Trust in the Post-Cookie Era

We’ve had well over a year to think about how our lives as marketers will change once Google sunsets third-party data tracking. The ad tech industry has responded by beta-testing new privacy standards, policing data-rich tech behemoths, and consolidating

We didn’t have much of a choice: The public has awakened to their unwitting exchange of data for personalized digital services. Even a whiff of un-permissioned data sharing causes consumer backlash, as it did for WhatsApp when the messaging service announced a change in its terms of service for business users in January 2021, sending nearly 9M users to encrypted competitor Signal (Elon Musk’s tweeted endorsement of the app probably helped).

Brand advertisers have gotten the message: back away from third-party ad tracking and focus instead on data directly provided by users that the brand owns, or first-party data. 

If we agree that first-party data is the new oil of the ad economy, how do we obtain it?

The solution, while tech-enabled, is decidedly old-fashioned: the digital ad industry needs to stop thinking of how to re-engineer, or clone, trust and simply re-earn it. And to do that, we have to understand what trust — or New Trust — looks like in the Post-Cookie Era.

Tenets of the New Trust

So, what does the New Trust look like?

It’s privacy-first with good intentions

Of course, the New Trust is GDPR compliant and based on first- or zero-party data, but consider these approaches as table stakes to obtaining trust, not ends in themselves. Trust in tech alone is impossible if it’s not infused with ethical intentions toward privacy, which means baking consumer content into all data-driven business processes.

It’s transparent and maybe decentralized

Decentralized technologies offer the promise of accountability behind transactions, including ad serving and user targeting. Consider tokenized models like Brave Browser’s promise of compensation for users’ time, attention, and, yes, their data. 

For now, the bar is to be transparent about the purpose of data collection while being consumer-friendly, agile, and secure.

The New Trust is tied to purpose

Time was, you could claim your purpose was “Do no evil” and call it a day. World events, including the pandemic and assaults to the environment and civil liberties, have led consumers to require a bit more specificity when companies claim to be doing good. Earning the New Trust does not mean solving all the world’s problems; it means picking a cause and engaging resources to actively, measurably, and, with accountability, enable positive change.

It values authentic engagement above all else

When the world got its first taste of social media, authenticity was a meme, not a value. The underlying tech promised to authentically reflect community preferences but rather became authentically intrusive and addicting. 

Today, authentic engagement means proof in actions, not in passive data. It will take time to wean ourselves off superficial indicators of value such as likes and views and instead prioritize metrics that inspire action: comments, targeted shares, even commitments from the end user. A community’s value will not be measured by likes or even size but by impact. 

It’s respectful, clear, and honest

Perhaps respectfulness can best be understood by what it’s not: a 5,000-word online privacy policy that requires copious discretionary time and a law degree to understand. At its best, tech facilitates, informs, and enables through automation; at its worst it obfuscates and confuses, or is disrespectful. 

In his keynote at SXSW 22, tech ethicist and Co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology Tristan Harris shared his vision of Human-First technology as calibrating for – versus exploiting – our foibles, lack of understanding, and biases. For social platforms, this could mean overriding AI algorithms during election cycles and exposing users equally to a range of fact-checked perspectives from candidates in their area, regardless of users’ demographic or behavioral data. Or it could simply mean a user-friendly privacy policy that discloses exactly how data will be used in language that anyone can understand.

The New Trust rests on an understanding of community dynamics

Not all communities are designed for pure amplification. Brands can alienate customers without properly targeting messages to specific segments. Cause-related communities can blow themselves up in large, purely public, polarized spaces. Patient communities seek safe, informed and empathetic connection. The platforms of the future will intuitively understand the requirements of communities and solve for the appropriate level of private versus public discourse. 

Perhaps it’s a stretch to suggest that the New Trust will replace cookies entirely. It won’t. But by cultivating New Trust with consumers, we simply won’t need cookies. 

Jory Des Jardins is the CMO of Countable.

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