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At Intentsify, we care about consumer privacy, as well as our customers’ concerns over their clients’ data privacy. These are serious issues that we never take lightly. And we work hard to anticipate changes in the industry—from emerging government regulations and social trends to evolving technologies and customer needs—so that we’re always one step ahead, providing helpful, privacy-compliant solutions.

Any personal data Intentsify captures, stores, transfers and/or uses is fully compliant to local regulations, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Additionally, we’re currently testing databases that attach unique identifiers to organizations, which will allow us to align an individual’s online research activities to an organization without ever leveraging any personal identifiable information (PII).

That said, there’s a chance that cookies as the primary means of tracking consumer behaviors will come to an end, which has led to much concern among B2B organizations. Further, since a large portion of intent signals is derived from programmatic advertising exchanges—which have historically relied quite heavily on the use of cookies for targeting purposes—inquiries about how a cookie-less world might affect intent data have been gaining steam.

Here we’ll discuss Intentsify’s point of view (POV) regarding:

  1. the proliferation of data privacy regulations;
  2. what a cookie-less world may entail; and
  3. its impact on intent data.

Data Privacy Regulations: Marketing Setback or Solution?

Why regulations?

As executive teams increasingly task marketing departments with driving revenue, it’s easy to see how marketers might lose sight of the big picture: what’s good for customers is good for business.

As a result, certain marketing processes—namely those dependent on acquiring prospect/customer data—have many unintended, negative consequences on both our target audiences as well as the market economy with which our businesses rise and fall.

We, as marketers, are often unaware of how secure (or insecure) data is when we capture, transfer, or use it. As it turns out, it’s often not all that secure. Not long ago, hackers gained access to information on 150 million users of Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal app. Soon after, Marriott announced a massive data breach, potentially affecting 500 million people. Identity-theft is estimated to cost American consumers alone more than $16 billion annually.

This all reverberates throughout the digital marketing space, hurting our organizations as well as our customers. When target audiences lose faith in our ability to safeguard their interest, they’re far less likely to interact with our marketing engagement efforts, much less do business with our companies.

Back in May, 2018 an Economist article succinctly corroborated the link between marketing practices and data privacy laws, stating the GDPR was the result of marketers’ (via their advertising tech) “insatiable hunger for personal data.”

Businesses across the globe have largely failed to self-regulate. And in the marketing industry’s pursuit to acquire as much data as possible, as quickly as possible, it has put prospects and customers at risk. It’s for reasons such as these that government-implemented data-protection regulations are on the rise.

Privacy regulations as a setback for marketing teams

The EU’s GDPR went into effect in May of 2018, and the CCPA followed soon after in January 2020. Such laws can cause major headaches for marketing teams.

Think about all the database contacts you lost after being required by the GDPR to ensure your EU audiences had recently opted into communications from your company. Or the work that went into updating landing page language to ensure prospects provide consent for lead capture. Or how your team had to adjust data-transfer processes to ensure secure, compliant data delivery.

And the penalties for noncompliance are substantial. For instance, GDPR fines can run up to €20 million or 4% of annual global revenue (whichever is greater).

Such penalties are rightly cause for concern. Yet they also present the best solution to growing problems affecting our customers and consumers in general.

Privacy regulations as a marketing solution

Like all regulations, data-privacy rules can hurt efficiency and innovation, and therefore impede productivity. However, as the threats to privacy grow, the benefits of regulations are increasing relative to their costs—for both consumers and businesses.

Here are just a few positive results of new privacy regulations:

Encourage account-based focus

Account-based marketing (ABM) requires marketers to focus their efforts, resources, and budget on fewer accounts and individuals. It shuns spray-and-pray email tactics and high-volume lead gen goals—both of which require marketers to scrape as much personal data as possible and are averse to data privacy.

Data regulations and good ABM strategies strive to create quality prospect interactions by being customer-focused. This demands that marketers be respectful of prospect data and gain trust.

Cause businesses to focus on the metrics that matter

Sure, the executive team understands that pipeline opportunities and revenue are more important than lead volume. Yet, for most marketing teams, as soon as top-funnel lead volume decreases (a common result of ABM implementation), the C-suite is quick to question demand strategy.

Recent and upcoming data-privacy regulations provide good arguments for marketing teams to shift goals down funnel. In turn, this will enable them to prioritize efforts and resources to practices that best result in pipeline and revenue growth.

Improve prospect and customer data quality

The fact that the GDPR requires consent for specific uses of data will lead to an improved understanding of prospect needs. In other words, marketers will gain more specific, accurate prospect data with which they can further qualify, nurture and convert leads into opportunities.

Enhance program transparency

Regulations certainly create barriers to marketing-funnel entry. But this is a good thing. This barrier acts as a filtration device, limiting the amount of bad data that can muddy your database and skew your program measurement, analysis and optimization. With a cleaner database, you’ll gain a better understanding of which engagement tactics are resonating with your target audiences.

Increase marketing (and sales) efficiency

When prospect data is of higher quality, your team doesn’t need to waste as many resources trying to convert leads that should never have been in your database to begin with. You can reallocate time and effort to more strategic, revenue-driving activities.

Boosts marketing’s credibility among other teams

When marketing’s engagement efforts become more personalized—both due to compliance requirements and because you’ll have more specific information about prospects from the beginning—prospective customers will be more open to engagement. The result is a much smoother, more productive lead hand-off to sales. Plus, as marketing resources are freed from chasing down and managing a database bloated with uninterested contacts, you’ll be able to better assist sales with down-funnel enablement efforts.

