Google's Plan for a Privacy-First Future: What Marketers Need to Know Today

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If you’re like most marketers, you’re paying close attention to the current industry conversation around web user privacy. And you know that when a browser like Google Chrome that has more than half of the global desktop internet browser market share plans to eliminate third-party cookies, it’s time to begin altering advertising strategies to prepare for what’s next. And last week. Google took their privacy-first initiative a step farther, announcing that once the company phases out third-party cookies in 2022, it will not build alternate identifiers to track consumers as they browse the web.

Google reasoned that alternative identifiers don’t meet the rising consumer expectations for privacy or stand up to evolving regulatory restrictions for privacy. In short, simply eliminating third-party cookies doesn’t fully protect users’ privacy. While that may sound like bad news for advertisers, it’s not. 

Google’s web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs that prevent individual tracking, but still deliver advertising results. Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) tests show one way to take third-party cookies out and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests. And the company is continuing to explore options to both help advertisers and protect consumers. It’s wholly committed to the Privacy Sandbox, and encourages the industry to continue partnering in the exploration, development and adoption of innovations. 

Adswerve’s Take on Google’s Privacy-First Initiatives

Even though we’re all marketers, we’re consumers, too. It’s inspiring to see Google promote and embrace a privacy-first web and commit to moving away from tracking individual users across sites and apps. We hope that in the future there will be several ways advertisers can still deliver results—while maintaining user privacy. With proposed options like FLoC and contextual advertising using publisher-direct deals and first-party consented data, we’ll have to adjust our path forward, but not go back to the drawing board.

The even better news is that Google is giving us time to prepare for upcoming changes. Third-party cookies are not being phased out right away, and the tactics we use today can be used for the next one to two years. However, marketers should use this time to continue learning about what’s next. We plan to partner with our clients so they can leverage their data and tactics today—to better inform how they advertise, target and measure tomorrow. 

What Now?

Here are a few action items and ideas to consider as you explore what it means to be a marketer in a privacy-first world.

Tap into Your First-Party Data

While first-party data (your CRM, loyalty, subscription, social media, e-commerce data, etc.) is a veritable gold mine of information you can leverage today, and nine out of 10 companies say it’s very important to digital marketing, only 30% are collecting and integrating it across channels. And a mere one percent are using first-party data to deliver comprehensive cross-channel customer experiences.* These numbers need to increase significantly by the time Google removes third-party cookies.

Collecting first-party data is a critical first step, but you need to make sure you’re leveraging it. Investing in and using a data warehouse like Google Cloud’s BigQuery can help you drive insights around your first-party data. This could be information like lifetime value, outcomes of predictive and propensity modeling and more. Plus, it can help you measure performance with automated targeting, smart bidding, conversion modeling and more.

Remember that you can use first-party consented data where it’s most impactful, like publisher-direct deals where advertisers have first-party relationships.

Build a Privacy-First Culture (Before You Need It)

A privacy-first culture will be a must-have in the next year or two—and it starts from the top of your organization. Consider restructuring your data and metrics operations and rethink your existing processes. Can you start to make incremental adjustments now? If not, when? Begin the planning process so you have a game plan. 

This may mean you need to hire talent that can do the hard work of bringing your data from disparate sources together to make it understandable and actionable. You can help this work along in the meantime by building a solid ad-tech foundation with Google’s global sites tag (OGT) and Google Analytics 4. 

And to prepare for Google’s move away from third-party cookies (and lack of alternate identifiers), consider testing the efficacy of the Privacy Sandbox APIs. You should have access starting sometime in Q2. Adswerve is heavily involved in the Privacy Sandbox and is helping Google test it out to shape the solution for our clients.

If you have any questions, or would like to share your input, please feel free to contact us. In the meantime, we’ll continue to share updates and tips on our blog and resources library as the announced changes take shape. Stay tuned.

*Boston Consulting Group’s Digital Marketing First-Party Data Study 2019