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When the cookie crumbles

Google has killed not just the cookie but also the key work-around that many marketers were relying on. Rob Foster, Senior Consultant at The Observatory International, says the real solution is fundamental rewiring of their approach to data.

Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies will have a huge impact on advertising capabilities, particularly when it comes to data-driven marketing.

This time there’s no fudging the issue because earlier this month Google also said it would block the key work-around that many were hoping would minimise the impact. There will be no alternative individual identifiers allowed in order to track browsers across the web, further hindering ad targeting capabilities.

Many are preparing for a dip in results, a worsening of performance and reduction in return on investment. Plans are being re-written and target audiences redefined as marketers start to engage in deep conversations with their media agencies to forecast the impact on digital performance.

But this change has far wider implications. The reality is that now is the time for a bit of inner reflection, a chance to take stock and review what is still in advertisers’ control: the information within their businesses and their first-party data.

Brands that can become less reliant on third-party platforms and the data they offer will thrive over those who are unable to have their own direct interactions and conversations with consumers.

Successful management and use of first-party data is increasingly key to driving customer loyalty, delivering a better understanding of the customer’s needs and enabling brands to add true value for them.

The truth is that cookie removal may seem like a technical change, but it leaves a huge gap upstream and demands action on the bigger principles of how a business uses information to drive business growth.

Getting this right will have significant positive effects on business performance, as evidenced by many industry commentators including Forbes.  It’s a business change project worth undertaking.

To succeed, brands need to move beyond the ‘traditional’ parameters of marketing and establish a connected ecosystem across the entire business that allows for the access, analysis and utilisation of data in an effective way. Marketing needs to be able to pass and receive data and information with all relevant parts of the business across all markets.

Brands will need a governance structure that links all websites, apps, stores, call centres, logistics and points of sale with a consistency of language that enables a heightened understanding of the business. This will allow that information to be used to deliver advertising in a consumer-focused way that meets customer needs and adds value for them.

Marketers that don’t currently have access to all the data and information they need in order for marketing output to add value to consumers’ lives, need to act to enable that to happen.

Getting this right means taking five key steps:

  1. Establish a culture of using data and information sharing: Insisting that employees speak consistently in quantitative terms rather than vague qualitative statements puts renewed focus on the need for data to underpin business decisions.
  2. Build strong leadership: Having a leadership team that understands the importance of collaboration across departments/markets to reach shared goals will help to unlock potential areas of connectivity. Collaboration should not devalue a sense of ownership however, as clear ownership and management of data is important if it is to be used correctly.
  3. Establish common language: All parts of the business should be using the same language, from the names of individual products or the description of consumers through to defined target business metrics. Strong language governance unlocks organised and efficient information sharing.
  4. Focus on the consumer impact: If you are struggling to think of fresh approaches within an existing business, try working backwards instead. Start with a specific consumer impact or behavioural change you’d like to target and work backwards to identify the requirements from within the business that you need to make that happen.
  5. Have cross-team/discipline idea sessions: Specialists in one area often aren’t aware that what they do has relevance or potential benefit to other areas of the business. Uniting them in a fun, engaging environment can uncover potential lines of connection.

The need to restructure the marketing function by revising its role within a business is becoming more apparent by the day. Challenges such as the removal of third-party cookies are another reason to make any business a consumer-facing operation.

So rather than obsessing about the end of the cookie, businesses need to examine the bigger principles of how they use their own information for business growth.


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