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Before the cookie crumbles: Leveraging data to orchestrate the brand experience

Nicholas Kontopoulos
Nicholas Kontopoulos  • 5 min read
Before the cookie crumbles: Leveraging data to orchestrate the brand experience
The sunsetting of third-party cookies allows brands to build greater trust through other data sources and shift to more individualised customer engagement. Photo: Unsplash
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An essential ingredient in digital marketing campaigns for years, third-party cookies will soon be joining CD-ROMs and floppy disc drives in the technology junkyard amid the rise of the privacy-conscious consumer. For the last decade or so, third-party cookies have been mainly used to track users’ web activity across multiple websites, providing valuable insights into customer behaviour and references and driving targeted advertising.

With Google Chrome phasing out third-party cookies by 2024 (following a similar move from Safari and Firefox), we are seeing a major shift in the Asia Pacific data landscape. Moreover, regulations elsewhere — like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and updates to Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act and Cybersecurity Act — are holding organisations more accountable than ever when it comes to consumer data collection and use. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles, and today’s marketers just have to roll with the punches.

Based on Twilio’s recent marketer survey, it is heartening to learn that 84% of organisations in the region are advocating consumer data privacy and welcoming the change, in spite of initially being sceptical of the phase-out of third-party cookies. But without third-party cookies in the jar, how should brands refine their customer engagement playbook?

The good news is that the sunsetting of third-party cookies allows brands to build greater trust through other data sources, particularly zero- and first-party data, enabling marketers to shift from pure personalisation to more individualised customer engagement.

Unlocking new possibilities with zero- and first-party data

The ability of brands to individualise experiences significantly depends on how much a brand knows about a particular customer. Insights customers voluntarily share through direct feedback channels and surveys — or zero-party data — can provide a boost in this aspect. E-commerce stores, for instance, can collect information about customers’ favourite activities, the types of products they may be interested in, and their respective budgets.

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Armed with zero-party data, brands can easily build a profile of each customer’s interests and preferences and send customised emails containing tailored product recommendations that suit each customer’s individual needs. Such an approach fosters trust, deepens customer relationships and drives increased customer loyalty.

Third-party cookies may be out of the cookie jar, but first-party cookies are still in. This means that besides zero-party data, brands can leverage behavioural data collected passively through their websites and other owned channels.

Marketers can take advantage of the fact that consumers are generally open to sharing personal information if this helps provide better experiences, given the right conditions. In Singapore, almost two-thirds of consumers are comfortable engaging with brands that get data from them directly instead of from third parties.

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Besides, third-party data sources may not always be accurate and reliable: many marketers, myself included, have observed a decline in the quality and depth of data collected through third-party cookies as a result of stricter regulations, browser restrictions and new ad-blocking software.

It is no longer practical to depend on the same third-party-cookie-reliant attribution models we have been using for years, and brands that are already incorporating zero- and first-party data in their marketing strategies — even before the third-party cookie D-Day — are already ahead of the curve.

Innovation as key to embracing individualisation

While seeking better experiences, consumers are particular about how organisations collect and use their data.

With consumers more receptive to brands that collect data from them directly, marketers can use server-side tracking to gain better control over their data, monitor customer behaviour more effectively, and ensure that critical data is captured. Server-side tracking can shed light on information such as consumers’ use of product features and how frequently customers use them, allowing brands to gain deeper insight into each user’s needs and interests.

Individualisation is all about tailoring experiences to each unique customer, instead of treating customers as part of a larger segment. Having the capability to collect and organise first-party data, including website analytics, purchase history and CRM (customer relationship management) data, is already half the battle won.

Customer data platforms (CDPs) can give marketers a leg up when it comes to collecting data from multiple sources and linking it to individual customer profiles, in spite of customers not being logged in, or using a different email address in their interactions with a brand. With customers commonly switching between devices and platforms, CDPs are able to help marketers in the customer identification process by organising clean data in a complex, multi-channel environment.

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But beyond customer identification, it is critical to synchronise customer profiles to have a holistic view that serves as a foundation for delivering consistent, individualised customer experiences.

Ultimately, the winners in the new data revolution are brands that are able to demonstrate transparent communication, responsible use of consumer data, and consistent value delivery. Amid the cookie sunset, fearlessly embracing new technologies and experimenting with new approaches allows brands to better capitalise on the power of data as they move towards individualisation.

Nicholas Kontopoulos is the vice president of marketing for Asia Pacific and Japan at Twilio.

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