Protecting customers’ data and experiences in a cookie-less world

Marketers need to demonstrate a responsible, customer-first approach to the use and protection of first-party data if they are to gain crucial and meaningful audience insights that can inform their brand strategy.

Gert-Jan Wijman, VP of EMEA, Celigo, explains how, as Google phases out third-party data, marketers need to build a rapport and trust throughout the customer journey in order to gather reliable data about existing and new audiences.

Whenever there’s a question, the first answer is usually to ‘Google it’. Like Kleenex in the tissues aisle or Panadol at the chemists, ‘Google’ has become a mainstay in our collective vocabularies owing to its decades-long presence in our lives. In the 25 years since it came to be, the company has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a mere search engine. 

Today, Google has become synonymous with something other than searches – data. 

Some have called it the oil of the digital economy, as its importance has become paramount to businesses operating online. And while Google’s announcement that it would phase out third-party cookies caused some initial concern among marketers who had come to rely on it for crucial information about audiences, that has since been replaced by a quiet optimism. 

First-party data is more insightful but harder to get, as people are always going to be sceptical about who they share their data with. For businesses, it’s crucial they build trust with customers and assure them their information is secure. Without that element of the customer experience, marketers cannot expect reliable data from users to inform their decisions. Building that rapport through the customer journey all starts with having the right back-end processes in place. 

Safeguarding customers and their data 

Google has always been a disruptor and its decision to axe third-party cookies was no different. While not phased out just yet, the transition has already begun for brands, who have since needed to find ways to collect more first-party data that they can harness to acquire new customers and reinforce relationships with existing ones. 

This makes it essential that businesses are on top of their data. A good reputation and a holistic strategy for managing the data go hand in hand, as brands cannot attain the former without the latter if customers aren’t willing to hand their information over to untrustworthy entities.

As a starting point, brands should be transparent about what they do with their customers’ data once it’s collected and communicate regularly about any changes to the ways it is used. The modern shopper generally understands that retailers use their data to improve their experiences through tailored services and relevant marketing materials, but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to hand over their information to just anybody.  

Because customers always have the “right to be forgotten” and to request their information be deleted, it’s paramount that brands use the data in a responsible way that doesn’t compel the customer to opt out and instead enhances their buying experience. 

Integration: the key to data governance and better results 

In order to master a customer-first approach to first-party data and adhere to various privacy regulations, integration needs to be at the core of operations. By linking various systems where information is stored and used, data can be kept in sync and standardised across linked applications and departments. Therefore, customers can be assured their data is only being used in line with existing usage rights and hasn’t unintentionally been fed into, or left out of, a particular platform. This is particularly important when operations are spread across the continent with different privacy rules in different regions. 

Data standardisation helps address challenges caused by poor data quality, like sending marketing materials to unused emails, or spotlighting items that a customer has no interest in. 

Beyond this, as more connections are built between systems, marketing channels can begin to be automated. Campaign data, for example, can be fed into data warehouses in real-time for accurate reporting and analysis, and catalogues can be updated automatically so that customers aren’t shown items that have sold out or are listed at old prices. 

Through integration, the foundations of a seamless and transparent customer experience can be laid – balancing marketers’ need for data with consumer demands for clarity over how their information is used and stored. The public is growing more cautious with each data breach that makes the news, and making sure they feel secure when using ones offerings is essential. 

Google may be the ones celebrating their birthday, but the biggest gift marketers can give customers is the security they desire and an experience that will keep them coming back.

Gert-Jan Wijman