Inside Marketing: Digital Targeting in a Cookieless World

closeup of smashed crumbled chocolate chip cookie
By Elisa Rode

3 minutes

As privacy laws and consumer behavior evolve, credit unions will have to shift their marketing strategies around personalized messaging.

This article is adapted from the Kearley & Company blog.

You’ve likely seen Apple’s recent ads touting its privacy options and the ability for consumers to choose who tracks their data. And, as a consumer, you’ve probably felt just like Felix in that ad as every shop and brand he has contact with tracks his every move. After all, those ads that “follow you” across the internet have always been a little creepy.

So, consumers may be happy to hear that cookie-based digital tracking as we know it is changing. Some drivers of these changes include:

  • the EU’s privacy regulations (also known as GDPR)
  • Apple’s intelligent tracking prevention feature in Safari
  • California’s Consumer Privacy Act (aka CCPA), as well as a patchwork of legislative efforts in other states across the country.
  • Chrome’s popular cookie blockers
  • Google’s removal of the DoubleClick ID (now the Google ID) from its log files;
  • and others, including media and legislative discussions of data privacy related to social media.

Data privacy concerns are not the sole reason the cookie is crumbling. Have you ever had the experience of looking for shoes in one app, then seeing them again in Facebook or Instagram or even your weather app? While not all apps track your browsing activity, those that do might share or sell your browsing activity to advertisers. This tracking across apps is basically how consumers end up searching for something in one place and see that product again and again in other places. Some consumers were not happy about ads “following them” across multiple channels. In late April, Apple announced that iOS 14.5 would have the ability to turn off apps tracking your activity for targeted advertising purposes.

This change has had a huge impact on advertisers across the world. Initially, it was estimated that 70% of users would choose to opt-out of app tracking. In reality, the number of users who chose to opt-out is a lot steeper—a whopping 96%.

As marketers, the rise of data privacy and the new, cookieless world we’re entering presents real challenges. Digital targeting is going back in time, in some respects, as we lose the ability to track individual behaviors. Practically speaking, this means we may need to lean into more general messaging that has a broader appeal as well as find new, more creative ways to target and reach prospective members.

A laser-like focus on members of a certain age, profession, and with a love of a specific sport will likely need to be swapped back to a geographic area and more basic demographics.

Here are a few ideas to help you navigate a cookieless world:

  1. What if you provide something of value in exchange for data? For example, “Submit an email address with some basic info about yourself, and the credit union will give you X in return.” In the business-to-business space, this type of lead-magnet approach is used often, and with success.
  2. Leverage first-party data—that is, use the data you already own! Most organizations have a ton of information about their existing members. Dive deeper into that data for insights on how to generate more business from existing members and/or use member profiles for better (cookieless) targeting.
  3. Put new KPIs, or key performance indicators, in place. We’re going to have to shift our mindset from audiences to media, messaging and outcomes. It will be important to test messages and environments that receive the most traction.

Elisa Rode is president of Kearley & Company, a strategic marketing consulting firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. She has been with the agency for more than 25 years, working her way up from copywriter. During that time, she's served various credit unions and financial institutions of all asset sizes across the country and has won several ADDY, CUNA Golden Mirror, and Lone Star Awards for her work. Rode has also served as the Government Relations chair for the state of Texas for the American Advertising Federation for the last several years.

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