The skills marketers will need in a cookieless future

By Chris Lockwood | Sponsored

The removal of third-party cookies is going to cause a shake up in the media industry. It might feel like a bit of a freefall for marketers, but as Chris Lockwood, Alpha Digital’s client strategy director explains, when we can’t lean on what we already know, we can lean on strategy, critical thinking, and creativity.

Data and machine learning have given us the ability to measure and harvest purchase intent on a silver platter. Third-party cookies have been integral to this ability and have enabled everything from audience targeting, to behaviour tracking, to remarketing and more.

However, when Google progresses its push for privacy and removes support for third-party cookies in 2022, marketers are going to have to adapt their approach to audience targeting and diversify.

That means we are all going to have to develop a deeper understanding of the customer journey (and evolve our skill sets) in order to reach and influence our audiences.

In some ways, the industry is going to have to go back to basics and reinvent traditional media buying approaches with contextual targeting. At Alpha Digital, we are focusing on advancing a particular suite of skills so that we can adapt to a very different marketing landscape in 2022.

Strategic thinking and forward planning.

Marketers are being forced to take a step back from platform reliance, as many of the tracking and targeting tools we are used to are being phased out and consumers are gaining more power to opt out of data collection.

In the very near future, we won’t be able to push a few buttons and let a platform find our audience for us. Going forward, marketers must 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 us 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 optimise channels only. We will be enhancing the entire customer journey.

That means that marketers are going to have to think further outside the box and the ability to effectively evaluate information from multiple sources will be essential. Tools like Similarweb and Global Web Index can give marketers good initial insights into shifts in traffic, demand, and consumer behaviour. However, those insights need to be interpreted alongside a brand's owned and first-party data. Marketers need to stay curious about what makes their customers tick and reverse engineer their strategies and media plans from there.

The forward planning should also start now. First-party data is going to be an important asset for marketers to leverage and marketers should be diversifying their tactics to collect this information well before third party cookies are removed.

Analytical skills and critical thinking.

Tracking, attribution, and targeting are going to be hit the hardest by the removal of third-party cookies. This means we are going to see a flurry of tech innovations released to regain visibility over customer behaviour. However, no single tool or platform is going to be able to solve every problem and marketers will need to be very adept at sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Marketers are going to have to be able to research and critically evaluate a range of solutions for their businesses' unique and evolving needs. They will also need to analyse and test cookieless signals, such as IP, device, location and developing audiences based on known data.

The looming sunset of the current version of Google Analytics’ Universal Analytics in May 2022, and its replacement with Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is just one of many new tech solutions for privacy that needs to be evaluated.

GA4 is being developed to better protect privacy by no longer tracking users at an individual level. Instead, it will shed more light on common user journeys all the way from their first site visit to the final conversion.

However, it won't include all of the same reporting functionalities as UA. We’re currently helping all of our clients to set up GA4 well before the changeover occurs, and running their reports side by side to identify gaps and develop custom reporting solutions.

Creativity, innovation, and empathy.

When third party cookies are phased out, marketers will have to find new ways to capture customer identifiers and build their first party data sets. This could prove to be difficult as it’s likely that customers will have higher expectations for privacy and will be more discerning about whether or not they will hand over their personal information.

That means that marketers are going to have to think much harder about what experience or brand proposition they will offer in return for that value exchange. This is one area where I see creativity and empathy coming to the fore. Marketers will be balancing privacy and security to build trust, all the while trying to deliver a tailored customer experience.

Understanding key touch points across your website and app, as well as capturing key behaviors and actions is going to become more difficult. Therefore, creating innovative solutions to establish a user’s interaction is going to be invaluable.

Marketers will also need to leverage audience insights in more creative ways. Creative and standardised testing plans are going to have to be reintroduced as reliance on pre-made cookie-based audiences will disappear.

Curiosity will become our greatest asset.

Change is the only constant in digital marketing, so curiosity and a growth mindset need to be fostered in our teams. This change is not the end of personalised marketing, it is more so a marketing evolution that will drive innovation and agility within the market.

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