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Google’s recent announcement that it will be dropping personalized ad tracking is perhaps the last nail in the coffin for cookie-based attribution tracking. But, what does this all mean for marketers?
In case you haven’t heard, Google will be eliminating the use of third-party tracking cookies within the next two years, and has announced that they will not be building any alternative systems for personalized ad tracking. That’s right, millions of marketers around the world were left shocked and sobbing into their cornflakes in early March 2021, as the announcement left them wondering how they would ever know where to spend their budget in this new and uncertain world.
OK, well maybe it wasn’t that bad. And it’s hardly a surprise given the global U-turn on data privacy over the past few years. But it did get the marketing world into a frenzied mass of blogs, tweets, and soundbites. Not to be outdone, we’ve been chatting with some of the experts around Adverity to get their thoughts on what this all means to you, the marketer.
“Make no mistake, we’re entering a very new and fuzzy era when it comes to digital marketing,” says Christoph Bodenstein, Platform & AI Product Lead. “Google’s latest announcement brings the end of personalized advertising as we know it. The end of retargeting. At least for companies not being Google or one of their trusted partners. So, in order to measure marketing effectiveness holistically, macro-level solutions based on aggregated marketing data are becoming more and more important.”
“We’ve been expecting this news for some time, so it’s hardly a surprise,” according to Harriet Durnford-Smith, VP of Marketing & Growth. “However, it is confirmation that it will soon become much more difficult for marketing departments to maintain multi-touch attribution strategies and this will necessarily impact how they determine channel spend.”
“In a sense, yes,” says Andy Fairclough, Senior Consultant. “This will have huge implications for some ad platforms, but not for Google itself which will still capture first-party data to target users within their own ecosystem. It gives them control, and, in theory, the quality of ad experiences for users should increase, seeing more relevant ads and less bombardment.”
Likewise, Joseph Caston, Senior Manager Solutions Consultant, notes: “It matures the internet as a whole, with a clear shift to anonymized tracking and targeting, however, it also signals the next iteration of ecosystem building and control. Apple is already there, and I expect Facebook to change in the next 12-24 months. With this news it feels Google has jumped before they were pushed, anticipating new regulations around online privacy laws. The first-party data Google now has will be incredibly valuable to them – meaning they can charge advertisers a premium.”
“It’s worth noting that Google Search Ads won’t be affected by the cookie ban,” adds Bodenstein. “So, this revenue stream, which accounts for half of Google’s income, will still grow.”
“Marketing today has become overly focused on cookies and tracking and being able to track every single point of a customer journey – often to the detriment of anything else,” believes Fairclough, “though the future of digital marketing may seem murky right now, it opens the door for other techniques and opportunities.”
“To be honest, the extent to which third-party cookies have enabled multi-touch attribution has reached breaking point anyway,” agrees Durnford-Smith. “These days it seems like you only have to think about purchasing an item, and you get bombarded on all fronts by ads for that product every time you go online. The impact on the customer experience is notable – it devalues brands and reduces trust – and, this is something I think businesses will now be forced to think about more.”
“If users won’t click on the ad because they don’t trust the brand, the intent of advertising is lost,” says Caston. “People feel creeped out when brands shamelessly follow them about online, bombarding them on all fronts with targeted ads. Brands that start to evolve their targeting away from targeting people, towards targeting content and relevancy will do well and forge more trust.”
According to Durnford-Smith, “there’s this narrative that has built up where ‘everything has to be attributable’ and marketers are therefore focused on tracking every available digital touchpoint. But, while it’s important to understand how your customers purchase your product, it shouldn’t be at the detriment of how your brand is perceived.”
“The good news is it’s not the end of the world for marketers looking for more precise attribution,” adds Durnford-Smith, “because there’s plenty of other tools and techniques out there in terms of making your spend accountable and understanding your customers.”
“It’s not as if marketers will end up aimlessly shuffling through some burnt-out cookie-less post-apocalyptic future, silently muttering ‘Who are you? Where did you come from?’,” says Fairclough. “It just means that marketing as an industry is going to need to look to other tools to understand which channels are performing best.”
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” notes Bodenstein, “and it will be interesting to see which non-cookie-based tracking solutions come out of the wash as innovation from others is bound to follow.”
“It’s important to understand that the narrative of ‘everything has to be attributable’ is not the same thing as ‘all marketing spend must be accountable’,” says Durnford-Smith, “there is still going to be a huge wealth of data available for calculating ROI and making spend accountable.”
According to Caston, “Marketers should think about undervalued and underused targeting such as contextual targeting, geo-location, weather, and so on. How about good old-fashioned A/B testing of creative versions? Brands can use this opportunity to circle back to content, back to things that really make a difference for brands and consumers of digital content.”
“In some ways, I think we’ll see marketers going back to older techniques – things like market mix modeling or more A/B split testing,” agrees Fairclough, “the difference this time around however is that the technology has advanced significantly so these ‘old’ techniques are now much more advanced.”
Would this change announced by Google present a significant change for you, or will you continue with ‘business as usual’? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.