While the cookie is not dead, it seems to certainly be crumbling as brands begin leveraging data and artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver personalisation at scale to drive a better experience for customers. The rise of AI, data, and new uses of audience segmentation are providing more opportunities to deliver personalised messaging.
According to research firm Gartner, companies that utilise personalisation will generate 20% more revenue than those who do not. But as marketers shift towards a people-based marketing approach, where does that leave cookie-based targeting? Is it on its way out?
A panel of experts gathered at the Cannes Lions Festival to discuss this very subject.
Stephan Beringer, global practice lead of data, technology and innovation at Publicis Media, is cautious about calling out “the death of the cookie” because it still exists – even if its importance has diminished. Beringer notes it is important to understand consumers as people rather than cookies or a block of demographics. This can be done by observing behaviors using data signals and then creating predictive models to reach people more effectively.
“By defining behavioral patterns it is possible to predict when someone is about to move to a new house. By observing whether they are looking for paint or new furniture, for example, and using algorithms, brands can determine the probability a person will move in the next few months and adjust their campaign messaging and the content on their website,” he explains.
Ron Amram, vice-president of media at Heineken, agrees that cookies are not disappearing, but acknowledges that marketers can go deeper.
“The key driver which is really going to unlock the power of digital for brands will be the level of personalisation. The more accurate we can be, the more effective we can be as brands, resulting in a more positive experience for the consumer,” he says.
A new era of hyper-personalised experiences
For Beringer, the use of predictive technology and machine learning can enable brands to not only adjust their content to “create more relevance” for the consumer, but also influence product development. Take Geneu, a cosmetics brand that analyzes a consumer’s DNA to compose a custom anti-aging product designed specifically for their needs.
“I find the approach quite symptomatic in terms of where our world is going. Data and technology will have a massive influence in the future, determining what kind of products or services brands will deliver to an individual,” he says.
Jim Sink, vice-president of global agency partners at Adobe, is excited about the potential of voice-based AI: “How do we provide intelligence for actions? Amazon did this very well 10 years ago and I think that’s one of the main areas to focus on; changing the creative systematically as well as adding intelligence to a customer’s journey based on what you know from the signals coming from cookies as well as others across the authenticated and unauthenticated customer journey.”
According to William Lidstone, global client lead at Publicis Groupe, there are some personalization techniques actually working against consumers’ best interests. “A cinema chain in the UK uses differential pricing. Depending on where you are and what they know about you based on your ID, the price for your cinema ticket will range from £9 to £30. If you can afford it, they will push the price up.”
Beringer says this approach has massive limitations: “Consumers ultimately have the power to switch brands in a nanosecond. It would be a short-term strategy to try and game the system because that’s going to backfire very quickly.”
How are agencies structuring to deliver personalisation?
Even with the right technological techniques in place, traditional structures could be hindering the ability to deliver personalised experiences, the panel believes. Part of the reasons those structures are in place is that, traditionally, brands purchase agency services in silos.
Beringer says Publicis Groupe agencies have broken down those silos and are already in a strong position to utilize the same intelligence sources while planning a brand campaign or a media strategy. “We are now able to leverage platforms that allow different constituents in the process to all use the data tied to one unified platform and work off one common workflow, helping clients be more successful and efficient,” he says.
Sink agrees that the structural limitations have been a challenge, both at brands and agencies, but says brands are increasingly looking at things more holistically across marketing solutions and outlines a few things they could be doing better.
“It would be good to have the same entity handling the creative, branding and investment in advertising, as well as mobile applications and targeting. Agencies can wrap themselves around a brand with multiple disciplines coming from different parts of the agency,” he says. “We are seeing this in more and more brands since the start of 2017.”
What about serendipity?
As brands rush to tailor advertisements exactly to an individual’s preferences, where does that leave the powerful feeling of serendipity? As Lidstone notes: “The last thing you want is to feel trapped by a brand or an experience and not see the full picture. I think serendipity remains important and has to be factored into the process.”
Beringer agrees and adds that consumers expect brands to eliminate barriers and problems by anticipating what they need. But he says there will always be “an element of serendipity” in the way brands interact with consumers.
“When you think about super successful brands, they always came up with something that had not existed before and the consumer was not necessarily expecting. It doesn’t have to be contradictory,” he says.
Lidstone is optimistic about the future of people-based marketing. “The race is on to get into this space for platform companies and publishers. I think at the end of this year we will see a significant step-change with computational abilities and platforms,” he concludes.
If brands want to retain a competitive edge they will need to look beyond the cookie and do more. Whether it is using data signals, predictive modeling or algorithms, marketers can delve deeper into consumer behaviors to target them more effectively.
The above was written in association with Adobe and Publicis Groupe from an event that featured a panel of experts discussing whether the cookie has had its day.