These changes driven by the industry trend towards increased consumer privacy should be welcomed. However, for marketers who have become dependent on third-party cookies and mobile IDs to target and scale their ad campaigns, the changes taking place represent massive disruption and are causing more than a few sleepless nights. 

It’s easy to forget that digital marketing, by its very nature, has always operated at the cutting edge of business tech innovation and is constantly changing and evolving, usually for the better. 

This is not the first time the digital marketing industry has faced down a seemingly existential threat. Take the introduction of GDPR, for example. Then, just as it is now, the industry feared the loss of personal data, predicting that the entire ecosystem would collapse in on itself – but it didn’t. Instead, the industry has evolved and adapted to incorporate these privacy frameworks, as well as creating new technologies and generating new expertise in privacy and data ethics. 

Finding the opportunity in the challenge

It’s natural that big changes within an industry are often received with nervousness, fear and panic. Yet the digital marketing industry should have more faith in its robust nature, which inevitably always finds a new solution to every new challenge it faces. 

The restrictions on cookies and IDFA based tracking of consumers should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a threat. If you take a global perspective on this issue, new data regulations and ethical frameworks are all coming to fruition across the globe. The tide is clearly turning in one direction: towards greater respect for consumers’ data privacy. 

The current changes provide a good testing-ground for marketers to experiment and see what strategies will work for them in the future; how to adapt and stay nimble, while keeping an eye on the big players (such as Google, Apple and Facebook) who exert real influence over the evolution of the digital advertising ecosystem. 

Burying your head in the sand about the new restrictions to tracking is not a sustainable approach. There are still a few marketing professionals looking for work arounds, which obviously goes against the spirit of the new regulations and the broader ‘privacy-first’ trend. Marketers would do better to accept the direction of travel and adapt. By embracing the changes we’re seeing and investing wisely in new ways of working today, brands can get an edge on their competitors and future-proof their operations against any further changes to national and international data regulations.

Back to the future?

It’s easy to forget that marketing and advertising existed long before the internet and digital channels. This isn’t to say the marketing industry will simply revert to techniques that were around 30 years ago. Rather, the industry will draw on the best of those techniques in combination with the incredible power of modern AI and analytics tech to produce new insights about consumer behaviour and smarter, more informed creative campaigns. With this, I expect we will see a resurgence in contextual targeting based on platform, location, topic, or regular audience. Alongside this, a wider adoption of conversion modelling with reliance on using additional signals as a privacy-preserving measurement foundation to  inform strategic decisions.   

What’s more, those peddling doomsday scenarios may have underestimated the levels of willingness among consumers to share their data. While many believed that, if given the chance to opt-out of data sharing, 80-to-90% of consumers would ‘go dark’. Yet early indications suggest the figure right now is closer to just 60%. This still leaves brands with 40% of their first-party customer data to analyse, interpret and extrapolate across their wider strategy. 

This first-party data will be the key to campaign success. Marketers must use this data smartly and identify the common traits and characteristics of their ideal customers to help build out predictive modelling techniques. By using these personas and audience segments to design 21st century data-enabled contextual advertising campaigns, it’s possible to target customers on their preferred channels. Additionally, by continuing to search for new audiences and opportunities to develop first-party data with emerging channels such as podcasts and digital out-of-home, it will still be possible to deliver impactful omni-channel campaigns. 

By backing away from one-to-one hyper-personalisation at scale that the industry has become used to, marketers will be forced to think more creatively about how they engage consumers with brand messaging. Rather than being the ‘end of days’ for digital marketing as we know it, the current disruption should be regarded as a golden opportunity to create a new trusted ecosystem that delivers better experiences for everyone involved in the creation, distribution and consumption of digital advertising.