never-ending ad spend, you can develop new ways to acquire, engage and influence customers through your own channels.

Do it transparently, go at it in manageable sprints. Work towards it with your customers

But start as soon as possible.

Nothing will ever be as powerful, or as cost-effective in the long run, as a strategy built around first-party data, collected openly on your own website and app. 

No matter how many prospects you feed into the funnel, the goal should always be fostering a lasting relationship. You can only achieve that through personalised, relevant messages, powered by a single customer view.

There is going to be a significant decline in the volume of new prospects shepherded into your funnel. To pick up the slack, you need to optimise your opted-in, outbound campaigns.

This will only happen through ethical on-site and in-app data capture, and win-win value exchanges.

That’s what the real future of targeted engagement looks like.

Wrapping Up

Xtremepush sits is at the centre of ethical data collection and consent-lead customer engagement. If you have concerns about your current strategy or are looking for new ways to drive business goals (acquisition, engagement or retention) then we encourage you to get in touch.