2021 is likely to be an eventful year, and the marketing and advertising space is no exception. If you read this in Q4 2020, you’ll likely be planning out projects and budgets for next year. It’s always a challenge to prioritize what to work on and divide budgets.
In this post, I’ll highlight what I believe you should consider investing in in 2021.
Big Changes influencing Digital Marketing and Advertising
Let’s start with a look at current affairs in the realm of digital marketing and advertising.
Both your audience and governments alike are pushing for a more privacy-minded approach to online business. Maybe it’s because of Netflix documentaries like The Social Dilemma or because of legislation like GDPR. The trend is clear: privacy has become top of mind. Consent from the “data subject” before storing and using data seems to be the way forward.
Apple, the technology company with the smallest stake in advertising, has turned “Privacy” into a company-wide selling point. And they didn’t just talk about it. By now, all iOS devices and Macs are limiting your ability to identify users and attribute conversions to advertising campaigns.
This poses a problem, and not just to the advertising networks that are capitalizing on that data. Companies use the collected data to improve their digital customer experiences and the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns. Do consumers no longer want this?
Although consumers value privacy, they also value convenience and dislike friction. A website that shows me what I’m likely looking for is a good thing. Relevant advertising instead of irrelevant advertising is also preferable.
So we’re in a bit of a pinch. Because the systems that allowed us to optimize are out of order already, and we’ve not yet found a decent replacement. What to do?
1. You should invest in total ownership of your data collection and dispersion technology
You are currently collecting data. Probably more than you are aware of. Unfortunately, most of that data collection has been deteriorating for the last two years for two main reasons:
- Privacy laws (like GDPR & CCPA) that require consent before tracking
- Browser Privacy Efforts like Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention
Both of these have a significant impact on what you are allowed to measure (by law) and what you can measure (because of the browser). As a reaction to this, Facebook and Google have announced they are changing the way they calculate conversions in their advertising suites.
Regardless of the outcome of these ‘privacy wars’ between browser developers and advertising and analytics providers, one thing is crystal clear to me: you should to take control of the data collection and dispersion points in your marketing and advertising technology stacks. What do I mean by that?
You should not give 3rd parties this kind of access to your website visitors. It was an easy way to get stuff done, but now it’s no longer accepted and will likely be illegal eventually. So what can you do instead?
You want to control the way you collect and disperse data from your websites. First of all, by investing in a setup where you collect all data to an endpoint, which runs on your subdomain.
Within this endpoint, you then decide what information you disperse to which location. This can be your data warehouse or a 3rd party tools like Google Analytics and Facebook.
By doing it this way, you are now in full control of what information gets collected and where it gets sent. This type of ownership will be essential. It will allow you to collect high-quality data, protect your visitors from unwanted 3rd party tracking, and speed up their user experience.
My recommendation: Google’s Server-Side GTM seems like an excellent choice for this. It runs scalable on google’s cloud infrastructure, is free to start tinkering with, and is routed via your own (A / AAAA) subdomain.
If you want to know more about this, schedule a call with me or read Simo Ahava’s excellent blog post on the topic.
2. You should invest in a way to identify and recognize users, with their consent
User Identification is both a technical and user-experience project.
The gist of it is: you want to measure users across multiple sessions and all their devices. Doing this has always been hard to do but has become nearly impossible without asking users to identify themselves. (Due to browser privacy measures explained earlier in this post.)
From a technical perspective you would need something like:
- An anonymous user-identifier that stays the same across multiple sessions.
- A known user, user-identifier that stays the same across multiple sessions.
- A method to retroactively stitch together ID’s (anonymous and known) that turn out to belong to the same user.
- A method to perform analysis based upon this data.
- The right legal consent from the user to perform these actions.
One of the things you’ll need is a way to set user identifiers (‘cookies’) in a way that is aligned with browser privacy methods. Fortunately, a solution like Google Tag Manager Server-Side (recommended in the previous chapter) would already help you do this.
You will also need to create an environment where you can store, update, and analyze these created user-identifiers. In my opinion, your own marketing data warehouse (see chapter 4 of this post) would be the way to go for this.
It goes without saying that all of this should be done with the user’s consent.
From a customer experience perspective
It is essential to create value that your users can unlock by identifying themselves. In other words: You want users to login with you, on as many devices as possible. The reason we want this is bifold:
- When creating an account, you can also ask for consent for tracking purposes, often required by law.
- With this ‘1st party login’, you can generate a unique user ID, which you can use to match all previously generated anonymous ID’s of a user together.
But users won’t give you consent or go through the effort of logging in for nothing. You need to provide value. Consider building extra features to your product, providing a loyalty program, or something else that fits your business model. Whatever way you do it: you want your users to identify themselves!
3. You should invest in implementing and adopting Google Analytics 4
*This chapter assumes you currently rely on Google Analytics for your digital analytics needs. If not, skip ahead!
As you may have noticed, Google Analytics has a new version out today! Previously called Google Analytics App+Web and now rebranded to Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
This version is a significant improvement on the previous version, which was called Universal Analytics. The changes include:
- An entirely different data model based on events instead of page views and sessions.
- A new way of reporting users, combining User-ID and Device capabilities.
- A native connection to export data to Google BigQuery.
- An extremely powerful new analysis workspace & audience (segmentation) builder.
Review this extensive post by Charles Farina on Adswerve.com to see most of the features, including screenshots.
Not all features are fully supported (yet); however, Google is developing new features at lightning speed. You can expect GA4 to be fully functional in 2021 to replace all current features of Univeral Analytics.
Things you should consider investing in for 2021 are:
- Re-tagging you website for GA4 (not always needed)
- Configuration of GA4 settings
- Activation of BigQuery export for Data Warehouse (see next chapter)
- Training of your people to get the most out of GA4
If you want to discuss this in more detail, schedule a 30-minute call with me.
4. You should invest in a digital marketing data warehouse
If you advertise across more than one advertising network, you should consider building your own marketing data warehouse.
You need to be able to mix data from your advertising and marketing platforms with your analytics data to do valuable analysis.
Relying on advertising suites and their conversion reports was already a bad idea (they always overreport their success). With the recent announcements of shortening attribution windows and switching to probabilistic conversion counting, this has become an even bigger problem.
Besides the ability to build your own attribution models, you can start calculating other essential business metrics. Metrics like retention, churn, and customer lifetime value, all of which are usually not possible to calculate accurately within the confines of a single tool.
With Google Analytics 4 supporting native BigQuery data exports (see chapter 3), building a marketing data warehouse just became a bit easier to do.
Both creating your own data collection and dispersion technology (chapter 1 of this post) and creating a user identity graph (chapter 2) would benefit from and add value to your data warehouse.
If you want to read more about building a data warehouse, please read my previously published post on this topic or schedule a 30-minute call with me to brainstorm how this could help you.
Because this is generic advice, by default, it’s not 100% accurate to your business. As you might notice, it’s highly ‘google-oriented’ because that is the product suite I work with the most.
Those disclaimers aside, I think my view on the effects of legislation and browser privacy efforts on advertising and marketing technology is accurate. The results are already visible within your analytics and advertising tools today. (Have a look at the amount of “New Users” the browser Safari is generating compared to Chrome.)
Hopefully, this post gave you some topics to think about and will help you decide what technology to invest in for 2021.
If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.