Anonymous Data Can Still Be Useful – Here’s Why

By Cory Thomas, VP Engineering, Copper

It’s no secret that the delayed, but impending, death of third-party cookies on the Google Chrome browser and Apple’s stance on privacy has left marketers scrambling to develop a game plan on how to best target and connect with existing and potential customers. With Chrome and Apple owning a dominant share of the browser and app markets respectively, it’s understandable why marketers might feel helpless. According to Copper’s 2021 Customer Relationships survey, over half of marketing professionals believe their marketing strategies will be somewhat or very impacted by the loss of third-party cookies.

However, there’s good news: third-party cookies don’t have to be the be-all-end-all source for marketers looking to develop personalized campaigns that target a company’s preferred audience. While at face value it may not sound like a game changer, the fact is marketers can still pull useful insights from anonymous user data.

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How to obtain the most useful anonymous data

The first action marketers can take when beginning any campaign, regardless of the data they plan to utilize, is to properly identify their ideal customer profile (ICP). This method of segmentation is even more important when using anonymous data, where individual profiles are not available, and can help to create lookalike audiences, a targeted group of customers with similar interests and behaviors. 

Audience categories need to be created; then marketers can use customer data platforms (CDPs) to properly view, filter and group data into these different categories of audience targets. Commonly used CDPs include Segment and Datorama, and these tools can effectively be used to collect data from users visiting a company’s website completely anonymously while preserving user privacy.

CDPs allow marketers to easily organize customer data, whether from first, second (first-party data collected from another organization) or third-party sources. This includes but is not limited to CRMs, web forms, transactional sources such as purchase orders and subscription sign-ups, and more, and is used to build insightful customer profiles. 

In the same vein, marketers can leverage data warehouses to further organize customer data by consolidating data from additional platforms, including Google Analytics and advertising channels. These platforms take the heavy lifting out of data organization and analysis, and enable marketing teams to focus on building long-lasting, meaningful relationships using the insight gained from these profiles, rather than throwing marketing emails at the proverbial wall and seeing what sticks.

It’s also worth noting that marketers still have behavioral data at their disposal, even if it is not tagged to an individual person. Marketers can leverage anonymous data such as pages visited, time spent on a certain page and actions taken and these behavioral signals begin to paint a picture of an audience persona. While anonymous, this data is still accurate and reflects how users are interacting on your website, just redacted to preserve privacy. Generalized demographic data, such as “x percentage of ages 18-34 that like a certain genre of music” can also be leveraged to inform the ICP. There are even some vendors, including Acxiom and Corelogix, that are selling this type of data that marketing teams can purchase in a pinch. In fact, companies like Acxiom offer data clean rooms, which help advertisers and marketers match first party data with data from partners to better target their campaigns.

Despite the name, anonymous data doesn’t need to stay anonymous forever. Companies leveraging a CDP like Segment can provide users with a token that ensures data remains anonymous until that user gives the company consent to accessing their data. Once that consent is given, marketers can match that user with their token and turn previously collected anonymous data into named data attached to an individual. 

Best practices for getting the most insight out of anonymous data

Once a marketing team has been able to establish an ICP using anonymous data, the next step to take is to identify trends within this group of targets, which is still possible even without having specific information on the individual level. By analyzing the data and going a bit deeper, marketing teams can begin to further understand how the ICP operates and thinks, and can further segment this list into subgroups that are more tailored to a specific campaign. While a marketing campaign based on anonymous data may sound like it’s a spray-and-pray approach, marketers are still able to come close to a personalized outreach method that still seems relevant to the consumer. In fact, marketers who segment their campaigns see an increase in revenue of 760% percent, according to Campaign Monitor

Marketing teams can even go one step further and load secondary data on top of the anonymous data they’re using to help build out these segments. This is particularly useful for SMBs who don’t typically have the same resources as the big tech companies do to conduct their own primary research, and can help them better understand their targets. As an SMB, it’s critical to understand your own research and data management capabilities in order to properly store and capitalize on insights. Some SMBs still rely on an Excel spreadsheet to manage their customers, which can result in absolute chaos. Marketers on these teams need turn their raw, unstructured data into actionable insights that can help build the right profile for relevant campaigns. 

While a combination of these tools may get pricy, SMBs with tighter budgets can still leverage tools like Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics to build appropriate, targeted audience lists.

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What Google’s doing to soften the blow of third-party cookie removal

While Google may be ending third-party cookies on the Chrome browser, the company is toying around with the idea of a privacy-first advertising system that will allow marketers to reach new groups of targets based on relevant interests, known as the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). While still in its infancy, the concept behind Google FLoC is to provide an effective replacement for third-party cookies using a simulation approach that will ensure the privacy of users, while still being able to help marketers and advertisers convert leads. In fact, according to early tests, Google FLoC is reaching a 95% conversion rate compared to traditional cookie-based marketing and advertising.

While marketers may be concerned on how the death of third-party cookies will impact their marketing plans, its important for them to understand that they’re still able to develop personalized campaigns without specific information on individuals. Marketers can still leverage anonymous data to build customer profiles that still feel relevant to consumers. Tools like CDPs, data warehouses and even Google FLoC should be considered by these teams so that they don’t fall back into a spray-and-pray, mass generic email blast approach that will leave consumers annoyed and likely keep them from engaging with the company. 

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