Historically, companies and marketers have relied on tracking technology – these ‘cookies’ allow third parties to identify customers and follow them around the internet with personalised ads. It has long been the standard because it gives marketers detailed visibility into performance, and allows ad platform algorithms to optimise, significantly reducing the cost of customer acquisition.
But consumers don’t love it. It’s intrusive, and the customer is a passive participant.
Responding to an increase in privacy awareness, Apple, Google and Mozilla all announced plans to phase out third-party cookies. Together these browsers comprise almost 90% of all web traffic, effectively sentencing the third-party cookie to death.
While this news might worry some, there is an opportunity for marketers to move beyond the reliance on third parties and improve how they engage with customers by building direct relationships.
Today: The use of third party cookies
Currently, brands are using third-party cookies and retargeting to gather information on customers, but this method is mostly a one-sided relationship. Third-party cookies use data that’s not owned by the website you’re on, and it’s used after you leave. As users move from tab to tab, they are unknowingly relaying a trail of information about their web visit history to other websites and parties. What’s more, the user doesn’t know which other third-party organisations are accessing their data, making it a grey area when it comes to privacy.
Let’s say you’re on one retailer’s website and look at a camera, and then you go to another’s site and see that same camera in an ad in your sidebar. That’s a third-party cookie tracking your internet habits. Firefox and Safari no longer support third-party tracking, and Google has announced it will follow suit with plans to end the use of third-party cookies in 2024.
Eliminating vast pools of third-party data means a limited number of platforms where advertising data can join together, making tech giants even more powerful. This is an opportunity for anyone driving an audience to their website to look at creating better profiles that drive longer-term loyalty and engagement.
With huge changes on the horizon, marketers are having to adapt the way they collaborate with customers, which means making big changes to the way they have been working for years.
Email marketers have long understood the importance of the long-term strategy of building profiles and putting data to work more effectively.
The demise of third party cookies highlights the importance of zero- and first-party data to marketers. Now is the time for marketers to hone in on these aspects and ensure they have a strategy in place that capitalises on these previously overlooked methods
The rise of conversational commerce
Conversational commerce is the process of selling products and acquiring customers directly on messaging channels, and it’s changing the way businesses and customers engage with each other.
Research by Nielsen shows that 53% of consumers are more likely to shop with a business they can message directly.
While the demise of third-party cookies seems like a challenge on the surface, it’s really an opportunity; without the ability to rely on third-party ad platforms, marketers must find other means to deliver great customer experiences and help businesses deliver the right messaging to their customers across any channel. This is an opportunity for marketers to create compelling customer engagement experiences and, if they do, customers will reward them by sharing data.
According to PWC, 63% of customers say they’d share more information with a company that offers a great experience. Through the preferences that customers express as part of their direct engagement with brands, businesses will know which channels a customer prefers to receive communications on, as well as the desired frequency and content. That, in turn, helps marketers continue to fine-tune their customers’ experience with the brand, with the goal of increasing retention and loyalty.
How it should be: A two-way street
By shifting away from intrusive targeting, and engaging with customers directly to learn about channel, content and frequency preferences, marketing starts to look very different. Instead of following customers around the web with ads, brands can encourage the customer to enter into a two-way conversation over WhatsApp or via a chatbot.
By communicating in real time, the customer has an instant answer to their query, building confidence in the brand and increasing the likelihood that they will make a purchase. What’s more, the brand has now collected first-party/opt-in compliant data.
Almost three quarters of people use multiple channels whilst online shopping, and those that use four or more channels spend 9% more than those who use only one. It’s for this reason that apps originally intended for consumer use have slowly become tools for businesses to communicate with customers. And with the launch of things like company search inside of WhatsApp, where users can find businesses to engage with, we fundamentally need to start thinking of these consumer applications as untapped acquisition opportunities.
But where do you start?
Undergoing an overhaul of marketing and customer engagement processes can seem like a daunting task, so it helps to break it down into different areas of focus. The most important thing is to start from the customer and work backwards.
- Think about what types of experiences they want with you, what the touch points need to be and on which channels, so you can construct the right customer journey.
- Take a look at where there are breaks in your current customer experience journey; where are you losing customers in the funnel?
- Where are there fracture points in your customer service?
- Check for bottlenecks caused by staffing ratio misalignment.
- Document what the ideal journey for your customer could be and then map that to your systems and personnel to figure out which are the most important areas to tackle first.
Having an understanding of your customer’s context will help you design an experience that feels natural. For example, it is great when a customer can resolve their own challenges by talking with a bot over WhatsApp, but you shouldn’t force it. For complex questions it might make more sense to escalate to a human on voice or email, and to have a smooth process for these cases.
Conversational marketing and conversational commerce put the customer in charge of the relationships they have with brands. For marketers, it makes valuable data capture much more natural, enabling them to provide customers with the high-quality experience they deserve – a win for both sides. It’s a 180-degree change from the old way but it’s a totally welcome and exciting change.
MessageBird helps businesses engage with their customers across any channel, powering customer experiences that fuel the conversational commerce revolution.
Rachel Thornton is chief marketing officer at MessageBird.