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The party’s over. It's time for marketers to embrace privacy

Charlotte Irwin

As the famous line in Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi goes, “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone”. Mitchell was singing about humans destroying the environment. But it’s a feeling most of us have known at some point.

Faced with tighter online privacy laws, marketers may now be experiencing that familiar pang of nostalgia. Cookies – small blocks of data placed on a user’s device to track their online browsing – have long governed lead-chasing and helped digital marketers prove their worth to clients. But the good old days of tracking are over.

New laws in the US and Europe are giving people the power to reject cookies and decide who tracks them. The same goes for apps. Apple and Google now require developers to get users’ permission to track their activity.

This is only the beginning. A privacy-first, transparent future beckons with Web3 – the next generation of the internet – where users will have even more power over their data.

But should marketers be afraid of a cookie-less future?

Cookies have always failed us

When people say no to third-party cookies, marketers lose sight of their audience. They can’t track people. Or retarget them. And that impacts results. But our “dark social” habits have long been giving tracking the slip.

No, it’s not anything illegal. “Dark social” refers to how people actually interact with and share content. Instead of clicking on an ad, a user might mention it to the person they’re sitting next to. Or send a link in a Slack message. Or pop it in an email.

The content has done its job but marketers are none the wiser.

Put people first

As we enter a cookie-less future, marketers need to pivot to something they can trust: first-party data.

When marketers collect data directly from users, they own and control the information they receive. And that makes it a lot more reliable.

Clicks, views and site visits tell part of the story. But what the user decides to tell you is more interesting. That information comes from actual leads but also engagement indicators: likes, comments and shares.

You can also ask your audience for feedback. Yes, it takes effort, but reaching out to leads can further boost engagement and brand perception. People feel more valued when you show you’re listening and ask “what do you think?”.

Be more transparent…

Internet users are more willing to hand over their data if they know they are getting something in return. Most people welcome cookies when they notice a website remembers the items they’ve put in an online shopping cart or their account log-in details.

If you want users to give you their data, you need to be clear about what you’re offering. Audiences need to understand why, rather than being silently piggy-backed by a cookie.

For businesses, being more transparent is a good habit to get into. Web3 is still taking shape, but it’s clear that the next generation of the internet will intensify the focus on privacy.

An interactive, decentralised space, Web3 will be powered by technologies such as AI, blockchain and token-based economics that enable secure sharing and give users control over their own data.

…and more creative

At The Frameworks, we know that numbers can get in the way of creativity. Especially in B2B. Too often the desire to hit short-term targets stops B2B clients from investing in something bold.

When we spoke to 150 B2B marketers as part of our Be Bold report we found that 90% of organisations are more likely to take the safer route than to try something different.  

But it’s important to remember that, while data is useful for lead generation, it doesn’t create demand. Only your creativity has the power to stop the scroll. Investing in something that grabs your target audience’s attention is more likely to drive engagement – and results.

Take our work for intelligent automation provider, Dematic. They asked us to create a stand-out campaign for their new retail automation solution and reinforce their market leader status.

We evolved Dematic’s visual language with animation and adopted a clear, authoritative tone of voice to craft a bold – and deceptively simple – configurator. That’s how we engaged potential customers in a highly competitive market. 

A first-hand experience

Bold creative shouldn’t be wacky for the sake of it. It has to tap into something your audience likes, wants or needs. Even the most out-there ideas need to be well researched. And nothing beats hearing from your audience first-hand.

At The Frameworks, we follow a user-focused process to identify bold ideas. Alongside desk research, we interview stakeholders to understand our audience’s pain points from those that know them best. That’s how we create engaging work for our clients.

We did just that for Siemens, digesting more than 50 documents and interviewing key stakeholders to reveal who we needed to appeal to and how to do it.

The result? An interactive web platform that takes that dense, white paper content and reframes it as a punchy, self-guided experience that engages not only technical minds but users from business backgrounds, too.

Don’t look back

The perceived safety net of third-party cookies has long failed marketers.

Rather than something to fear, a more open and transparent relationship with audiences will empower marketers to create bolder, demand-creating work.

Surely, that’s a better future for everyone?

A version of this article previously appeared on Digital Age in January 2023.