The marketing priority all fast growth businesses need to adopt…

… and why the third-party cookie problem needs a rebrand

There’s been a lot of talk about some significant changes set to impact digital marketing in the next 12 months or so as third-party cookies are set to disappear.

But let’s face facts. Many startup and scale up businesses simply aren’t concerned. And why would they be? Issues of third-party cookies and online advertising are often irrelevant.

It’s a fair assumption and it’s why I’m arguing that the “third-party cookie problem” needs a rebrand.

The next few paragraphs will make the case for why all businesses should be paying attention to what comes next, whether using online advertising or not.

Why the third-party cookie problem feels irrelevant to many business leaders

Let’s rewind.

Whilst online, information is being stored in your browser detailing what you’ve read, clicked on and purchased. This information (third-party cookies) can be accessed and sold to advertisers around the world to determine which ads and content to show you. Right now you could have thousands of ad serving cookies stored in your web browser.

These cookies power much of the advertising that brands rely on to reach audiences online and in turn funds the free internet as we currently know it.

But it is often true that start-up and scale-up businesses don’t use online advertising and so aren’t reliant on third-party cookies to power their marketing. Many businesses struggle with a piecemeal approach and are uncertain of how to spend marketing budget, with priorities often focused elsewhere.

The playbook can often be “get a website, be on social media, worry about marketing later”. As a result, a disconnect has formed – but the death of the third-party cookie and, more importantly, its replacement really does matter.

It matters because small businesses want to become bigger businesses. Whilst the third-party cookie might be irrelevant during a businesses’ early stages where there’s plenty of organic growth and low hanging fruit, at some point, most businesses will hit a growth plateau and hit the “marketing problem”.

The inevitability of the “marketing problem”

At OV, we define this as the point where a business exhausts all the easy routes to market and all easy sales. This might take 3 months, it might take 3 years, But however long it takes, when the time comes for a business to scale and grow beyond this, it invariably needs to drive greater reach, consideration and trust among its target market. And it needs to do this fast (especially if there’s investment involved) and at an acceptable cost.

This can often mean gaining greater clarity on the target market and marketplace, and setting out a strategy that maps the right proposition and messaging through the right channels to reach the audience at the right time and in the right place.

Where the rubber hits the road with third-party cookies

Some form of digital marketing is an almost inevitable part of the solution to this “marketing problem” and has opened up huge opportunities for businesses.

Whilst ads can be served almost anywhere online, it’s cookies, and in particular the third-party cookie that’s powered the scale and sheer power of increasingly personalised and targeted ads. And whilst it has undoubtedly worked and has its benefits, there are plenty of issues and drawbacks too. Privacy concerns have been overlooked, performance isn’t always transparent, and brands have struggled to develop meaningful connections and trust in the digital sphere at scale.

The doors to third-party cookie advertising are now closing (Google is set to retire the third-party cookie later this year) and this has led to a lot of debate and worry about where businesses can turn to fuel their growth.

And it’s an old answer to a new problem.

The new arms race is the old arms race

The fundamental principles of consent and value exchange are reemerging into the spotlight. They never truly went away but have been overshadowed in the era of third-party cookies.

The trap of third-party cookies was to invite businesses to fixate on increasing reach and scale – pouring more money in, getting more money out.

Between these traps and all the marketing industry navel gazing concerned with how Google and the rest of the industry will react to losing the third-party cookie, many have lost sight of what this issue is really about.

Starting, nurturing and maintaining relationships. Building trust. And value exchange.

This is the era of first-party data, where consumers choose to exchange their data, give their attention, and build relationships with brands and businesses they want to.

It’s about genuine consideration of the customer and their needs, developing relationships, respecting privacy, acquiring consent, understanding communication preferences, and offering real value exchange.

With these fundamentals in place a business can turn to its relationship with its existing audience / customer-base as a critical, foundational component for growth.

Big brands and big companies are better equipped to deal with these shifts, in part due to the larger audiences they have to begin with which they can tap into. Smaller, scaling businesses don’t have this luxury and need to focus on building the right engine for growth.

So we arrive at some recommendations for what businesses can and should be doing to strategically ready themselves for growth, whether the “marketing problem” is upon them or not.

7 steps to consider as marketing priorities to scale their growth:

1. Managing and effectively using customer and target market data should be an early stage priority. This should start before a business hits the “marketing problem”. Key to this is understanding what customer data a business needs to drive better decision making. Once understood this can help inform step 2.

2. Adopt CRM (customer data management) software that can help you manage your customer data and scale with you as you grow, ideally one that combines sales and marketing capabilities. This not only supports your customer database (one of a businesses’ most valuable assets) but can power a lot of your earned and owned marketing activities or at the very least integrate with your website, email marketing, SMS, push notifications, etc, all the while building up a more in-depth understanding of your customer base. This is an investment that will quickly pay off.

3. Improve the knowledge you have of your customer and target market – lots of businesses simply don’t understand the needs of their customer well enough. Use this to help shape a sales funnel or customer journeys. Doing so can help understand the jobs your customers are trying to complete, how you can help make buying easier for them and offer the right balance of communication to them.

4. Born out of step 3, entice your target market with something that offers real value (to them!) – this could range from free trials, brand insights, industry reports, thought leadership, entertainment and beyond – anything which they deem a fair exchange for their personal data. This is often the start of a relationship that’s formed with a brand or business and needs to be carefully managed over time. We’re all far more careful about sharing our data now so this value exchange needs to work both ways.

5. Once steps 1-4 are in place, work on marketing communications that continues to offer value to your audience. Evolve the when, the what, the platform and the format over time to improve results. Understanding and delivering on this will help maintain an engaged audience.

6. Having steps 1-5 in place will also help you make your wider marketing efforts so much more effective, so that people reached through other channels (yes, digital ads will still be a part of this mix) can be more successfully engaged and communicated with.

7. Finally, each business should identify a senior advocate or sponsor for first-party data, ideally someone who is directly involved with the growth activities of the business. A range of decisions are often needed over time making this a key voice at the strategic table.

For more on the topics touched on in this blog, take a look at our trends report where my colleague Lisa Wood talks about trust in marketing and where I discuss the death of the third-party cookie.

Photo of Jon Paget

Jon Paget, Senior Partner

Jon’s a former Marketing Director of the health tech start-up, Social-Ability. As a member of the founding team, Jon spent 5 fast-paced years creating and developing the brand and building marketing strategies as the brand went from new market entrant to market leader inside 3 years. When he’s not working, Jon is writing, travelling or cycling – often trying to do all three at once.

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