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The Changing Face of Customer Data and Marketing in a Cookieless World

06 January, 2022
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Mauricio Osorio

Mauricio Osorio is Director of Marketing for Aleran Software. He has focused his career on developing B2B and B2C monetization marketing programs for manufacturers and enterprises in domestic and international markets. He has led marketing at Accuride International, Indus Net Technologies, Microtek Labs and iolo.

No, this isn’t a diet blog.

You’re still welcome to eat as many cookies as you want; this article is focused on digital cookies, those data streams that get stored on your device and/or browser whenever you visit a website or use an app.

The internet is awash with cookies. They can make your experience with a site as streamlined and convenient as possible, or they can track your behavior from site to site to collect data for advertisers to serve you more relevant ads. And as you can tell from those two examples, cookies range in utility from helpful and consumer-centric to (some would argue) insidious and a little creepy.

But there’s been a dramatic shift in recent years, one that, while not necessarily portending the end of cookies, nevertheless will limit their function and invasiveness. At the very least, consumers who want to opt-out of cookies, especially of the site-to-site-tracking variety, are now empowered to do so, which means the data some businesses rely upon to acquire and keep customers is getting more limited each day.

So what does this mean for the modern e-Commerce company? Let’s take a look at why this is happening now, its potential impact on your business, and a solution to supercharge your success in a cookieless world.

The Tides Are Changing

We can pinpoint the decline of cookies and other trackers to a series of events over the past three to four years.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

GDPR, which became official back in 2018,is one of the most extensive web privacy laws ever passed.

In simplest terms, the GDPR says websites must disclose the types of tracking cookies they have in place and give users the option to opt out of this tracking. This can be accomplished in a way that leaves cookies on by default but gives clear and precise instructions for turning cookies off, or cookies can be off by default and a user can opt into them (most websites have cookies on by default). A user must be allowed to withdraw consent at any time, at which point a website is required to comply or face financial penalties.

Although ostensibly focused on the EU, the fact the GDPR applies to anyone who sells to European citizens means that a variety of global companies are affected and now enable visitors to disable cookies.

Apple Takes Trackers Offtrack

Starting with iOS 14 and continuing with iOS 15, Apple has planted its flag firmly on the side of privacy, with a variety of changes to email and app tracking that have already had a significant effect on marketers. While these changes apply more to marketing pixels and in-app gating than cookies, they speak to the broader trend.

Apple now sets many privacy features, such as tracking between apps and opting out of email tracking, to default. They also have an immediate prompt asking the user if they’d like to be tracked. As you can surmise, when faced with such a prompt, most people opt for privacy.

This affects email marketers, who can no longer be sure their emails are being opened or if the email address of the sender is even correct thanks to the now-prevalent ‘Hide My Email’ feature. It affects app makers, especially social juggernauts, whose advertising offerings rely explicitly on tracking user behavior between apps.

And, to be sure, it affects businesses of all sizes who may have used those marketing channels to reach customers.

Google Takes Third-Party Cookies Out of The Oven

At some point next year, Google will join the likes of Firefox and Safari in blocking third-party cookies in their popular Chrome browser.

This ostensibly means that the era of advertising cookies tracking people from website to website is over, as these three browsers make up the lion’s share of web traffic.

This will be yet another blow to those who seek to hyper-target users who meet specific data criteria, as the visibility into browser behavior simply will not be there the way it has been in the past.

So What Now?

That’s the billion-dollar question, isn’t it? Whether compelled by law, business interest, or the policies of major tech providers such as Apple and Google, the ability to carefully track and gather data about user behavior is now severely limited and about to become more so. When coupled with a rise in ad-blockers, it would sure seem like marketers have fewer options than ever to reach new customers.

Look closely, however, and you see that something else is happening: a shift away from traditional digital marketing, which pushes messages out to an audience. It’s being replaced by e-Commerce providers using platforms that welcome an audience in. Successful e-Commerce businesses recognize there’s a demographic actively seeking out their products and services, but they have to be reached in a completely different manner.

Your prospective customers are still out there. The trick is figuring out where you can become a well-known entity and reach the people who need your solution.

SEO. Guest blogging. Social media marketing. All of these and more are tactics that aren’t reliant on cookies to track user behavior, but they still enable you to reach customers where they are.

It’s not as if digital advertising is going away. It’s just operating differently, more like a series of walled gardens than a sprawling digital meadow. Rather than an ad network that scours the internet to track a user and serve up your ad wherever that visitor may be, you may instead rely on the audience of a couple of well-known advertising providers.

Social channels, for instance, still rely on cookies and a variety of other trackers, and they still allow you to sort by demographic to reach your ideal customers. Google, Amazon, Facebook; these tech giants, and others all have self-contained ad networks you’ll still be able to tap into.

And now you can start to see what much of the push for privacy, especially from the tech giants, is all about. Google may be turning off third-party cookies, but their first-party cookies across the vast swath of the web occupied by Google are still very much in full force. The same goes for Amazon, Apple, anyone with the ability to monetize data. It’s not necessarily that they don’t want data to be around; they want to control it, not share it.

This is why it’s so, so important to establish a digital presence that isn’t reliant on the tech giants. When so much of your marketing relies on these providers and their data, the last thing you want is for your business itself to be stuck within their ecosystem. If you’re a B2C seller who uses Amazon or Facebook, for instance, you become severely limited in your ability to customize your offerings, and you’re required to use the tools they provide, from advertising to customer acquisition and retention.

This is especially hard for B2B companies, who have never truly benefitted from the e-Commerce offerings of the social and tech giants. If you’re in the B2B space, you understand how unique what you provide is and how the marketplaces offered by tech giants can’t do justice to your services.

In this brave new world, the B2B and B2C providers who provide an intuitive, independent storefront, one with as few steps as possible to purchase a product, will be those who succeed. So will businesses that take formerly cumbersome, long-tail sales processes and turn them into simple, effective user experiences that invite immediate traversal and sign-up.

With or without cookies, it’s crucial to offer an incredible web experience that will draw in new customers and keep current customers coming back. If you’re ready to take that step, contact Aleran.

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