We are in the midst of a trust crisis. According to Gartner, consumer trust in brands fell 19% between 2016 and 2019, and trust in large corporations fell 33%. The COVID-19 pandemic has only drawn more attention to the way brands collect and use consumers’ personal data, putting a final nail in the coffin for one of the most used (and most flawed) mechanisms of digital advertising: the third-party cookie.
Not only are third-party cookies outdated, they’re also inaccurate. Initially used to help brands better target consumers online, publishers and advertisers now use third-party cookies in all sorts of ways, some of which directly conflict with consumers’ expectations and best interests. That’s why both Apple and Mozilla have blocked third-party cookie tracking on their browsers, and why Google plans to do the same within the next year.
A perfect storm for change
From the major data leaks in the past decade to recent data breaches affecting billions of emails and passwords, consumers have certainly seen the harsher side of digital data collection in recent years. But while their trust has been shaken, they are no less hungry for the data-driven experiences done right.
It’s also important to note that the erosion of consumer trust from these events isn’t down to a single outdated technology. Likewise, the rise of data privacy and protection laws, like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), has also put trust at the top of government agendas. Regulators everywhere are invested in protecting their citizens from fraud, hacks, and digital opportunism in an increasingly digital economy.
The final piece of the puzzle is today’s more conscious consumer, who rightfully wants more control over their data. More people are aware of their rights and expect brands to handle their information responsibly. Most importantly, they will only share their data when they feel the value exchange is justified, and that means dealing with brands they trust.
Reconciling reality through personalized experiences
It might seem like all these forces should drive brands away from customer analytics and personalization, but nothing could be further from the truth. According to research from Epsilon, 80% of consumers say they are more likely to do business with a brand if it offers personalized experiences.
So how do we reconcile these two realities?
The first step is to be more transparent with people about how their data is being collected, used, and shared, as well as their rights around that data. Every piece of a brand’s data management approach needs to put consumers’ interests first. In the age of greater customer choice, that’s not just good ethics, it’s good business.
Next, it’s time to get out of the pattern of relying on third-party cookies, which has proven limited for brands and annoying for consumers. It’s hardly surprising that marketers say 35% of the demographic targeting they base on third-party cookies is inaccurate. For the most part, consumers are still presented with relentless advertisements for products they have already bought, which only annoys and turns them off.
Build better relationships with first-party data
The key for brands to connect with consumers in a post-cookie world is first-party data collection, otherwise known as drawing on data gathered from their direct relationships with consumers. At Adobe, this has been a driving force of our customer experience management solutions for years, culminating in Adobe Experience Platform.
Brands will increasingly need to build customer profiles based on a variety of first-party data sources across a growing range of channels, while ensuring they get and enforce preferences every step of the way. They also need to consolidate the information collected from all of these sources, no matter the format, and combine it into an accurate representation of each customer.
Of course, there is also value in multiple brands collaborating on or sharing first-party data, as long as that approach is centralized on consumer trust. Take the partnership between a major airline and credit card company. The value proposition for consumers is clear: more opportunities for personalized offers from the airline, and more rewards from the credit card company. Meanwhile, people have added incentive to spend and travel, which is a winning scenario for everyone involved. The key, once again, is that consumers understand how and why their data is being shared and what’s in it for them.
Trust builds value
The death of third-party cookies marks a major turning point in the relationship between brands and consumers. The way forward is more transparent and personalized, which is a winning combination for both parties that will, in turn, build trust over time.
At the center of this new era in personalization is a focus on high-quality data and accurate profiles that truly reflect each customer’s needs. The impact of this approach is already making waves in industries from telecommunications to retail to manufacturing, and this is only the beginning. Brands everywhere are re-evaluating the way they manage data and engage with consumers as we move towards a cookie-less future.
 Gartner, Practical Privacy — Successfully Transition to Privacy-Preserving Marketing and Adtech, Nader Henein and Andrew Frank, April 3, 2020