The Hunt for the Next Best Identity Solution Doesn't Benefit Consumers

Shift your focus to building better relationships, not better tracking

With Google’s third-party cookie dying off, and Apple’s changes to its IDFA, marketers are scrambling to figure out how to reach their target audience with the right ads and persuade them to make a purchase.

Google’s cookie is still available on millions of websites until 2022, so the reach and level of people-tracking is immense. But almost all of the consumers who are tracked and subsequently served ads based on behavior and inference are unknown to the brands paying for these ads. And consumers have been very vocal in recent months that they are not fans of this snooping and tracking. According to the Digital Consumer Trends Index 2021 published in March 2021, 72% of global consumers said receiving an ad from an unknown brand based on their location data was “creepy.”

But some ad-tech vendors, data brokers and media agencies haven’t seemed to take that consumer feedback too seriously. A few players are focused on creating their own consumer data ecosystems that operate with anonymized identifiers, which continue to track and share behavioral data so technology can make better ad matches. It’s akin to replacing an addiction to heroin with fentanyl and thinking everything is all right. But it’s not. It’s time to break the addiction to snooping and tracking and return to the fundamentals of engaging your audience with a healthier, longer term relationship offering.

Why bother with cookie alternatives?

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is a trade group comprised of more than 650 brands, media companies and technology firms responsible for optimizing, selling and delivering digital advertising campaigns. So, one might think the IAB would strongly support cookie alternatives and recommend that brands spend their ad dollars to keep up reach and frequency.

But the IAB Outlook: 2021 Digital Ad Ecosystem report suggests quite the opposite. The report advocates “an urgency to focus on consumer-centric values and experiences, and to drop antiquated models in the industry value exchange.” One might confuse that statement with something a loyalty consultant or customer engagement platform might put on their homepage. And that’s something to applaud.

Baking long-term customer engagement practices into your entire marketing strategy, including your advertising tactics, is, to steal IAB’s words, a “tectonic shift” in thinking for many brands. Adopting a value exchange economy approach will help brands collect zero-party data straight from consumers so they can connect directly and more frequently with them in owned channels like email, on-site and in-app. In fact, the Digital Consumer Trends Index 2021 shows that email beats banner ads in driving sales by 39%, and 79% of the 5,000 consumers polled said they would prefer a brand invest in loyalty program offerings over more social advertising.

Zero-party data is the key

One thing is clear, many customers are not asking for a better ad; only marketers seem fixated on feeding that addiction. Consumers don’t give a damn about a brand’s marketing plan—they simply want a better experience. Collecting opted-in data from consumers at scale is the best investment for future engagement across the many channels available to marketers. And the psychographic data collected at an individual level can’t be deduced from behavior or digital crumbs.

Currently, brands can still segment their own customer data into audiences and load them into most ad platforms for delivery. Although the ability to continue doing that in the future isn’t clear, smart brands are collecting their own zero-party data, brushing up on their email and mobile skills, and future-proofing their marketing strategies. Brands need to start asking the right questions of consumers and using that owned data to power their relationships with them instead of simply flooding the market with more product-focused ads.

Tim Glomb is a 20-plus year b-to-c marketing executive that lives at the intersection of content and data. Now, as a b-to-b marketer for Cheetah Digital, Tim applies his experience in the consumer sector to help Cheetah Digital advise client strategies and bring their stories of success to life.