Interview: How smaller firms can get ready for the cookie-less battleground

Google gave the advertising and marketing industry a lifeline when it decided to delay the deprecation of third-party cookies last month. While Google is not the first to make such moves, since Safari blocked third-party cookies in 2017 and Firefox also did the same in 2019, it still came as a relief given Chrome holds a larger market share of approximately 64%, according to web traffic analysis company Statcounter.

One of the main actionable insights as of now, according to marketers and adtech players, is to build up first-party data. The growing reliance on first-party data in the post-cookie world, according to Verizon Media's chief business officer, Ivan Markman (pictured), will result in the divide becoming sharper between the "haves" and "have-nots", and companies that prioritise their own first-party data solutions will be less vulnerable to this shift than other platforms or businesses.

Walled-garden ecosystems with a massive trove of logged-in users will be the "haves", creating what Markman described as "a new battleground" for the largest tech companies that offer advertisers access to their own first-party data. On the other hand, smaller businesses and publishers will be the "have-nots", especially under-resourced smaller businesses who currently collect cookies without any form of logged-in authentication.

This, therefore, places the spotlight on SMEs. While it is true that all businesses will need alternative identity solutions to maintain addressability for relevant advertising, Markman said the implications of this change may leave SMEs more vulnerable. One impact would be having SMEs build their own direct, trusted relationships and managing their first-party data.

"They can neither compete on the budget, resources, tech infrastructure to build, collect and maintain their first-party data, nor do they necessarily have the latest technology and expertise in-house to analyse, leverage and activate it efficiently at scale," he explained.

(Read also: Analysis: How SMEs are strapping up for a cookie-less world)

Although many SMEs have been reliant on walled gardens, they would be best served if they reevaluate opportunities emerging in the cookie-less world to find new paths that offer flexibility while growing quality connections with context in this new marketplace.

To do so, Markman said they will need partners that have the technologies for frictionless onboarding of a business’ data, whether stored as a simple excel or access or through a DMP, and be trusted to handle this within all relevant privacy rules and regulations.

Some SMEs previously told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that they are already preparing for a cookie-less world. Malaysian restaurant chain myBurgerLab, for example, spent seven years building up its CRM and is moving towards anonymous data and focusing on return customers.

Nonetheless, not all is lost for SMEs as they can still build trusted one-to-one relationship with their consumers, which are still important in a cookie-less world. Similar to engaging a customer visiting a physical shopfront, where companies ask customers for their preferences and take mental notes of their age and gender, for example, Markman said companies can ask consumers, with their consent of course, for information and data that is used ethically, for the customers' good.

"Ensure that there is a value exchange with customers for the data they provide and share, and build on this in every interaction and touchpoint. Customised rewards or benefits in exchange for information will help demonstrate value and trust," he explained.

However, SMEs will also have to bear in mind that this can be a costly undertaking. While the level of monetary investment would differ based on various factors such as the nature of business and the brand's goals, Markman said this is "certainly not a level playing field". The reason behind, major brands have the financial heft and resources to navigate the shift to first-party data.

"Realistically, trying to build individual solutions for their businesses will not be a viable or affordable approach for SMEs. The most effective path would be to work with trusted partners that have the technology and scale that can enable them to achieve their goals," he added.

Contextual targeting regains interest

In a July 2021 report titled "The Cookieless World", dentsu said approaches that do not rely on behavioural tracking, such as contextual targeting, are regaining interest once again. The benefits of contextual targeting across display and programmatic include message receptiveness, brand suitability, and advanced targeting opportunities, dentsu said. The report added that with the deprecation of third-party cookies, contextual targeting can fill the void and enable marketers to continue running scaled programmatic campaigns.

Markman was also in agreement with using contextual advertising as one of the ways to prepare for a cookieless world. In general, the focus should be on providing ad experiences that are relevant and provide utility or a valuable experience that connects users to their passions. This can also be done through solutions such as native ads and shoppable content and AR or VR that will be further bolsted by 5G. For example, experiences such as try-before-you-buy convenience and virtually sampling products with AR will be made seamless with 5G. 

"Contextual advertising is effective and will be all the more relevant in a cookie-less world. When used well, it helps reach the right user at the right time. Its suitability, just like in the use of any technology or ad format or tool, depends on the brand, product, and objectives," he said. For example, contextual advertising would work great for an airline placing its ads on travel content and sites, but it would not reap the same scale and efficiencies for a niche product that caters to a very specific and minority interest.

Last December, Verizon Media launched its Verizon Media ConnectID to support advertisers, publishers and consumers as the industry moves towards a cookie-less world. The unified ID aims to help advertisers and publishers reach consumers wherever they spend their time, be it on mobile, connected TV, digital audio, or digital out-of-home. In April this year, it also launched its Next-Gen Solutions suite, with Next-Gen Audience targeting being one of them. Next-Gen Audience is enriched by contextual and real time data signals and the audiences are created from Verizon Media's first-party data.

(Read also: More than just connectivity: How 5G can unlock and supercharge existing tech)

What are the marketing trends for 2021?

Verizon Media has been an advocate of 5G and using it to unlock creative experiences. Last June, it launched Verizon Media Immersive, an online XR platform for advertising and content powered by 5G. Verizon Media Immersive allows partners, advertisers and its portfolio of brands to create one-of-a-kind experiences by connecting the physical and digital world. According to Markman, the arrival of 5G and 5G-enabled devices will set the stage for transformative, immersive, virtual and personalised experiences, powered by technologies such as AR and VR that bridge the physical-digital divide.

Meanwhile, eCommerce will continue to be popular in Southeast Asia. Markman added that there will be a shift in how shopping content and experiences are presented, with next-gen immersive formats and richer forms of interactive video such as shoppable programming where consumers can watch, stream, and shop with your friends in real-time.

"We can also expect to see more XR-enabled personalised storefronts designed for each individual shopper creating frictionless buying experiences while guaranteeing the best price. In 2020, many brands and consumers started their eCommerce journey and this year we will see them pushing boundaries, exploring and craving for more innovative, engaging, and relevant experiences," he added.

The omnichannel media journey, powered by new and improved opportunities for publishers and advertisers, will continue to unfold as consumption patterns evolve. As more economies open, Markman said the growing availability of DOOH inventory through programmatic channels, coupled with pent-up demand to go out more, will see DOOH and omnichannel opportunities explode. "Add mobile, native formats, dynamic ads, AR, audio, and more to the omnichannel mix, and advertisers have no shortage of meaningful opportunities to connect, with programmatic making buying easier for advertisers," he explained. 

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