The Big Reset: Advertising Effectiveness in a Privacy-First World

Walmart Connect Canada recently hosted a thought leadership event, MasterConnect, featuring moderator Dana Toering, Vice President of Walmart Connect Canada, and four panelists: Alexandra Panousis, CEO and Chair at Dentsu Media Canada, Matthew Thornton, Director, Google Marketing Platform – Canada at Google, Darren Bulakowski, Head of Monetization at Pelmorex Corp, and Sach Malik, Senior Director, Performance Marketing & Ad Products at Walmart Canada. The discussion focused on how advertisers can adapt to the new realities of customer privacy and the loss of third-party data. For key themes from the panel, see below.

Cookies have been foundational to programmatic advertising for more than a quarter century. Now that they are being discontinued, brands, marketers, and advertisers all have cause for concern. But here is the catch: consumers never liked cookies—and that matters. Customer experience (CX) has become one of the most crucial drivers of business success, so the end of cookies should be embraced as not only an inevitability, but an opportunity.

The fact is that people are tired of being the product. They no longer want to feel like brands are following them around the web, and that their data is being bought and sold without their consent. With 25 years of internet advertising methods being disrupted, it is time to decide what the next quarter century will look like.

As consumer privacy controls increase, advertisers face signal loss. Campaign ROI is diminishing, measurability and targetability for marketing programs have been reduced, and brands are trying to gauge how to communicate effectively without being able to concretely identify consumer interests and behaviours.

How can brands continue to deliver relevant digital advertising to consumers in a post-cookie world? The answer to that question is a work in progress, but as we saw in the MasterConnect panel discussion, industry leaders are already thinking about how to adjust and adapt. Here are three of the top themes they shared.

 Customer sentiment needs to be taken seriously
Alexandra Panousis from Dentsu Media Canada puts it simply: “Start with your customer,” she says. “Figure out what’s working. Stop the jargon and stop the antiquated ways of measuring performance. Look at your entire funnel.”

This monumental shift in the industry was instigated by consumer demands. So it is up to brands to honour those demands by uncovering ways to engage, understand, and delight users. First-party data will be a major differentiator in the near future, but in order to collect it, organizations have to think critically about the value exchange they offer consumers.

“If you’re going to ask for information, make sure you’re entertaining consumers or sharing something of importance,” says Panousis. While it may be nearly impossible to have a perfect view of the customer in a privacy-first future, brands can consider asking for additional data points during the registration process, while also doubling down on owned channels like email, loyalty programs, brand apps, and social media.

Ultimately, it is important to remain focused on the fundamental metrics of profits and sales, while uncovering new ways to measure user touchpoints. “I would audit your CX value chain and then look at solutions that are built for the long term,” says Panousis.

 The months ahead are a major learning opportunity
The changes that are coming may be dramatic, but that does not mean they should be a source of panic, claims Matthew Thornton from Google Canada. “Programmatic buying is going to be the same next week as it was last week,” he says. “What we are doing at Google right now is trying to signal early to the market that we’re developing this new path, and we’re inviting everyone to join us—putting the turning signal on way before we leave the freeway.”

Brands need to accept this invitation and stay on top of ongoing developments—whether that means experimenting on platforms like Google’s Privacy Sandbox or volunteering for open betas. “Ask yourself, as you’re making decisions, ‘Am I acting with band-aid solutions and yesterday’s logic?’” says Thornton. “If you’re playing whack-a-mole with the regulators, it’s not going to be a long-term solution.”

“Get on your front foot,” advises Darren Bulakowski from Pelmorex Corp. “Start getting into this to understand it, because the change is happening already and more is coming our way.”

There’s no denying that it is a complicated, dynamic landscape, and there is a lot to learn. Thankfully, there is ample time for advertisers who start now.

 No single organization can navigate this alone
The shift towards a privacy-first model is a collective effort, engaging the full digital advertising ecosystem. In the short term, this is going to be a challenge for advertisers, as the landscape is dominated by walled gardens with their own first-party data and limited transparency.

“It’s difficult to start building walls from scratch when you’re competing with companies that have 100-foot walls already in place,” says Bulakowski. “We want to hold onto our valuable data, but that makes it more difficult on the other end. Google is an incredible partner in how we navigate this.”

That is why partnerships are so critical: no single organization has a definitive answer for how to adapt to a post-cookie reality. “We’re partnering with the walled gardens of the world,” says Sach Malik from Walmart Canada. “Getting the industry to come to a consensus and building that understanding within the organization is complex.”

As the digital advertising landscape pivots, it is possible that the biggest walled gardens may become less opaque—but brands need to be proactive in partnering with organizations and determining this new direction, instead of waiting for change to happen on its own. “At Walmart, we put the customer at the centre of everything and create the ad experiences around them,” says Malik. “The majority of our ad spend on our platform is driven by Walmart’s first-party data.”

This is a chance for brands to be creative and evolve
Today, consumers expect delightful omnichannel experiences that allow them to connect with their favourite brands across a variety of physical and virtual platforms and places. They value privacy, transparency, and trust, and want ownership over their data and a full view of how it is used.

Overall, the hurdle that most brands, agencies, marketers, and advertisers face is that they need to find a way to do more with less data, and build resilient, future-focused strategies that stay ahead of regulatory changes. Brands that understand these expectations will be able to truly set themselves apart.

At Walmart Connect Canada, we are always thinking about what is next in the digital marketing space. Get in touch to continue the conversation.

Photo Credits: Petryshak / Shutterstock Inc.
The Big Reset Panelists
Dana Toering
Vice President
Alexandra Panousis
CEO and Chair
Matthew Thornton
Director, Google Marketing Platform - Canada
Darren Bulakowski
Head of Monetization
Sach Malik
Senior Director, Performance Marketing & Ad Products
Walmart Connect

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