By Kelly Owens
The concept of “new” should underpin every advertiser’s modus operandi, as it so well captures the ever-shifting nature of advertising technology. Every year new trends, platforms, channels, media strategies, formats, and best practices change how business transpires — and every year past trends decline in importance to keep the wheels turning.
While those familiar with adtech may be comfortable with change, even the most seasoned marketers can admit that today’s atmosphere feels a bit more uncertain — or even chaotic — than usual. Changes to cookie targeting and identity management, coupled with increasing data privacy regulations, leave both brands and advertisers concerned about the future of digital advertising.
Burning questions remain around the collection and use of customer data, how targeting will function, and how online identity will evolve. In addition, the pandemic has reshaped consumer shopping patterns. An Oracle study of CPG shopping habits during the pandemic showed four times as many millennials and nearly six times as many baby boomers shopped for CPG-related items online compared to a year prior. Is this something unique to a year riddled with lockdowns and closed stores? Perhaps. Yet, further studies by McKinsey & Co. suggest these accelerated changes to buying habits may stick.
Amid these seismic shifts and the changing digital landscape, one question consistently arises: What can brands and advertisers do to adapt?
While there’s no silver-bullet solution, first-party data has gained increased attention as a key piece of the answer to this question. This customer data is expected to play an outsized role as cookies fade, privacy rules ramp up, and consumers continue to demand more from brands in terms of personalization and customer experiences.
Strong first-party data strategies look different for each organization, but here are seven tips every marketer should consider as they assess the needs of their business.
1. Maximize the First-Party Data You Have
Making first-party data work for advertisers in lieu of third-party identifiers will require innovative strategies for gathering insights about customers via customer data platforms (CDPs). As Tim Carr, product marketing director for audience at Oracle notes in a blog post, advertisers who have a solid strategy in place for maximizing first-party data to track user behavior will be a step ahead when third-party cookies go away.
Whether a brand’s first-party data includes purchase and loyalty information, email opt-ins, online logins, or direct mail preferences, brands need tools to onboard, understand, and enhance their data. They are necessary for digital activation, using third-party data to enrich a brand’s understanding of its customer base, and to scale data to maximize reach.
2. Go All-In on Personalization
Many advertisers have already moved ahead with a robust CDP so they can understand nuances in customer interactions at every touchpoint and anticipate and deliver personalized experiences. But for those who have not, now may be the right time to come down off the fence.
Being agile and adapting to change will lead to success in a world where the velocity of change has never been greater. It’s not enough for brands to settle for having the best product or service. Today’s consumers seek engaging, insightful, and relevant interactions with brands — and they choose to do business with brands that deliver. If brands expect consumers to opt-in to their communications, they need to deliver on raised expectations for high-quality service and relevant experiences — both of which rely on thoughtful personalization.
As Oracle notes in the ebook “Personalized Marketing in the Experience Economy,” consumers need help that goes beyond pushing them to the next transaction. They want help that meets their needs in the moment and delivers value to them in an authentic way. Companies capable of consistently responding in the moment will outperform others in protecting critical customer relationships and tapping into these consumers as advocates to grow their brands.
3. Meet Your Scale Challenges Head-On
By the time brands collect, onboard, and activate first-party data, they’re often left with a fraction of the scale available via other targeting tactics. To compensate, advertisers need more people via third-party data and lookalike modeling and more places to advertise by activating data across multiple platforms. Advertisers continue to need activation partners who can help them confidently connect and activate data across the digital spaces where their customers spend their time.
Advertisers will still have access to third-party audiences to increase scale; those audiences simply won’t feature cookies. Retail purchases, automotive purchases, loyalty card information, and demographics all create a rich picture of customer behavior that advertisers can use for targeting to augment first-party data for scale, reach, and relevance. This opportunity telegraphs the need for strong identity solutions that span a wide variety of data signals and nonidentification-based technology, such as contextual intelligence.
Only then can advertisers expect to replace the targeting gaps left by cookies’ absence. The added benefit of this combined approach is the flexibility to connect advertising technology and marketing technology platforms — another critical factor that increases the value of first-party data.
4. Find the Right Context — in All Its Forms
Everyone in the industry craves deep insights into how people engage with online content, so how will change affect contextual intelligence when the internet no longer offers universal identifiers?
Analyzing content engagement over time can reap myriad insights into how consumer interest fluctuates and how brands can pace campaigns accordingly. And, by examining trending content, advertisers can discover the root of positive and negative content trends and how those trends can impact a campaign. What’s more, as Oracle’s white paper “The Digital Marketer’s Guide to Contextual Insights and Trends” details, related contexts and content categories can inform all the ways in which consumers interpret a page, as well as how broader content categories can add scale and reach by drawing in new and relevant audiences.
Given the increased data regulation, changing privacy standards, and the phasing out of third-party cookies, coupled with a growing media mix of available channels, devices, and platforms, the need for strategic planning — including context — has never been greater.
5. Get Your First-Party Data Some Help
Maximizing new first-party data strategies may soon be a top priority for brands and advertisers in the growing chaos. Device graphing, forging publisher alliances, and other innovative techniques in the identity universe can help navigate the confusion.
Prioritizing the quality of first-party data may lead the industry to a range of solutions. These solutions include user registration (not a new technology but one that has dramatically risen in advertisers’ consideration), progressive profiling (a sensitive subject but necessary to grab user information from email registrations, form fills, and click engagements), and event-based tracking (to keep event properties and user traits and behavioral data available for use anywhere), among other solutions for enriching first-party data intelligence.
6. Beware of Blind Spots
As the industry transitions beyond third-party cookies, mobile ad IDs, and the like, an opportunity exists to not only unlock scale but also to understand customer buying behavior beyond what first-party data shows. Having a plan to deal with blind spots (e.g., when consumers fail to opt-in to receiving advertising or sharing data, or aren’t yet buying a brand’s products) will be crucial.
In this new era of programmatic advertising, reaching the appropriate set of potential customers while maintaining the pipeline of new prospects and buyers must rely heavily on third-party audience data to augment a first-party approach.
7. Break Down Adtech and Martech Siloes
In an interview with MediaPost, Ron Jacobs, CEO of Chicago-based ad agency Jacobs & Clevenger, discussed the challenges and advantages brands face in a cookie-less future. “First-party data is easily applied to email,” Jacobs said. “But the digital display guys aren’t talking to the email and direct mail people — they’re on their own islands. People have to collaborate.”
This speaks to the converging worlds of adtech and martech. Smart marketing teams make efforts to understand the consumer they’re trying to reach — not just the surface-level data but the deeper signals that reveal the steps along the path to purchase. Disconnected systems can make this difficult by adding unnecessary complexity and preventing brands from understanding the nuances of their customers and prospects.
Breaking down the adtech and martech siloes — connecting advertising, email, brand, and operations teams together — centers on illuminating the customer journey for brands so they can serve their customers easier and faster. In a world without cookies, this full-picture view of customers will be crucial to success.
About Author: Kelly Owens is the senior director of client partnerships at Oracle Advertising, a partner in the ANA Data Tech Partner Program. Y