What’s the solution for marketers in the privacy-first world?

A padlock against a black computer screen.
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As we move towards a world where ad targeting is based on less available personal data and device identifiers, brand marketers and agencies are being forced to find new ways to reach consumers and achieve key business outcomes through personalized and high-performing digital advertising.

The changes have sent shockwaves right across the digital ecosystem and will result in changes to the entirety of the campaign cycle, from planning through to activation and measurement. And it all follows on from regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), that have already been put in place over the last few years. 

Regulations like the GDPR and CCPA – implemented in response to growing consumer frustration around the use of their data – have been leading the way in creating an industry that takes more care with the data of internet users. This provides consumers with more control over the information that is accessible to marketers, publishers, and tech companies. 

Although those regulations have been at the front and center of the shift, it’s still a huge positive for consumers that the likes of Google and Apple are putting their own measures in place. At the same time, we must wait to see if these seemingly philanthropic actions from the tech giants are really what they seem as there have already been many people questioning their true intentions.

What’s the solution? 

What we can be sure of is that an industry-defining, unprecedented shift is on the way, as a result of the deprecation of the data, and in essence, the very currency that we have been reliant on for years, will give us plenty to think about moving forward. 

A recent Blis study revealed that 78 percent of senior marketers are concerned or very concerned by the loss of cookies, whilst 61 percent feel the same about the disappearance of IDFAs. And, when questioned about what concerned them the most, 37 percent of respondents said it was a combination of factors, including the ability to effectively plan intelligent campaign strategies, run targeted and personalized campaigns at scale, and effectively measure campaign performance.

Some companies, in response to the changes to third-party cookies and IDFAs, may choose to just wait to see what happens, opting to continue to rely on those cookies and personal identifiers right up until the final moments. Although, this failure to take action will inevitably do a lot of damage to these businesses and they will see their reach and measurability plummet as a result.

At the same time, the potential solutions that have been the talk of the town also have their flaws.

Google’s FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) works by bringing together large groups of anonymized users with similar content-based interests, processing their data on-device rather than broadcasting it across the web. However, critics have strongly called out Google for its solution, labeling the measures as anti-competitive and damaging to the entire industry.

Then there’s the possibility of the adoption of universal IDs – a cross-site tracking solution. But this would ultimately require consumers to share their email addresses or phone numbers with a site when logging in. And, well, quite simply, most consumers don’t have the greatest level of trust in the sites they visit, hence why the industry is where it is now. In addition, such identifiers would still require opt-in consent under Apple’s IDFA plans.

The other potential solution, and the one that may have garnered the most attention, is contextual targeting. This privacy-friendly approach doesn’t require any personal identifiers and works by simply serving ads on the pages or sites where advertisers believe their target audience would be. However, 

this return to a bygone approach to digital advertising just isn’t as measurable or effective as the solutions we’ve been using for the past 10 years and makes it challenging to target niche demographics. So, context, on its own at least, can’t be the solution that advertisers are looking for.

Despite their imperfections, all of these options will play a part in the post-cookie world we are heading towards but, individually, don’t offer the solution that marketers are seeking. Marketers have to find smarter ways to leverage the compliant data that is available to them – or their ability to run effective, high-performing campaigns will end up being even more limited in the post-cookie world.

And that’s where location data could prove to be the key.

Location, location, location 

There is a huge pool of opted-in location data out there that enables marketers to gain an insight into how consumers behave in the real world, even with the reduction in data on the horizon. At Blis, for example, we see GPS-based movement data from over 370 million consented mobile devices, across 160 countries, every month.

Advancements in machine learning and huge datasets mean that consumer analysis is possible in ways that haven’t previously been seen. Through a combination of personal, non-personal data signals, and location intelligence, there is the potential to map precise audiences for targeting.

This combination of location data with hundreds of aggregated and anonymized behavioral and lifestyle signals opens the door for brands to build a more complete picture of their customers and reach them at scale. Whether looking at postcode clusters or average income alongside this real-world movement data, these dynamic audiences provide an ever-evolving, multi-dimensional snapshot which doesn’t require any personal data to target and execute campaigns. 

The dynamic audiences don’t require any cookies, device IDs, email addresses, phone numbers, or names when it comes to activation, ensuring that consumer privacy is respected. And, despite the lack of personal data, each target audience will be uniquely differentiated from the rest of the population and scaled – providing better performance than other alternatives. As a result, brands can continue reaching audiences they may have been concerned about losing.

The focus of the past decade has been on achieving one-to-one marketing by relying on cookies and personal identifiers, but now the industry must innovate and ensure that the privacy-first era provides benefits for consumers and businesses. Now we have the opportunity to reset and make the digital world a better place for everyone.

Amy Fox, , Vice President of Product, Blis

Amy is Product Director at Blis and is responsible for high level product strategy and development alongside the release of new revenue streams and products into the market.