As the web cookies crumble, what’s a B2B marketer to do?

b2b marketer

By Steve Zakur, {grow} Community Member

“Facebook is warning advertisers that they can expect weaker ad performance from iPhone users once iOS 14 comes out next month and is telling them to create second advertiser accounts to contain the disruption.” – Axios

Facebook sounded the alarm yesterday about the impact of ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention) being embedded in Apple’s impending iOS 14. Apparently, ITP will affect Facebook’s ability to serve ads through its Audience Network to iPhone app users.

This created quite a stir but not because ITP is new news. ITP joined the alphabet soup of privacy acronyms a few years ago when Apple announced its Safari browser would limit the ability of companies and third parties to track users. Google’s Chrome and Firefox announce plans to adopt the tracking prevention technology as well. What was new is that this stuff is getting real. No in-app ads on iOS14 devices!

Facebook warned it could affect earnings. I think ITP has our attention.

Is this ITP thing a real problem for B2B marketers?

If you’re using traditional cookie-bound technologies to target ads, personalize experiences, and engage users, ITP is a real problem. Most of the value proposition for personalization is predicated on knowing who the person is. ITP makes that more of a challenge.

One of the major features of ITP is the expiration of cookies after seven days. For owners of B2B websites, this is a challenge.  B2B sales cycles are long. Visitors rarely identify themselves especially early in the sales cycles and they’re unlikely to make multiple visits to a website in a short time period. Most visitors appear as new to engagement technologies like personalization regardless of whether they’ve been on site before.

And the fact that this latest development “only” affects iOS devices should be of special concern to a B2B marketer. We see in our data that iOS users are disproportionately represented in our traffic data and that of our clients. So there’s no comfort in the fact that it’s only Apple devices. In addition, I expect before long Chrome could follow suit as they did on the desktop browsers.

Do those folks at Apple hate the B2B marketer?

It sometimes feels like B2B marketers are being boxed in by regulators and the browser providers. Why do they feel the need to make marketing even more difficult than it already is? Well, the motivations of the players are not all the same.

Regulators are responding to political pressure. And that political pressure comes from all the humans who have had their data lost, stolen, and used for nefarious purposes. For decades companies ignored all the bad stuff that goes on with customer data in pursuit of profit. Your customers took notice and decided something had to be done. That sentiment was the genesis of GDPR and CCPA. I suppose you could say it is a Marketing Rebellion!

Apple’s motives are a little less clear. They say they’re doing it to protect the privacy of their platform users. It’s essentially the same response to consumer demand taken by regulators. That said, it may also have something to do with the fact that little to none of Apple’s business is affected by the ITP restrictions. Conversely, a lot of Google’s and Facebook’s business could be affected. There may be competitive motivations.

Workarounds are not the answer

If you track what’s been going on in discussion forums of web analytics experts, you will see a pretty vigorous discussion about how to get around the restrictions placed by ITP. As quickly as workarounds come up though, Apple comes up with an ITP response. This is like playing a game of whac-a-mole.

The cookies that are blocked by ITP are client-side cookies set by web browsers like Safari, Firefox, and Chrome. If client-side cookies are blocked, what else could we do? There are several techniques including query strings in URLs (now blocked after one day), fragment IDs (now blocked after 1 day), and server-side cookies.

This will become an endless war of attrition. Not only is this a black hole for company resources, but let’s recall why this started in the first place. Humans don’t want their data mishandled. Is the correct response to develop plans to circumvent the will of the very people they’re trying to engage and sell stuff to?

Closing the B2B personal data gap may not be possible

At the heart of the ITP challenge is the general frustration with how difficult it is to get data about their prospects and customers. Sure, regulations and the acts of browser developers hamper efforts to get the personal data that fuels traditional processes and technologies, but it’s more than that.

A B2B marketer doesn’t normally have personal data because the incentives for people to share data are much different from the value prop on the retail side of the market. People share data with B2C companies like Amazon because there’s a tremendous value for sharing that info. You get awesome product recommendations, you’re notified when an out-of-stock product becomes available, and your goods find their way to your doorstep.

The B2B marketer can’t offer any of that. At best, they can offer a case study or white paper in exchange for some personal information. But that only yields a tremendously small profile of the potential customer — a name and email address, if you’re lucky. What can one do with such a thin data layer?

As we pointed out in a free eBook about B2B and personalization, one of the fundamental truths of the personalization space is that closing this gap may not be possible or even worthwhile.

Traditional personalization and engagement technologies grew up in the retail space and they’re all fueled by personal information. As these technologies were adopted by B2B companies they didn’t have the fuel so they had to acquire additional technology and data to try and close the gap. Things like Visitor ID tech and Customer Data Platforms are purchased with abandon. But even those don’t allow marketers to identify more than 20 percent of visitors. All that spend with so little return.

So what now for the B2B marketer?

The people don’t want you to use their personal data in untoward ways. Regulators are making it more difficult to use this data. Browsers are limiting your ability to gather data. There’s no compelling value proposition for getting folks to share their data with you. That engagement software you bought is sitting nearly dormant. What now?

It may be time for a different model. Marketers have forgotten that they already have a bounty of data about visitor behavior, visitor intent, and the content prospects need to see that isn’t personal data. Let’s start using that.

In the past, not so much. But today tools have emerged — mostly under the umbrella of AI — that make it possible to distill information from previously inscrutable data. Methods that we’ve found effective with our clients include using natural language processing to understand the content context, machine learning to evaluate and model desired behaviors and a host of information trapped in site search that reveals intent.

Instead of endlessly chasing short-term solutions, it’s time for an entirely different personalization model. Stop the endless chase of personal data. Stop whacking those poor moles.

From Mark Schaefer: Bonus content! I had a chance to interview Steve about Facebook ads and B2B in this jam-packed video:


Steve Zakur is the CEO of Solo Segment, a company that is re-defining B2B personalization with cookie-free, easy-to-deploy, AI tech that delivers more engagement and more leads. The company is offering a free eBook called The Six Personalization Truths Every B2B Marketer Needs to Know.

Illustration by Mars Dorian

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