A Christmas Without Cookies? Get Ready Now

It may be a few years away, but brands should prioritize first-party data efforts to deliver privacy and personalization

As consumer brands and retailers start planning for a blockbuster holiday season fueled by record savings and reopening economies, how can they deliver a connected experience online and offline without overstepping on privacy?

That’s the question of the day—or it would be. Unfortunately, many boardrooms are distracted by dueling crises, with more seeming to pop up everywhere, from inflation to supply chain issues to shortages in goods and labor.

But meeting heightened consumer expectations—especially on privacy—is worth keeping top-of-mind, even for companies that checked every box in the wake of GDPR. A cavalcade of industry developments on privacy in just the past six months—from Apple’s tightened restrictions for mobile apps to the likely inevitable, albeit forestalled, elimination of third party cookies from major internet browsers—means that getting it right remains a priority.

Thriving in a paradox

Of course, that is easier said than done, especially given heightened consumer expectations in the wake of the pandemic. It’s a paradox of modern times: Consumers want brands to treat them as unique individuals, share their values, and provide a consistent experience online and offline, with deeper rewards for loyalty. At the same time, they also want privacy—more control over data, more confidence that it’s used ethically and securely, more trust in brand relationships and an end to algorithmically garbled messaging that only a bot would love.

Delivering on both fronts is a tall order, particularly for consumer product giants that traditionally lack a direct relationship with the end-consumer. To reach consumers in future holiday seasons, many will likely embrace short-term fixes like updated contextual targeting in advertising and a heavier reliance on traditional tactics—leaving deeper personalization across the customer journey for another day. Or never. One analyst even predicts that a majority of marketers who invested in personalization will abandon their efforts in the next few years.

Paving the road to the golden profile

It doesn’t have to be this way. At its best, first-party data unlocks a world of value for both consumers and the companies trying to reach them. Customers see tangible benefits, while brands benefit from deeper A/B testing, experimentation, optimization, personalization and a lot more.

BCG estimates that around 30% of enterprises are currently set up to leverage first-party data in an advanced way across channels today. Others that act now—expanding customer data relationships built on trust to deliver personalization at scale everywhere it matters—can join them, reaping the early rewards this holiday season.

To be sure, first-party data at scale is an ambitious vision, but when implemented fully it can be incredibly powerful. Brands can harness insights on every customer interaction and embrace AI to make intelligent, data-driven decisions in real-time across marketing, sales and customer service. They can also engage an ever-expanding pool of potential customers (often called zero-party data), backed by promotional efforts.

As important, first-party data can enable deeper business transformation. Agile operating models and broad alignment across the C-suite, with marketing and technical teams working together to get infrastructure in place and leaders rolling out a whole-of-company approach to act on information outside normal planning cycles, can ensure that companies not only have insights but are set up to move faster in crises or respond to changing consumer preferences.

The best part is that enterprises do not have to deliver all this transformation overnight to be successful. Technology has come a long way in making customer data management integrations easier. It also doesn’t need to include every touchpoint at first to see ROI—brands might start with better digital marketing and e-commerce.