eCommerce sales have been thriving for the past couple of years. But with big changes in the data and privacy landscape, shifts in consumer behavior, and new marketing channels popping up constantly, eCommerce marketers need new ways to deliver value to customers.
The ‘death’ of third-party cookies is old news by now. Initially slated for 2022, then 2023, it looks like Google will cease support on Chrome in the second half of 2024.
This guide focuses on personalization strategies that enable effective eCommerce marketing in a post-third-party cookie world.
The Third-Party Cookie Phase-out is Here. Are You Ready?
Mapp found that 78% of UK marketers saw an increase in sales in 2021. And yet only 28% of those surveyed had a post-cookie strategy in play.
eCommerce brands are bringing in new customers – which is great. But without a customer data strategy that accounts for the phase-out of third-party cookies, that increased activity will cause problems. Bottlenecks, missed leads, disengaged customers, and diminished loyalty, to name a few.
Consumer expectations are changing. Google’s Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust, David Temkin, said it best in a blog post about a privacy-first approach to advertising:
“72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked…and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits, according to a study by Pew Research Center. If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web.”
It’s a bold statement. But while it seems pessimistic, there is a hopeful message buried underneath.
Cookies and third-party data are in the past. The present and future of eCommerce digital marketing are in first-party data, personalization, and transparency.
Post-Cookie Planning: Build a First-Party Data Strategy
Many marketers focus on the challenges of targeting customers once third-party cookies go away. But again, Google’s David Temkin makes a compelling point:
“People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web to get the benefits of relevant advertising. And advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.
Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing, and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers.”
In other words, third-party cookies were a crutch. A shortcut. A convenient one, sure, but they’re far from irreplaceable.
So, what should your post-third-party cookie strategy look like? It needs to focus on first-party data.
The switch is relatively simple for niche eCommerce vendors and B2C brands with a largely homogenous audience. We’ll explain why shortly.
It will be harder for large eCommerce brands with broad product portfolios, especially those targeting diverse audiences and running several campaigns simultaneously.
According to research from GetApp and HubSpot, 41% of marketers believe they will struggle to track the right data. Nearly half (44%) anticipate spending 5-25% more on marketing to achieve the same outcomes as 2021.
While it will be harder to understand your customers initially, investing in relationships now will yield significant returns in the next iteration of the internet.
Worried about wasting your budget? Read this: 5 Ways Technology Can Streamline Your Agency’s Workflow.
What is First-party Data?
First-party data is the information passed directly from customers or prospects to a company. Not to be confused with zero-party data (information given deliberately and willingly, e.g., forms), first-party data comes from tracking user behavior. Examples include
- Behavior on your website or mobile app
- User preferences
- Browser demographics such as language and location
- Purchase history
- Customer profile data,
- Email engagement.
Third-party cookies follow users across multiple websites, feeding first-party data to a third party (usually an advertising platform). It is then aggregated, analyzed, and packaged.
How eCommerce Companies Can Build a First-party Data Strategy
Effective eCommerce marketing strategies, focus on using first-party data to create relevant, tailored customer engagement.
Smaller eCommerce brands that only want to track a website visitor’s behavior, preferences, and basic demographics might not suffer when third-party cookies disappear.
But for global brands and busy agencies, adapting to a first-party data strategy is likely to mean rethinking audience targeting strategies from the ground up. Advertisers relying on targeted display advertising and ads on third-party properties will need to consider alternative approaches.
The specific techniques should be tailored to your brand and product offering. However, it should include some of the following steps:
1. Collect Data From Owned Channels.
First-party cookies aren’t going anywhere. These are invaluable for analyzing user behavior, preferences, purchase history, browser settings, and visitor demographics.
There’s a good chance you have a wealth of first-party data at your disposal. Social media engagement, mobile apps, point-of-sale interactions, call centers, and email can help build a complete customer profile.
