Why first party data is more important than ever for B2B marketers

2nd November 2021

State of data privacy in 2021… No more cookies?

So, what’s changed in 2021? Since our last update, the laws around data privacy and cookie usage globally have largely stayed the same, however, the way that browsers use cookies is continuing to change. There has been a shift in the cookie policies held by the most popular internet browsers, with all the biggest players either already opting to remove cookies from their platforms, or looking to do so within the next year.

A browser update

Google Chrome is the most popular web browser and does not block third-party cookies by default (however, you can block them through the settings menu). In August 2019, Google announced their intention to phase out all third-party cookies within two years via a program called the “Privacy Sandbox, and we should be able to see this begin to take effect later this year. This will be a pivotal change for the advertising industry and its effects will be felt in 2021 and beyond.

Since March 2020, Safari has blocked all third-party cookies by default and has done since the release of Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) 1.0 in September 2017. Apple position themselves as having a significant focus on user privacy because their revenue does not depend on advertising unlike some other browsers.

Firefox have removed them by default since 2019. The browser offers specific privacy controls and provides three options for users to “fine-tune” cookie usage: standard, strict and custom.

The default setting in Internet Explorer blocks some third-party cookies thanks to tracking protection, a feature that uses tracking-protection lists to stop users from being unwillingly traced with cookies. The younger browser, Edge does not yet block third-party cookies by default, nor offer Internet Explorer’s tracking protection feature.

How will analytics and targeting capabilities change in 2021?

Changes to the way Google Chrome operates, specifically, mean that we will begin to see some changes within analytics platforms like Google Analytics. Google Analytics will not offer marketers as much information and will provide a more limited view of their audiences- impacting their advertising strategy at a larger scale.

It is important to note that some third-party tracking will still exist, but user acceptance of third-party cookies will be vital (i.e. users cannot simply ignore the box which asks if they are happy to share their data) and declaration of how data will be used will start to become more explicit. These changes will also make it harder and harder to build first party data.

The decline in cookie targeting will mean banner placement is key, contextual targeting will become the focus in 2021. The challenge will be using all the various contextual options to help infer the audience on those pages.

Other types of tracking and targeting will also begin to emerge. LinkedIn has a good business database and could be seen as a big second party provider; they will be looking at ways to match this across the web. Using login data, LinkedIn can build a robust targeting profile of users and if they open up the black box that is their audience network, the ability to target outside of the site could be a powerful way to help businesses with audience expansion going forwards.

What does this mean for B2B marketers?

So, while browsers are not using cookie tracking, there are still some allowances around first-party cookie collection. This will generally mean less cross-device syncing and lesser understanding of how your audience is behaving elsewhere on the web. Using the data you collect while users visit your site will become more important, while the previous browsing history of users will decline in importance. Therefore, traffic-driving tactics are also likely to increase in importance, and marketers will be encouraged to use content and SEM to build out 1st party data.

If users opt in, you can still get information about how they use your site (while they are using it). This year, using a customer data platform will be a key tool for marketers and advertisers. Collecting first party data on your website is still permitted, so advertisers need to focus on making sure they can action and target people on their company websites.

Regional variations in data privacy laws

In Europe, GDPR means there is a consistent approach to data privacy and cookie laws. EU policy is that cookie preference must be completely clear. Brexit won’t really have a cookie impact because the UK will want to be GDPR compliant for the free flow of data.

With regards to email and legitimate interest however, there can be some variation regionally in Europe. Some countries are slightly more lenient than others, but this could tighten at any time.

California data privacy laws are similar to GDPR, meanwhile, Canada is a lot tighter than GDPR, and data use in the region is really limited. Australia is also looking to implement more similar policies to Canada. There has even been talk of Google pulling services out of Australia, but these discussions are still in the very early stages.

The recent US elections (and tightening of certain policies) will not have a direct impact on cookie and data laws. However, Twitter banning Trump has stirred conversation around how the big tech data companies are policing their platforms and, their data capture.

In the next few years, we might see some of these big tech companies be held more accountable what are they doing with user data- and the civil liberties of users to protect their information. This is a larger socio-political argument which will take a longer time to develop and will not relate specifically to cookie laws. These potential future changes will not be imminent.

In the nearer future, people might try and take legal action against the big tech companies… and likely will not win.

So who will be impacted by the loss of cookies?

When Google decides to axe browser tracking completely, the wider loss of third-party cookies will not just impact display, but also Google Analytics (and other analytic platforms), SEO and PPC. In short, Google axing cookies will have an affect on the whole digital advertising industry.

One thing we could see is a wider rolling out Analytics 4. This platform enables server-side tracking (not cookie tracking).

Tracking functionalities will be reduced, but marketers will still be able to see how people are behaving on their page, the broader view of how they behave across the web will become privatised.

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