The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the upcoming California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) deadline have ushered in a new privacy landscape to marketing. It’s a shift that’s been brewing for some time, as consumers demand more control over their data. A poll conducted by Symantec revealed that 83% of internet users worldwide are concerned about their privacy. Another survey showed that 65% of consumers question how brands use their data. 

But in an effort to create a consumer experience rooted in transparency, control, and privacy, these restrictions have upended how performance marketers maintain accurate media measurement. 

Navigating a new world of privacy regulations

With regulation comes action, and GDPR certainly created a tidal wave of changes with browsers now blocking third-party cookies that used to be available for marketers.

Apple’s updated Intelligent Tracking Prevention on Safari detects tracking capabilities and blocks any cookies associated with that domain. Firefox also blocks third-party tracking software. And Google announced improved controls in Chrome for consumers to block or clear cookies used in a third-party context. 

While measuring consumer interactions with marketing and advertising is getting more difficult, it’s not impossible — privacy and accurate measurement can coexist to deliver the most personalised experience for the end customer. After all, as a performance marketer, you’re in the favourable position of not having to rely on personally identifiable information (PII) to accurately measure and optimise campaign performance. 

3 ways to measure performance and respect consumer privacy

Third-party cookies aren’t completely obsolete — yet — but they’re far from being a best practice for accurately measuring return on advertising spend (ROAS) and other KPIs like customer lifetime value (LTV), conversion rate, and revenue per transaction. Now is the time to refocus your efforts. 

Here are three approaches you can use today without having to rely on third-party cookies.

1. First-party cookie tracking

Since third-party cookies created by domains other than the one the consumer is visiting are now blocked by most browser’s default settings, marketers are turning to first-party cookies—those set only by the website the consumer is visiting.

This is considered a deterministic approach: deterministic because you know for certain it’s the same consumer interacting with the ad and then converting on the action. But it does not rely on knowing the consumer’s identity. You may know the consumer ID number, but not PII like the consumer’s name, email, etc.

While first-party cookies are meant to provide a privacy-friendly consumer experience, they also enable the website owner to store analytics data and remember language settings, login credentials, etc. Since data is owned by the brand, first-party cookies should follow the guidelines outlined by GDPR. Consumers can visit the brand’s privacy policy to learn about the brand’s use of their data and request for it to be deleted if desired.

This approach is a good fit for brand advertisers and publishers who own the landing page the consumer will be interacting with. 

2. Cookieless tracking

Most commonly known as cookieless tracking, but also referred to as server tracking, this approach requires an advanced marketing measurement platform that can assign a unique ID to an anonymous consumer’s interaction. 

In place of a cookie, a click ID or session ID can be stored server-side, or in the advertiser’s first-party cookie, until the point of conversion, at which time the consumer’s click on the ad would be attributed to their conversion via the unique ID. Since any measurement platform that supports this type of tracking will use its own unique IDs in place of cookies, it’s an increasingly popular approach to meet both performance tracking and data privacy demands. 

Plus, since cookieless tracking does not rely solely on cookies which can be cleared by the consumer or blocked by customer browser settings, it’s a highly accurate approach for measuring performance. 

3. Fingerprint tracking

Also known as “session tracking” or “probabilistic tracking,” fingerprint tracking is a probabilistic approach to attributing customer actions back to digital advertisements they interacted with. You can use this to achieve the best guess as to the performance of marketing campaigns and dollars. 

This approach attempts to match the consumer’s interaction with the ad to their conversion, such as a request for more information, through various attributes such as the device or browser used. 

Fingerprint tracking offers you another privacy-friendly approach, as you don’t need to store any data that would risk consumers’ right to anonymity. 

While first-party cookies and cookieless tracking can meet the needs for the majority of your measurement, fingerprint tracking can be a useful tool to supplement those efforts. It serves as a valuable strategy to ensure nothing slips through the cracks with the deterministic tracking methods you have in place, especially for areas such as the walled gardens and cross-device user behaviour that can be difficult to measure with absolute certainty.

Stay flexible in the face of change

In order to build holistic, integrated, and impactful campaigns, you need accurate performance metrics about which marketing messages and channels are most effective and how they’re working in combination. By leveraging the three approaches discussed, you can make strides towards regaining cross-channel insight into the customer journey, and in turn, more effectively allocate ad dollars and optimise media strategies for the greatest ROAS. 

However, establishing effective performance measurement in the face of these regulations will likely get more difficult over time. In the last year and a half, we’ve seen the impact of GDPR and progress towards CCPA, as well as Apple’s evolution of ITP to version 2.2, which in turn has prompted Firefox and Chrome to bolster their use of privacy controls. 

To stay nimble and accommodate changing demands, here’s how to stay flexible:

  • You likely have already undergone efforts to accommodate the demands of GDPR, so recognise that you are starting from a healthy foundation.
  • From there, ensure you are only collecting information that is necessary for measuring campaign success and optimising ad spend.
  • Regularly audit the type of measurement you currently have in place and validate that you are using the best approach available to measure success.
  • When working with technology vendors, ensure they are keeping up with the changing regulations. Ask to see the data privacy and security processes they have put in place, along with a GDPR and CCPA roadmap that outlines the steps they have implemented.

While measuring consumer interactions with marketing and advertising is getting more difficult, it’s not impossible. Privacy and accurate measurement can coexist to deliver the most personalised experience for the end customer, and a competitive edge for your brand.