Last year brought tectonic changes to the internet marketing industry. But, if you thought these tremors were over, brace yourselves for what is coming in 2021.
We don’t need to tell you 2020 was a tough year. You already know this, and it isn’t worth repeating. Instead, let’s move swiftly on and take a look at 7 key changes digital marketers need to look out for in 2021.
Farewell to the Third-Party Cookie
One of the most important developments in the past year is the slow demise of third-party cookies. Increased public awareness over data privacy, not to mention several high-profile data leaks and scandals, led many companies to start suppressing the use of third-party cookies on their platforms.
Apple implemented Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) in their Safari browser, which effectively blocks all third-party cookies, while announcing a similar approach for iOS14, blocking all information exchange between mobile apps and advertising platforms on their mobile devices. Likewise, in January last year, Google announced that their browser Chrome will begin blocking third-party cookies by 2022.
The impact of this on online marketers should not be underestimated with huge repercussions in areas like ad effectiveness, conversion, and, in particular, attribution modeling. Most advertising platforms and analytics tools rely on information from cookies to establish the full path of the customer. Thus, removing third-party cookies from the equation leaves attribution largely impossible. All in all, the extinction of third-party cookies will potentially result in no reliable conversion tracking for about 86% of website visitors using major browsers.
Nonetheless, alternatives have been touted. By far the largest global advertising platform, Google has offered the Privacy Sandbox – a set of APIs that will allow advertisers to track certain parameters, such as basic ad conversions. But in comparison to what has come before, it’s highly limited and, to date, details on how exactly this will work have not been forthcoming.
As a result, digital marketers are shifting to more old-school advertising and marketing methods to provide valuable insights without relying on third-party cookies – Marketing Mix Modelling is one of the most obvious examples. Either way, one thing is certain – the golden days of full data availability on user behavior are coming to end, and marketers are going to have to decide how best to adapt to this brave new world.
Further Data Privacy Regulatory Changes
With everything that has happened in the past 12 months, you’d be forgiven for forgetting about the headaches brought on by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Put into effect way back in May 2018, the GDPR was one of several legislative frameworks around the world aimed at strengthening data privacy that has changed the way companies handle personal data, especially in the EU. You should learn these details properly to land a job in digital marketing you are the dream of.
Last year, however, the final ruling of the ‘Schrems II’ case saw the Court of Justice of the EU invalidate the Privacy Shield, a mechanism that the EU Commission had adopted to make data transfers to the US GDPR-compliant. If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is, however, the outcome is that it is now extremely difficult for EU-based companies to transfer customer data to systems located outside of the EU.
With the majority of martech tools owned by US-based entities, many companies were subsequently left between a rock and the proverbial hard place – refrain from using industry-standard tools such as Google Analytics, or face potentially extreme penalties for falling foul of the GDPR.
However, despite the initial storm following the ruling, things went quiet towards the end of the year, and the long-term impact remains somewhat uncertain. On November 11, 2020, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) published its recommendations following the Schrems II decision, and businesses transferring data to the US should ensure that they take those supplementary measures.
As 2021 progresses, we should get more clarity on the measures necessary to enable legally approved transfers of data to the US, alongside the likelihood of additional rulings on the GDPR (and comparative laws around the world). Very much ‘watch this space’ as the situation unfolds.