It wasn't that long ago that the Information Age transitioned seamlessly to the Digital Age. But now we are firmly in the Data Age. The ad tech industry—and advertising in general—has been undergoing perhaps the first seismic shift of this era ever since Google announced that its leading Chrome browser would stop accommodating third-party cookies at the end of this year.
In June, Google turned the industry on its head once again when the tech giant announced a reprieve from third-party cookie deprecation. But according to Elizabeth Brennan, Permutive’s head of advertising strategy, there's no need to wait for the cookies to crumble before devising a better alternative to third-party data.
During a Q&A at the Ad Age In-Depth: America's Hottest Brands virtual event last month, Brennan counseled the industry to not surrender to fear of the unknown. “Technology should facilitate the connection between publishers and advertisers, so data owners retain control of their data and user privacy is protected,” Brennan said, stressing that because so many companies are operating in a legacy way, they are wholly unprepared to adapt to a privacy-safe ecosystem.
First to the party
Brennan acknowledged that this legacy way of working is deeply ingrained in the advertising industry as we know it, and untangling that methodology in the face of the privacy juggernaut tumbling towards us is no small task. A good starting point is understanding what first-party data you already have access to, and considering strategic partnerships with other first-party data owners—including retailers and publishers.
Taking a holistic approach to audience strategy is more important than ever, said Brennan. For example, advertisers could continue to rely on third-party cookies from Chrome, but Firefox and Safari have already removed cookies from their browsers. While they account for just 40% of internet usage, that is still a significant number, and Firefox and Safari users tend to spend more, according to Permutive. That potential ROI is worth restructuring now.
Building better, more open relationships with customers
When considering the consumers themselves in the privacy-first world, transparency should be at the forefront. “It’s about explaining to people how your data is being collected, how your data is being used and also being incredibly clear on the value exchange,” Brennan said.
Brennan said companies should be clear and say: "We are going to use your email for marketing. If you don’t want that, opt-out here."
“When that transparency isn't there, people make up their own truth, and that’s where a lot of the confusion comes from,” she said.
Brennan explained that in this new marketing landscape, partnerships may not look the same, and the rules will be different. Because the ecosystem today is built on efficiency (as in, “How can we hit this benchmark and when?”), the balance of power is tilting back toward the consumer—and the stakeholders that consumers trust with their personal information.
Publishers back in the driver's seat
“It’s the data owners who really have the control, and those people tend to be publishers [because] they have this first-party relationship with everyone who comes to the site,” Brennan said.
For advertisers, that means they will be forming much more direct relationships with publishers than ever before, which can be facilitated and strengthened in large part by agencies. Whereas agencies used to play a role more focused on deliverables and driving their customers toward CPAs, their role will now shift toward becoming more of an adviser to advertisers on who to form strategic data partnerships with—and how.
Change in the data ecosystem is nothing to fear; in fact, it is ripe with opportunity.
“For advertisers who want to safeguard their businesses from the macro-trends around privacy, it's about taking control of what they can right now,” said Brennan.
The sooner advertisers embrace first-party data, the more it will set them up for success in the age of the data reset.