Roundtable: Countdown to 2023 when the cookie crumbles

Retail Gazette and Wunderkind hosted a roundtable exploring the online marketing challenges surrounding ongoing online cookie and third-party identifier depreciation.

Apple and Google are moving the goalposts in the digital advertising space, with third-party identifiers – including third-party cookies (3PC) – being phased out.

Although Google granted the cookie a temporary stay of execution earlier this year, the 2023 deadline for when it removes online cookie tracking from its Chrome browser is rapidly approaching. And with Apple committing to a raft of major iOS privacy updates, the next year will see a shift in how marketers target, segment and engage with their audiences.

Historically, these online identifiers have played a crucial role in helping brands target their messaging to certain people at certain times on third-party websites, but now a rethink will be needed.

These topics and much more were discussed as representatives from an array of UK retailers joined Retail Gazette and performance marketing engine, Wunderkind, for a roundtable event on 18 November.

Senior figures from retailers and brands such as AO, bbhugme, Cult Beauty, Liebeherr, THG, and Virgin Wines attended the event, acknowledging that the clock is ticking to get prepared for a new marketing landscape in 2023.

Getting prepared

Wunderkind and Retail Gazette recently published a report on the countdown to 2023, which suggests 66% of marketers and digital leaders say they are reliant on 3PC. This figure rises to 75% when taking into account solely marketing professionals.

Meanwhile, 41% say they rely on these cookies to identify site traffic, which might explain why 48% were nervous or concerned about the forthcoming changes.

So, how are these changes to the landscape impacting the roundtable participants? Judging by their comments, it is prompting several new strategies and a significant shift in thinking.

One retailer said: “The announcements from Google and Apple have made us review and address our processes.

“We are looking at ways to amplify what we already have in place. The marketing teams are continually looking at what data assets we can maximise in our activity.”

For roundtable participant Hugo Prado, senior marketing manager at Leibherr, which makes home appliances such as fridges and freezers, the moves by Apple and Google are viewed as a backwards step.

“We’re always looking to add value to the customer but some of these changes coming in will push marketers back several years – privacy issues are important but at the same time, consumers often benefit from relevant online messaging using third-party cookies,” he commented.

“For us, in a white goods category, it’s very difficult to know when to target consumers with emails and direct messaging because we don’t know when people’s machines have broken down.”

Another event attendee said analysing online behavioural data provides “the most fruitful” information about their customers, therefore optimising campaigns around this and continually monitoring it will be the key going forward.

“Attributing an end result to certain actions is much more difficult than it used to be, but we find a selection of trends can tell us what we need to know about a customer,” the retailer explained.

Personalisation, email, and the rise of text message marketing?

According to the survey of 2,000 consumers detailed in the Retail Gazette-Wunderkind report, less is more in terms of marketing comms, with 38% of UK shoppers stating that they’d prefer less frequent, but more relevant comms from brands. 

Email remains the dominant preferred channel for consumers, with 57% saying they found it the most convenient for communications with a retailer during the buying journey. This was followed by text messaging (26%), live chat (21%), and pop-up notifications (17%).

Personalisation came out strongly as a theme in the top three ways retailers can improve communications to customers, in the report.

And 23% said that more personalised communications – which make them feel a retailer understands their needs on an individual basis – would be a welcome improvement. There was general agreement among the roundtablers that personalisation drives a significant uplift in campaign success.

One guest, Steve Kirk, co-CEO of Cult Beauty, remarked: “A few years ago it was said that email was dying and it was becoming more difficult to gain success from it from a marketing and conversion perspective, but the advent of personalisation in emails has enabled the channel to stay relevant.

“Some companies’ misuse of email has tarred everyone with the same brush, but personalised and tailored messaging through this medium can be really effective for brands and consumers alike.”

Text messaging remains a channel to watch, though, with the report showing 54% of consumers had received a text message update/communication from a retailer in the last 12 months, and 49% suggesting the immediacy of text messaging was beneficial.

Only 34% of the businesses questioned in the research currently use text messaging to communicate and engage with customers, showing there is significant room to grow in this channel – and untapped commercial opportunity to explore. 

The new opportunities

During the roundtable, a focus on developing and utilising customer relationship management (CRM) systems was also touted as a priority in the current landscape. 

Paid search, affiliate marketing and referral programmes were among the modern tactics deemed as successful methods of engagement, too, while use of influencers was said to be an ideal way of entering new geographies. 

But the importance of building and maximising use of own channels for marketing was a core message from the discussions.

Cian Agnew, senior director of client partnerships in the UK & Europe at Wunderkind, who joined the roundtable, said: “Changes to third-party identifiers have certainly concerned retailers in terms of how to personalise the online experience and measure the success of campaigns – my advice is to focus your attention further down the funnel. 

“Although disruptive and something that right now feels like a step backwards, there will be opportunities for retailers and brands presented by these online marketing changes. It opens up the possibility of harnessing more potential from companies’ own channels.”

He added: “Our customers say the opportunity now is to optimise behavioural techniques  to get people to sign in on websites – this will bolster CRM efforts later down the line. Central to success in all this, is to start building first-party data now.”

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