2021: taking marketing back to basics?


Let’s be honest, playing the risky predictions game for 2021 hot on the heels of the unpredictability that plagued 2020 is a tricky exercise. Having said that, the projects in the pipeline in our particular playing field, namely marketing and adtech, are taking shape with sufficient clarity that we can predict how the sector is likely to trend. What will the business environment look like in the months ahead? How will our audiences and ecosystem be affected? What about our skills? Read on for some answers.

A radically changing technical and regulatory environment

The rate of change in our technical and legislative environment continued gaining pace in 2020. The story is far from over. There are still uncertainties surrounding the mechanism that will take over from cookies, but 2021 will be the year where we need to embrace a different set of work practices. There are several reasons why:

  • Browsers will increasingly screen out third-party cookies. Apple got the ball rolling with ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention), and Google is promising to wipe out cookies from Chrome in 2022.
  • The terms for managing consent are steadily coming into focus. What with the IAB’s TCF v2 framework and the directives issued by France’s data protection authority, which will come into force on 31 March 2021, the first three months of 2021 will serve as a test bed for improving consent rates.
  • While endeavouring to collect consent as effectively as possible, brands will receive a supporting hand from adtech professionals as they try out other tracking techniques, such as server-side.
  • Meanwhile, the GAFA companies are busy laying out new ground rules. The famous Facebook pixel has been consigned to the history books with the advent of the new Conversion API (similar to a server-side technique). Apple will impose its own consent collection pop-in for all the apps looking to use its IDFA identifier. Google is preparing to launch new methods through its Privacy Sandbox project for reconciling the challenge of protecting privacy with digital advertising needs.

Are you still reading? Are you of sound mind and body? If so, your head might be spinning slightly. Take a deep breath and ask the question that matters, i.e. exactly how much is the relationship with our audiences going to be affected?

Rewording the contract between brands and audiences

This question actually conceals many other questions. How do we convince our audiences to give us their consent for collecting their data? If we want to set up a login system in an attempt to counterbalance the loss of tracking through third-party cookies, how do we get users to buy into the system?

We can clearly see that these questions all point towards the same topic, i.e. the contract between brands and their audiences. Marketing teams need to wrest back control of the contract and reword the terms as effectively as possible. A major effort will be needed in 2021. To date, the bias with such contracts has mainly been technical and legal, so they have often been delegated. To cut a long story short while adding a slight caricature, consent management was like a hot potato that was dumped on the legal department.

That era has come and gone. The data collection process straddles a number of challenges. Basically, the contract not only raises questions about compliance with regulations, but also brand equity (what a brand is worth in the eyes of its audience) and everything else that ensues. Consideration also needs to be given to the brand promise, the service delivered to users, the content strategy and, in return, knowledge about the audience… We are far from the purely legal realm. That is why marketing needs to get a handle on the consent issue and transform it into a relational preference management process between the brand and its audience. The brand’s trust capital is at stake.

Building skills

Changes in the digital environment and consent management practices may either represent a dead-end for brands or a tremendous opportunity. Some brands will continue to manage the issue as a technical and regulatory topic. Others will seize the opportunity by rolling out the necessary efforts to take back control of the topics and effectively getting back to marketing basics.

What efforts are we talking about? Probably the need to update the marketing team’s skills. There are two challenges when it comes to skills. They will need to be even more specialised, since the level of technical expertise is growing in a number of areas. At the same time, it is important to build the ability to maintain a cross-functional and overarching view of the issues as they relate to the brand and its audiences. This is not something that can be done at the drop of a hat. Developing these skills, mastering all the technical aspects of these issues and building the ability to see the big picture is a team endeavour in its own right. Exciting, don’t you think?

Fostering cooperative ties

To finish our vision of the year ahead, let’s talk about cooperation, namely the type of arrangement that might see market players pool services, such as data, in a bid to better serve their audiences. The crisis has revealed just how fragile we are, because we are interdependent. But this is a two-way street, because cooperation can make us stronger, especially when facing the GAFA’s walled gardens. Such a move is particularly important when bearing in mind that the GAFA companies are increasingly asking us to place our trust in their predictive algorithms and the associated automated systems.

How can we create an alternative? We certainly should not be holding our breath for a major European organisation to emerge. Instead, we should count on a tight-knit cooperative network of brands and vendors in our ecosystem. A new contract between brands and audiences, new cooperative ties, new skills… let’s turn 2021 into the year for exploring new pathways.


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