The ‘80s are back. And, by now, even the phrase “The ‘80s are back” is back. But are we heading back to the ‘80s when it comes to advertising?
Hyperbolic, yes, but it’s a question arrived at in frustration by marketers who have grown to rely on intricate customer targeting based on cookies, mobile IDs, and other means of detailed data collection from social media outlets, websites, and apps.
For years, technology made it increasingly easier to find, know, and retarget a customer. That trend peaked in the last couple of years. Now, with the winds of consumer concern at their backs, the tech industry and government are steering data collection into a more conservative, privacy-minded direction.
So, do we brace for change? Absolutely.
But do we brace for a return to simpler times? Not at all.
There’s still more horsepower in digital marketing than ever before. Marketers need to buckle up and know how to keep traction as they hit the curves ahead, and even know when it’s time to turn onto new roads.
UNDERSTANDING WHERE WE’VE BEEN
To oversimplify the experiment-ladened beginning of marketing with the internet, in the beginning, we essentially had simple sites with simple banner ads. Then there were search ads that allowed easy ad targeting. Then came cookies and pixels, allowing us to retarget. Then came mobile devices, pouring real-life location data into the mix.
All the while, big data grew better at collecting user actions and connecting the data dots; marketers feasted on the accessibility of the information; and social media outlets mastered the art of engaging consumers.
And those consumers have long been wary of how adept the technology companies had become at knowing their actions and serving it up to advertisers.
Add to the mix that over the past few years, many Americans experienced some level of identity theft and millions more received notices from trusted corporations that their personal data might have been compromised.
It’s no wonder the dam of consumer nonchalance flooded over.
But realize that this whole narrative is emblazoned in every first-world inhabitant’s customer experience over the last three decades. And a lot of folks don’t feel great about it.
KPMG, one of the world’s leading accounting firms, surveyed 2,000 adults in 2021 and found a whopping 86 percent of them felt growing concerns about data privacy. Fears included a mistrust of companies using their data (40 percent), concern about being hacked (47 percent), and worry about their data being sold (51 percent).
At the very least, this is telling marketers to proceed with a great amount of respect for the privacy of customers. Antennas are up, even among those who volunteered or agreed to share their information.
ASSESSING WHERE WE ARE
That takes us to the current predicament.
Much has been made about the imminent disappearance of cookies. But that’s actually part of a broader picture. Cookies—bits of information placed on whatever web browser or app you’re using in order to track your movement on the web—are simply a means to data collection. There are other means to collecting data, such as IP addresses and mobile device IDs.
But the whole concept of behind-the-scenes data collection and usage is being disrupted.
Apple’s requirement that users give permission for apps and websites to track their data was the first major action, taken in April of 2021. It was followed by a pledge from Google to move away from third-party cookies, as well. It was delayed until 2023, but it’s still coming.
Those looking for alternative paths to track the mouse clicks and screen swipes of consumers are finding that steps are being taken to mask IP addresses and stifle the tracking of mobile IDs, which are strings of unique identifying characters associated with each mobile device.
The depth of data also has been curtailed as Google and social media outlets have started anonymizing their audiences to pay heed to privacy concerns.
DRIVING TOWARD SOLUTIONS
To address present and coming limitations to data availability, strategic savvy will come in handy. Not every organization is going to—or should—take the same adjusted course. Here are four areas of increased focus smart marketers are using to react to the changing landscape:
1. Marketing Automation
Many companies, finding their newfound lack of data disturbing, will pursue stronger and smarter marketing automation.
If consumers aren’t enthusiastic about marketers learning about them second- or third-hand, simply asking them whether it’s OK to approach them seems apropos.
“Lead generation is going to be a big avenue that many are going to take—making sure that you’re authentically building that lead,” says Andrea Ness, who oversees media strategy for ddm. “We have to make our website on the interactive side work harder and smarter. That way, we own the information. We have our audience giving us permission to follow them.”
Indeed, while data tracking capabilities are waning, the ability to interact with customers and prospects on an individualized basis are fortunately growing stronger. If a dearth of data means the top of your funnel’s going to be larger, marketing automation done right still can get you more of the most valuable prospects by the end: qualified customers who want to hear what you have to say.
2. Content strategy
Relatedly, emphasizing content strategies over campaign tactics is another trend to keep an eye on.
Imagine an auditorium. The lights go dim, the spotlight turns on, and the speaker on stage no longer can discern the faces and expressions of those looking at her. She doesn’t know how they’re reacting to her every syllable. That’s when her presentation needs to be clear and practiced. Her messaging will work best when it’s both basic enough to be understood by the least-informed in the auditorium, yet deep enough to lure those most interested to seek her out after the show.
The same dynamic will be playing out with marketing content. Marketers are going to need to draw out each member of their audience without knowing every individual’s reaction to every communication. Doing so can even be buttressed by the use of influencers, storytelling, and social media.
3. Increasing omnichannel
Then there are those who realize that some of the ‘80s tactics of advertising weren’t so bad after all and are even better-honed today. In that spirit, it could be time to take a step back and reassess your media strategy and see if it’s too digital-heavy.
Digital fatigue is a reality even in the youngest of audiences, and print still has an influential place in the current market. Published advertisements, targeted postcards, and well-placed billboards still boast strong ROI, even in a B2B environment. Is now the time to meet new customers in person? To put something physical in their hands? It’s at least worth asking.
4. Keep riding the data wave
Of course, companies also will at least partially take the Dylan Thomas route and rage against the dying of the light. Especially because it won’t die quickly or entirely.
Despite high levels of skepticism and distrust, half of U.S. consumers still give permission for their internet providers to track their data. And there always will be quid pro quo situations, where they’re enticed to share in exchange for a service or a novelty. So, the world of digital targeting, while constricting, will not simply die. It’s even getting some upgrades. Google Analytics 4 is adding intriguing machine learning capabilities to get more out of less precise, more anonymized data.
Additionally, emerging technologies (hello, Metaverse!) will come with new opportunities for engaging and earning the trust of prospects.
While we’ll be losing a few tools for finding, keeping tabs on, and targeting our customers through digital data collection, we’re certain to still have a toolbox to perform vital elements of the work.
BUILDING YOUR OWN ROADS
There are other paths for marketers, too, and ours is the happy duty of blazing creative, effective trails. But whichever direction you choose for your organization, and whichever timeframe you have for adjusting to the changing landscape, the lesson of the day is to not overly rely on digital targeting.
The 1980s it’s not. The tools exist to enable marketers to do wonders, even without some of the data that many consumers assert we shouldn’t have been entitled to from the get-go.
Now’s a great time to look anew at the other attractive baskets into which our marketing eggs might also be placed.