Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Rewriting the future of data in a privacy-first world

By Owain Wilson, Managing Partner, Head of Data, Technology & Analytics Strategy at MediaCom UK

It’s no secret that the world of data, and subsequently media and marketing, is going through a transition period. In response to the growing demand from consumers, policymakers and interest groups, tech players and regulators are taking the initiative by setting the scene for a more private, consent-led digital landscape.

And there have been three catalysts driving this change, with the first being the rise in power of Google, Amazon, Meta, and Apple (GAMA). Due to their prominence, all four have become a staple of any media plan and we’re increasingly seeing a large amount of money spent utilising more options to target customers on all four platforms. However, the challenge that brings is not having a holistic view of consumers as data is siloed within their own systems.

The deprecation of identity has also been a big driving force for change. Apple’s privacy changes and Google’s removal of third-party cookies by 2023 will greatly impact the way both brands and agencies identify new targets and measures audiences.

However, the biggest catalyst towards a privacy-first marketing industry is the emphasis put on brands and agencies by consumers themselves. Events such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and Netflix documentaries such as The Social Dilemma, have shed light on the more nefarious ways consumer data is being used. Consequently, brands must accept that more transparency in how they are using consumers’ data is needed. So, while this is a substantial change to the industry, it’s much needed and welcomed.

It’s the end of the world, and I feel fine.

Some may feel that this push for greater transparency and regulation on data use is a death knell for certain parts of the industry – but in truth, it’s a giant step in the right direction. In fact, it’s an opportunity, as an industry, to hit the reset button and do things differently – in a manner that is going to build trust with consumers. Because as it stands, there is a great deal of scepticism around us and our practices.

Only 15% of consumers allow for tracking beyond the app in use but the vast majority (90%) of consumers want brands to be clearer around how their data is utilised. Those are some damning statistics that clearly indicate the need for a more privacy-centric world.

And there is lots of pressure to get the next stage right to build back trust in our industry and become a consumer-first practice. However, the downside for marketers is that a universally agreed alternative has not yet been agreed upon. This is a problem because how do we do what is being done for our clients today, tomorrow?

Drawing up new rules for the future of data

As an agency, we are extremely excited by the prospect of contributing to rewriting the future of data. And we expect to see a big emphasis on first-party data, which is often thought of as just the personal data of that company’s customer base.

But first-party data is much more than just customer data: it includes data on where products are being distributed, sales by geographic region, margin by each product and so on. The point is the little pockets of valuable information first-party data provides, can be used to inform us of on new methods to identify and reach new audiences at scale. And this is a real competitive advantage for brands that, going forward, should be applied more widely.

However, for some brands that are without access to flurries of first-party data, there are familiar alternatives that can be utilised. It’s very possible that 2022 will be the year that contextual marketing has a renaissance and is utilised more widely by brands. And the opportunities to reach new audiences using this method are plentiful.

As time goes on, expect to see more publishers create their own walled gardens, or fenced gardens as they are commonly referred as, taking back more control of their own first-party data and enabling advertisers to purchase these opportunities directly. This is where contextual marketing will come into play and offer the chance to attract new customers by delivering relevant messaging using smart creative solutions – rather than relying on 1:1 level targeting.

Geo- targeting is also a viable alternative that we believe has huge potential. While geo-targeting didn’t go fully out of fashion, it was not being as widely applied as other data strategies and often seen as an add-on to more en-vogue targeting options. But, moving forward, it has the potential to replace 3rd party identity and behavioural targeting due to how adaptable and usable the method is in every media channel, traditional and new – enabling advertisers to reach relevant audiences, at scale.

Not quite a new world, but a new journey

As time moves forward and advertisers become more accustomed to a world without third party cookies, more solutions and processes will come to the fore – and eventually, third party cookies will become a thing of the past.

But whatever the alternative data strategists decide to apply, the statistics don’t lie. Many consumers don’t trust marketing, and we need to respond as an industry to ensure more people feel safe in sharing their personal data with advertisers. While that seems daunting, there is a fantastic opportunity for us to change those perceptions and create practices that are both ethical for consumers and effective for brands.