Strengthening Your Consumer-Brand Relationship Starts with First-Party Data

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The Party’s Over

There’s been a lot of panicked murmuring in the martech space ever since Apple made the bombshell announcement that it was completely revamping its cookie policy with the release of iOS 14.

Apple has, slowly but surely, pivoted its marketing to encompass consumer privacy as a core tenant. This update is part of that shift — Apple is now giving all iOS users the option to one-tap block third-party cookies from tracking cross-device behavior, actions, and identifiers.

This has ruffled some feathers, to say the least, most notably at Facebook who has released a statement accusing Apple of infringing on the principles of the free internet. They claim these changes will harm small businesses that use third-party trackers in order to target their ads more effectively.

Make no mistake, Facebook — a tech giant demagogue of the modern information era — is certainly no champion of the people; the lion’s share of their revenue is driven by advertising, to the tune of $25 billion. The only bottom line they care about here is their own.

In the background of this much-publicized spat, Google has declared that moving forward, only their first-party proprietary trackers will work when it comes to the g-suite of applications, most notably Chrome.

This marks a big shift in attitudes from the very top of the tech sphere. The Apple & Google cartel certainly stand to benefit.

Facebook, despite their grumblings, will be just fine. They do have a point though — these changes will hurt the ability of small martech agencies to target ads. Even if you’re one such vendor, I don’t think you should necessarily look upon Apple’s decision in a negative light. It highlights the importance of collecting your own first-party data and, more importantly, using it effectively.

Third-party tracking has been a dark recess of the internet for more than a decade and, as a demand-gen approach, it’s beginning to alienate digital-native audiences. Being monitored and bombarded with tracking requests has left a sour taste, and it’s slowly eroding the possibility of a good-faith relationship between users and digital service providers. Something needs to give.

Congerdesign via Pixabay

This whole debate isn’t just about first-party vs. third-party cookies — it’s much bigger than that. It’s a wider discussion about privacy and data controls. It’s about the micro user experience across the web and it’s about how these experiences impact our perceptions of digital brand engagement.

It’s all About User Experience

To wrap your head around the issue at hand, think of it in terms of what you’d expect from a traditional brick & mortar retail environment.

Say, for example, you’re going to make a big purchase, something connected with luxury. Maybe it’s a new car, maybe it’s a Rolex — whatever it is, you’re about to make a big investment. As such, the expectation might be that you’d be accommodating of a more guided experience. You want to feel valued, so you wouldn’t mind the shop attendant addressing you by name or walking you through the buying process.

Free-Photos via Pixabay

Now imagine you had this retail experience while buying an everyday appliance at a big-name retailer. If the shopping assistant comes up to you here and knows your entire prior purchase history — sure, it could be helpful. But without the luxury or intimate connotation of the big money brand purchase, it might start to come off as slightly creepy.

To finish, imagine if you had this same experience but at a business, you’d never been to before, nor had you ever considered frequenting — you’d probably be a bit freaked out. This is essentially the third-party cookie experience.

What I’m trying to illustrate is that there’s a degree of nuance in brand interactions that third-party cookies simply do not cater to. Their only goal is to provide a brute force, on-the-nose attention grab without taking into account user preference at all. They pay lip service to the idea of preference with those annoying pop-up cookie-control boxes, we have GDPR to thank for that. But these control panels are, more often than not, intentionally designed to trick you into accepting all trackers in exchange for closing the pop-up as quickly as possible.

This is bad faith operating and it’s completely eroding the wider consumer-brand experience across the internet. If consumers don’t believe you care about their preferences nor trust you to keep their data in-house, how can a healthy relationship begin to form?

If this is something that matters to you and your business, third-party tracking is a dead-end.

Build Trust and Operate Openly

What you should be doing is collecting your own set of first-party data.

It all comes down to this idea of a consumer-brand relationship and the understanding that this relationship is not binary; its fluid and can change over time.

You need to be upfront with how all captured data is being stored and utilized. This doesn’t mean trying to get the user to click “accept all” as quickly as possible, but including some detail in your consent manager about what each data point powers from a user experience perspective.

An easy way of doing this is to explain the data structure or functionalities of the technology you use in simple, easy-to-digest ways. Take Jahia for example; our Digital Experience Platform is built on an Open Source CDP so our visitors have access to a complete technical understanding of how we store and consume their data, as well as full control over their consent for given aspects of their data profiles.

Mohamed_hassen via Pixabay

Given all this, if the user still chooses to opt out of the experience entirely, let them. But once this happens, don’t just write them off. Periodically ask if anything’s changed in their interactions with your brand. Incentivize them to provide their data, be it through offering a better deal or explaining how a personalized experience can benefit them in a practical and specific way.

A mistake businesses tend to make when crafting an approach here is to think that micro-targeting is the be-all & end-all of personalization — it’s not. Personalized experiences can be just as effective on a macro scale via appropriate segmentation. It can be as simple as providing content in their language of preference. These are easy relationship-building wins. You just need the opportunity to communicate them to your audience before they hammer the ‘Reject All’ button as quickly as possible because they assume you’re acting in bad faith.

A black-box approach or underhanded tactics are only going to disenfranchise your user base. Despite how your Google Analytics makes it look, behind every legitimate data point is a flesh & blood human being. If you take stock of this fact and tailor your cookie policy to appeal to your audience’s individuality more as a concept than a hyper-targeted reality, they’ll love you for it. This approach to a consumer-brand relationship provides a fertile foundation of authenticity which, for any martech vendor worth their salt, will be a valuable trade-off for invasive and ultimately ineffective 3rd party tracking.

Serge Huber
Serge Huber

Serge Huber is co-founder and CTO of Jahia. He is a member of the Apache Software Foundation and Chair of the Apache Unomi project management committee as well as a co-chair of the OASIS Customer Data Platform Specification.