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Adapting to Privacy Changes: How to Succeed When Marketing in a Cookie-less World

Digital marketing is no longer a wild west of consumer data. In more and more geographical areas, legislation is being passed to protect the data of internet users.


This undeniable noble endeavor designed to ensure a greater degree of privacy also has negative impacts on marketers, who have long relied on that data to better target and measure their efforts.


It used to be so simple. A strategically placed cookie gathers user data, which can then be passed on from large platforms to marketers. On your website, that cookie can make it easy to show ads to recent website visitors, gather information about their browsing history and future, and more.


But what happens if that goes away? How can you market successfully without all the data at your fingertips that used to make targeting and marketing insights so successful?


The good news: you can still succeed when marketing in a cookie-less world. The better news: if you get it right, you’ll gain a crucial advantage over marketers who haven’t figured it out yet. Let’s dive into 5 tips that can help you get there, right after explaining some of the nuances that got us here.


The State of Data Privacy in Digital Marketing

Digital marketing succeeds on the back of gathering insights about your audience’s preferences and online behaviors. At the same time, and due to increasing public pressures, new data privacy laws have made that process more difficult.


It started with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires any business even potentially interacting with a European Union internet user to get explicit consent on any cookie-based tracking. It’s the origin of the questions you now get on most pages asking about whether or not you consent to your data being tracked.


Other regulations are following suit. The California Consumer Privacy Act and ePrivacy are just some of the many examples. Momentum is gathering for a more generalized law, similar to the GDPR, for U.S.-based internet users as well.


In addition, software companies are increasingly preparing for this trend. Apple’s iOS 14.5 mobile operating system, for example, introduced a feature that requires app developers to ask for user consent before tracking their activity beyond their app. Web browsers like Google Chrome are offering similar options to their users. Data privacy has shifted the entire conversation about digital marketing tracking away from third-party cookies.


5 Tips to Help Your Marketing Succeed in a Cookie-Less World

Moving away from marketing cookies is a comprehensive shift of the tide. But it’s far from impossible. These 5 tips can help you get there.


1. Use First-Party Data Where You Can

Most of the new privacy regulations revolve around websites and mobile apps passing on information to each other. But you can still use cookies on your own website to gather that same information, as long as you appropriately ask for consent from your audience.


Even when that’s not the case, first-party data can come in many forms. Your audience’s purchase history, for example, can give you plenty of context about their preferences and behaviors. You can then use that information to build your marketing strategies accordingly.


2. Use Web Fingerprinting to Build User Profiles

A relatively new type of data tracking, web fingerprinting is increasingly gaining popularity among marketers looking to adjust to a cookie-less online environment. It describes the process of using your users’ browser data to create a virtual fingerprint that can track their browser language, preferred fonts, operating system, and more.


Fingerprinting is a complex process, and will only become relevant when you can use that information to draw conclusions about your users’ demographic and psychological profile. It’s not yet fully accurate in most cases, but a tactic worth exploring and tracking as new providers look to build better, more marketing-focused solutions.


3. Harness Zero-Party Data

Who needs cookies when you can just ask your audience for information? Zero-party data describes any data that your audience is willingly giving you. Think surveys, sign-up forms, and more.


Zero-party data will always be successful because the user is in control over what information they want to give to different businesses and brands. It’s also immensely targeted because the business controls what information it wants to collect and ask about.


At the same time, it’s limited entirely by consent, making it less comprehensive in user quantity. And that brings us to the next tip:


4. Showcase the Benefits of Providing Information

Why would your prospective and current customers give you information? What incentive do they have to not only give up their contact info, but also insights into their motivations, behaviors, and deeper thoughts?


The reciprocity principle is an age-old marketing concept, and it’s more important than ever. Incentivize your audience to give you information by promising a return. That might be gated content, coupons for an upcoming sale, or other tangible incentives. The more value you offer, the more likely your audience will become to share their private information.


5. Embrace Contextual Advertising

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of contextual advertising, which describes any paid marketing that relies on the context around it rather than user data.


For example, if you want to reach professional architects, you don’t need to target your audience by job title. You could just use advertise through the national association, or through architecture-related keywords on Google and other websites.


In a way, marketing is coming full circle. Contextual advertising gets back to the roots of broadcast, print, or out-of-home—drawing conclusions about preferred channels by your target audience that you can then leverage.


Closing Thoughts

The age of cookie-less marketing is here, and it can be scary. But navigating it is far from impossible, if you know where to start and how to adjust to this new reality.


That means finding new ways to track audience behaviors, preferences, and demographics. It also means leveraging contextual advertising as much as you can. Build the right strategy, and you’ll be well-prepared for the future and strategy of a digital marketing world in which users are completely in control of their own data.

Austin Kruger
I'm a data-driven marketer with a passion for crafting engaging content and optimizing campaigns for results.
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