Customer experience is king in a cookie-free world

Rakuten Advertising Asia Pacific SVP Stuart McLennan
By Rakuten Advertising Asia Pacific SVP Stuart McLennan | 3 November 2021

The announcement that Google will block third-party cookies saw an initial wave of panic ripple through the industry, as businesses started to grapple with a future where it will be harder to track customers as closely as they once could. There was a collective sigh of relief when changes were delayed until late 2023, but preparation is key for businesses that will thrive and flourish in the cookieless future.

The demise of third-party cookies is a direct response to customer experience, and as such, it presents an opportunity for companies to provide consumers with real, contextual and personalised marketing experiences – a far cry from the pervasive targeting that predicated the changes. Technological solutions will be forthcoming (as we have already seen in early propositions from the likes of Google and The Trade Desk) but there’s also an opportunity for brands to strip back to basics and focus on what truly attracts customers – providing an amazing customer experience.

Putting the power back in the hands of the consumer

Customers now have more influence over their advertising experience than ever before, thanks to the growth of privacy regulations. However in the right circumstance, they can still proactively exchange zero-party data (ZPD) with brands, such as their preferences, purchase intentions, reasons for being on the site or even what they want the brand to do for them. While there is a focus on a shift to first-party data as a solution for cookieless browsers and post-iOS 14.5, marketers can incentivise customers to provide their data voluntarily, and enrich their first-party data that can be used to reach consumers in a cookieless world.

Now is the time for brands to be investing in the best website experience possible - personal chatbots to learn about their desires and requirements from the company, entertaining content, and rewarding customers with cashback, vouchers and other incentives. To develop trust and long-term connections with their customers, brands must also be upfront with their opt-in messaging and motivations for data gathering so as to not re-encounter consumer pushback.

Affiliate marketing and aligning with publisher audiences is key

The changing digital landscape means marketers have an opportunity to diversify their ad spend and invest in channels that aren’t reliant on cookies for targeting. Affiliate technology is constantly being improved to rely on first-party or server-side data and is thus unaffected by the introduction of cookieless browsers. Advertisers can therefore still benefit from a channel where they can access consumers who are interacting with trusted publishers.

The inherent partnership approach in the affiliate channel encourages the sharing of first-party data between advertisers and publishers, and makes it a key channel for advertisers seeking to tap into customers where they are actively seeking information and motivation to purchase. Today’s informed customers will search the internet for the best deals and shopping inspiration, and via the affiliate channel brands can acquire access to highly vetted publications who share target demographic and shopping preferences of their audiences.

Affiliate networks such as Rakuten Advertising can also provide information about browsing and purchase habits that can help marketers better understand their customers' interests and in turn, provide contextual and effective marketing experiences.

Think from the customer's perspective - look up to channels that can flourish in a future without third-party tracking

To win over any customer, the tried-and-true approach is to learn everything there is to know about them. What is their purpose in being on your website? What are their biggest problems and how can your brand help them solve them? What drives people to buy something? Who are the key influencers in their lives?

When brands have answers to all of these questions, they can begin to find and collaborate with partners with similar customer targets. With advanced social listening tools and survey capabilities, marketers and publishers have been able to understand more about how their customers feel. Organisations can utilise the data to improve their website, as well as their products and services, in order to achieve maximum customer happiness and loyalty.

Customers hold brands accountable for their activities all of the time and have a significant impact on their success or failure. According to customer experience specialist Esteban Kolsky, 72% of pleased customers would tell 6 or more people about their great experience, while 13% of disgruntled customers will tell 15 or more people about their negative experience.

How well we rebuild trust with customers after years of looking past their complaints will determine the future of successful marketing. Authenticity is essential, and marketers must recognise that without cookies customers have even more purchasing power. They will take their business to others who listen if we continue to ignore their demands.

In the end, the future of the cookieless world will be defined by outstanding brand experiences that foster trust. Today, customers are aware and deliberate, and they are rightfully demanding transparency about how their data is collected and handled, as well as what they might gain from sharing it. Investing in channels such as affiliate marketing that allow for personalised, targeted and contextual experiences will ensure brands to continue to attract, convert and retain new customers in a cookieless world.

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