2. Actually Talk to Your Customers
Ask your audience what they like about your company or product, what they dislike, what they want from your brand, and what their expectations are. Launch email or social media campaigns to spark discussions about your current customer journey and use the feedback to improve it. Offer incentives, giveaways, or discounts to increase response rates and get more from those participating.
You will gain better insights into how you can serve your customers through personalization, and brand perception will also improve.
3. Personalize Your eCommerce Marketing Across as Many Touch Points as You Can.
Use your findings to create more personal and meaningful customer experiences. This covers all touchpoints, from marketing materials to product packaging and community support.
To review your data and learn from it, you first need to ensure it’s high quality and collected in one place. High-quality data is the foundation of any effective eCommerce digital marketing strategy, especially in a post-third-party cookie landscape.
Mediatool’s data integrations combine all your marketing channels in a flexible, powerful campaign management dashboard. With all that information at your fingertips, you can unearth value-adding insights and personalize content for your audience.
4. Be Transparent About How You’ll Use Your Customer’s Data.
Brands build trust by speaking directly to customers (or potential customers) and telling them how their data will be used.
Consumers are tired of companies using their data without them knowing about it. Impress your audience by being transparent. It’s likely to increase loyalty and help optimize your marketing strategy.
Three Ways eCommerce Digital Marketers Can Use First-party Data to Deliver Personalized Customer Experiences
1. Dynamic Content
Dynamic content isn’t a new concept. However, effectively pairing first-party data and dynamic content is still challenging for many marketers.
Use first-party data to think outside of the box about dynamic content. Go beyond basic automation like abandoned cart emails and related product recommendations. Invest time in customer relationships through personalized journeys, omnichannel personalization, and relevant content that adds value for the customer.
2. Rebuild Your eCommerce Marketing Operations Around the Customer.
In the bygone days of third-party cookies, marketers might not have seen customers as real people. Well, those days are over. eCommerce marketing needs to view users as the complex, emotional, unpredictable individuals they truly are.
This means reorganizing to make customer value your marketing ‘north star’. This will have several benefits, ranging from strategy to operations and execution:
- Filtering out irrelevant data
- Analyzing data based on value-adding opportunities
- Establishing goals and KPIs based on customer value
- Focusing on long-term value over short-term engagement
- Aligning internal teams
- Eliminating data siloes
Of course, it’s easier said than done. Check out our eBook, The Rising Importance of Marketing Operations for CMOs, for tips and tools to help big brands rethink their marketing operations approach.
3. Embrace the Chaos of Non-linear Customer Journeys
The phase-out of third-party cookies earns a lot of attention. Meanwhile, the traditional marketing funnel has slipped quietly into obsolescence.
Customer journeys are no longer linear. For dynamic content and personalization through first-party data to work correctly, marketers and salespeople need to forget funnels and embrace an agile approach.
In practice, this doesn’t mean tactics like lead scoring are irrelevant. It means sales and marketing must align to create personalized, value-adding engagements based on a customer or prospect’s needs.
This is where a big-picture view of customer behavior is vital. By pulling insights together from all your marketing channels, you can:
- Aggregate first-party data
- Identify trends
- A/B test content to see what works
- Monitor marketing performance in real-time
- Make minor optimizations all the time
- Find trigger points that convert.
You can get some of this from Google Analytics, but an all-in-one campaign management platform like Mediatool gives a better overview of your data.
If you’re interested in reading more, our guide on improving the relevance of your ads has a detailed breakdown.
eCommerce Marketing Evolution is a Company-Wide Effort
For e-commerce businesses to adapt to new marketing landscapes and thrive without third-party cookies, customer value needs to be a company-wide initiative. Every department needs to align to deliver value.
For example, if your marketing is hitting the mark, but the customer service isn’t meeting the same standard, you won’t reap the rewards of all your hard work.
This shift needs to be driven by leaders and CMOs and championed by influencers at every level. From decisions about investing in the right marketing campaign management technology to ensuring everyone understands the importance of data and can access the information they need, the whole company must be on the same page. It’s the only way to ensure every move delivers value.