Though these are all great developments, privacy regulations are now threatening one of marketers’ main tools for targeting prospects digitally: the 3rd-party cookie.

The End of Cookies

Data privacy regulations like the GDPR and CCPA have already created an implicit need to get consent from an individual to drop a cookie on their internet browser and in technical implementations: Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention in Safari (ITP) and Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP). While these regulations haven’t in themselves precluded the use of cookies, they’re often understood as a harbinger of cookies’ demise.

It should also be noted, however, that cookies are a very old technology (by today’s standards), having been introduced in the 1990s. Their replacement by a more sophisticated technology has always been inevitable. The fact that cookies can be reverse-engineered to uncover an individual’s identity just makes finding privacy-compliant alternatives more important.

Fortunately, several replacement solutions have already been developed. Time will tell which will gain the most use, but here are the current frontrunners.

Possible cookie-replacement solutions

Google’s FLoC

Simply put, FLoCs are a proprietary way for Google to define and make available contextual behavioral buckets to help marketers target their audiences. It’s page indexing meets people indexing, with pages representing topics/categories that get associated with specific individuals.

It harkens back to the days of contextual targeting of look-alikes. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as marketers want the ability to limit targeting to relevant individuals who actually show interest in the content and sites that can be a proxy for what they sell.

The problem is how granular Google will get as far as the number of categories it intends to build. This could present issues for B2B marketers who are looking to target fairly esoteric, smaller audiences. For example, if you’re selling hardware/infrastructure, will Google be constructing FLoC’s to meet the need? It’s a very fair question. If the past is any indicator of the future, Google will go where the money is, and that means the big B2C brands that serve many millions of impressions. We shall see.

Another issue is around cross-device targeting. People, for the most part, are multi-device users and the developers of FLoC haven’t yet addressed how this is being tackled.

The TradeDesk’s Unified ID

The TradeDesk’s (TTD) Unified ID is an open-source identity solution that’s interoperable across multiple platforms. It’s intended to be a more privacy-focused cookie alternative that addresses advertisers’ needs while doing more to ensure anonymity and privacy.

TTD’s Unified ID 2.0 is also garnering a lot of support across the landscape. Companies like Index Exchange, Magnite, PubMatic, OpenX, SpotX, Criteo, LiveRamp, and Neustar are all on board. Agency networks like Publicis have jumped in as well. And large publishers and streamers like the Washington Post and Roku have also said yes to UID 2.0.

The base concept for the UID 2.0 is that it affords complete anonymity with no way to reverse engineer it (like you can with cookies). So, there’s no way to reveal a person’s identity, and thus, no privacy violations. But it’s a very similar process and methodology in other ways. For example, you’ll still be able to identify behaviors at the individual level and target accordingly. Whereas, with Google FLoCs, you lose the ability to decide how many individuals you can and should target, the UID 2.0 gives you the precision you use today.

Legitimate and Legal 3rd-Party Digital Identity Graphs (DIGs)

Companies in the digital identity business (known as DIGs) will also be providing cross-channel/omnichannel targeting solutions. Companies like LiveRamp and Lotame (among many others) will continue to abide by the strict privacy and security procedures demanded by their Fortune 1000 clients. At the same time, they’ll act as legitimate interlocutors between brands and the digital advertising and email universes.

The key here is the cross-channel piece, where Google has yet to weigh in on how one would/could target FLoCs in a cross-channel environment.

Suffice to say, several strong alternatives to cookies already exist. And while they may require adjustments to current marketing processes, they’re unlikely to derail efforts. The important takeaway—it’s in all parties’ interest to get it right. This means allowing for precise targeting, granular reporting, and an adherence to privacy.

Anything less would be setting digital advertising back many years—so maintaining privacy while allowing precision will be a key function of whatever emerges. There will be many solutions to start, and you’ll wind up using a few of these. The marketplace will coalesce around the simplest and best ways to create win-wins for both marketers and B2B consumers.

But what about the effect on intent data, specifically?

Intent Data After Cookies

From a B2B marketing perspective, intent data is about being able to score accounts by aggregating behaviors of many anonymous people—rather than a single individual. The individual is a lot less important than the buying group at a target account.

In fact, intent data for B2B marketing and sales purposes has never relied directly on the use of cookies; even those intent signals derived from advertising exchanges. The question around intent data and cookies has more to do with ad volume affecting intent-signal volume.

Exchange-based intent signals are derived by matching IP addresses—gathered when ad impressions are served on specific web pages—to specific companies/organizations. The use of such IP addresses is compliant with data privacy regulations if captured, stored, and transferred in an anonymous way; i.e., in a manner that can’t be reversed engineered to identify an individual. Further, IP-resolution methods work just as well if a cookie alternative is used to target those ads.

The worry expressed in the market is that, in the absence of cookies to target specific personas, the volume of ad impressions will drop, thereby decreasing the volume of intent signals. However, as we’ve discussed, there are already a number of viable solutions that will enable current targeting sophistication to continue, albeit without the possibility of further infringements on data privacy.

We’ll stay on top of these developments, regarding industry debates, new and upcoming regulations, and emerging solutions. Moreover, we’ll keep you informed as we move closer to the intended sunset of the 3rd-party cookie.

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