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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  Privacy rules and a cookie purge will transform online marketing

Privacy rules and a cookie purge will transform online marketing

The rise of data regulations and the end of third-party cookies should make businesses rework their approach to customers


The coming together of three big factors—the pandemic, growing privacy concerns among users and governments, and changes initiated by Big Tech giants—will change the way the marketing and advertising industry functions in the coming decade. The covid pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies and this sudden change promises to disrupt marketing as a lever of business as we know it today. Given the direct impact this has on revenues and revenue growth, this issue warrants the attention of business leaders.

Consumer concerns on privacy have grown over the years. The rampant use of user data for behaviour manipulation, including for elections, has raised hackles worldwide among businesses, governments and people at large. Consumers are getting increasingly conscious of how their data is being used. A recent update of WhatsApp’s privacy policy, allowing the service to share user data with its parent Facebook, created a furore. Together, these issues have led governments to enact privacy laws across the world. These laws have mandated businesses to collect data in a manner that is compliant with norms, and which protects the right to privacy of consumers.

In India, the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB) is in its final stages of passage through Parliament. While laws related to information technology have been in existence since the early 2000s, these were focused on cybercrime and activity such as hacking, spam and offensive personal messaging.

Privacy laws such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and India’s PDPB have changed two things: 1) they acknowledge that devices such as smartphones are an intrinsic part of a person’s identity, and hence, any information that can be used to profile an individual comes under the ambit of laws; and 2) these laws articulate what is consent—that it should be free, informed, specific, clear, and capable of being withdrawn.

This evolving landscape around privacy is what has forced tech giants Google and Apple to toughen their stance on privacy. Last year, Google had announced the blocking of third-party cookies effective January 2022. As we approach this deadline, Google has signalled that it shall not allow any form of alternative identifiers across its suite of products.

Apple had taken an aggressive privacy-first stance even earlier, and upped the ante on trust. With the release of iOS 14, it has mandated privacy ‘nutrition labelling’ on its App Store and mandated consumer consent for tracking purposes.

These Big Tech companies are also increasingly subject to more regulation by governments, given their ability to create monopolistic or oligopolistic markets and control the playing field. The recent Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules in India and the landmark News Media Bargaining Code in Australia are a few examples of anti-trust laws that are coming up across the world.

The faster adoption of digital media driven by the pandemic means that business processes need to be digitized and delivered seamlessly as customer experiences across the internet. The onus of delivering these experiences calls for collaboration among experts of marketing, technology, design, cybersecurity and law.

The emergence of privacy laws requires businesses to collect and use data in ways that are both ethical and compliant. So, while designing and delivering customer experiences, business leaders need to be on top of data protection and consent management, even as they ensure that processes are set up for ethical and sensitive use of data.

A data breach has multiple costs and entails various risks, including financial risk, legal risk, compliance risk and the biggest of all, reputational risk. Privacy is being weaponized and any laxity on behalf of a business could have serious consequences. Any inadvertent data breach results in loss of reputation and the possibility of legal action.

On the positive side, the evolving privacy landscape presents brands and advertisers an opportunity to educate and strengthen their relationship with customers and get to know them better. Businesses will need to invest in harnessing their own customers data across platforms, as every company now needs to behave like a tech company.

Consequently, customer relationship management (CRM) modules will go mainstream and be fully integrated into marketing efforts.. Harvesting market research and aggregated anonymized data is also critical to enriching this first-party data. These strategies will help businesses bridge the gap between consumer insights and marketing implementation, which will soon be constrained by the death of third-party cookies.

The end of browser-based third-party cookies also means that campaign planning, targeting, optimization and measurement are affected. The move signifies the death of re-targeting and lookalike marketing as practised today. Cost-per- impression-based buying will transition to cost-per-click/engagement-based buying. Walled gardens such as Google will only provide attribution within their publishing domain. Businesses need to evolve mechanisms to measure their marketing campaigns to be able to determine omni-channel effectiveness.

With less than eight months left for the purge of third-party cookies and a rapidly evolving regulatory framework, businesses need to be ready to implement privacy-by-design in their marketing efforts. A sharp focus on first-party data and on contextual advertising is imminent. Time is running out and many businesses have yet to wake up to this reality.

Ravi Ganesh & Lloyd Mathias are, respectively, a data and analytics expert and founder of TMber Data and an investor & business strategist and former marketer at PepsiCo, Motorola & HP

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Published: 27 Apr 2021, 11:53 PM IST
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