The digital advertising industry is experiencing more upheaval right now than at any point in its history. New restrictions on the use of consumers’ personal data, combined with the deprecation of third-party cookies and mobile ad ID restrictions is creating another ‘headwind’ evolving customer experience and trust. This is forcing brands and publishers alike to reassess how they personalise the consumer journey and causing the entire ad tech industry to rethink how it develops and maintains consumer trust.

Earlier this year (April 2021) LiveRamp surveyed 251 UK-based senior marketing professionals to establish how brands were feeling about the phasing out of third-party cookies. Perhaps surprisingly, our research revealed that 78.1% of respondents believe that the loss of third-party cookies will ultimately have a positive impact on their advertising strategy.

Given this high level of optimism amongst brands, we asked senior marketers what alternative advertising strategies they are looking to implement. ‘Diversifying formats and channels’ was the most popular response (49%), followed by ‘first-party authenticated data’ (45%), ‘identity solutions’ (43.4%), contextual targeting (41.4%) and Google’s FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) approach (with 30.7%).

First-party relationships

With first-party authenticated data very much on the radar of contemporary marketers, it has become crucial for brands and publishers to build ‘first-party relationships’ with their users in order to personalise the customer experience.

In 2021, there is nothing more valuable for a brand or publisher than providing the experiences consumers expect and welcome. First-party relationships flow from value exchanges over time and, if done right, a downstream result is robust, privacy-first, first-party data which is willingly shared by customers, giving brands a real competitive advantage over their rivals. 

Of course, the idea of “value exchanges over time” is very similar to how we currently think about the marketing funnel. Retailers, for example, know that every touchpoint matters in terms of building and maintaining consumer trust. Think about it: consumers might click on an ad or visit the retailer’s website, then decide to follow them on social media or visit one of the brand’s brick-and-mortar locations, browsing the aisles and interacting with a salesperson.

Contemporary brands fully understand and recognise the importance of each of these ‘upper-funnel’ engagements when building a solid and trusting relationship with the consumer. This benefits the brand two-fold, as creating a trusted value exchange is a conduit to achieving real and meaningful business results. Understanding how best to curate a consumer experience can ultimately help ensure that a consumer “converts”, whether that conversion materialises as a newsletter sign-up, a purchase in-store, etc.

The brand may then try to deepen these first-party relationships by providing consumers with mid-funnel experiences that they value, e.g. allowing them to create wish lists, or providing alerts about content on a favourite topic or flagging that an item has become available which the customer has expressed an interest in.

If nurtured properly by the brand, the consumer will move to the bottom of the funnel and willingly provide a greater level of first-party data. So, when it comes to brands and publishers gathering more of the crucial authenticated first-party data they need, the key question to ask is not “How can I get this person to share their data?” but rather “How can I help this person and provide a great experience every step of the way?”

Publishers and brands move closer

For publishers, the principle is similar, but building the relationship looks a little different. A consumer may find an opinion piece on a publisher’s website through a social share from someone in their network, via a Google search or a direct site visit. They may then allow their browser to notify them of a new article by that author, sign up for email notifications or alerts within an app. The critical point here is understanding when to make ‘the ask’ to convert. 

Too often, publishers have fallen at this stage, with content gates or permission dialogues being forced early in the process. With so much focus on collecting data right now, publishers must resist the temptation to move too soon and risk delivering a poor experience for customers so early on in their engagement.

In this respect, publishers can learn from retail brands about how they bide their time and provide quality experiences across multiple touchpoints to encourage consumers along the relationship funnel. In turn, retailers are not always content specialists, so should take the opportunity to examine how publishers cater to the needs of their target audiences with a wide range of content formats to keep them engaged and coming back. 

Fortunately, closer collaboration between brands and publishers may well be on the cards. Our recent survey revealed that brands are looking for more direct contact with publishing partners, with 85% of respondents believing that their brand would benefit from a closer relationship with their key target publishers. When asked what publishers could do to help convince them to run more campaigns, a compelling value exchange (53%), new consumer-centric or engagement-based metrics (48%), working with trusted identity partners (46%) and increasing their percentage of authenticated first-party data (43%), were cited as of high importance.

With major changes impacting how brands and publishers use data to know and serve their customers, it’s clear that building first-party relationships has become a critical foundation of success for brand marketers, retailers and publishers alike.