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The way the cookie crumbles: Can conversational marketing fix your marketing funnel?

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By the end of 2024, third-party tracking will no longer exist, bringing fundamental changes to advertising. Without access to browser and device data, marketers are challenged with finding other means to engage with customers, deliver great customer experiences and deliver the right messaging to their customers across multiple channels.

Marketers have historically relied on ‘cookies’ to allow third parties to identify customers and follow them around the internet with personalised ads, gathering data that can then be used to deliver more relevant marketing campaigns. It has long been the standard because it gives marketers detailed visibility into performance, and allows ad platform algorithms to optimise, significantly reducing the cost of customer acquisition.

But there has always been a problem. Consumers don't love it, it can often feel like an invasion of privacy.

Things are changing now with the rise of privacy regulations, with  Apple, Google, and Mozilla all announcing plans to phase out third party cookies. Together these browsers comprise almost 90% of all web traffic, effectively sentencing the third-party cookie to death.

While this might seem concerning, there is an opportunity for marketers to move beyond third-party data reliance, to improve engagement with customers by building direct relationships. This means the customer is in the driving seat, making the overall experience better and helping to boost brand loyalty in the long term.

The one-sided use of third party cookies

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Currently, brands are using third-party cookies and retargeting to engage with customers and gather data, but it’s mostly one-sided. Cookies are activity based, not intent based, meaning with cookie tracking you know your customer was on your website, but not much about how successful that visit was for the customer. 

Let’s take an all too common example - a customer comes to your web site and sees a pair of shoes they like but the customer’s size is out of stock. There is an option for the customer to sign up via email to receive a notification when the shoe is back in stock, so the customer provides their email.

The customer leaves the website without the shoes - not really a successful web site visit in the customer’s mind. But cookie technology doesn’t know this, targeting only knows the customer was there and so while our customer waits for the notification, they keep seeing ads about the shoes they wanted to purchase, but couldn't.

We’ve all been there, and it’s frustrating! The methods currently being used are not connected enough to know that the item is unavailable in this particular customer's size, and therefore showing ads is not only unhelpful, but potentially damaging to the brand.

Add to that, the brand has collected next to no data from this - all they know is the email address of someone opting into sales alerts, and that cookie ID 123456 is interested in some shoes. The two are not connected, and therefore it is impossible to build up a detailed profile of the customer.

The power of real conversations with customers

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Research by Nielsen shows that 53% of consumers are more likely to shop with a business they can message directly.

Conversational commerce is “the process of selling products and acquiring customers directly on messaging channels”, and it’s changing the way businesses and customers engage with each other.

While the demise of third-party cookies seems like a challenge on the surface, it’s really an opportunity; without browser and device data, marketers must find other means to deliver great customer experiences and help businesses deliver the right messaging to their customers across any channel. This is an opportunity for marketers to create compelling customer engagement experiences and if they do, customers will reward them by sharing data.

According to PWC, 63% of customers say they’d share more information with a company that offers a great experience and through the preferences that customers express as part of their direct engagement with brands, businesses will know which channels a customer prefers to receive communications on, the frequency and the content and that in turn helps marketers continue to fine tune their customers’ experience with the brand with the goal of increasing retention and loyalty.

Focus on true personalisation

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By shifting the focus to personalisation instead of intrusive targeting, and engaging with customers directly to learn about channel, content and frequency preferences, marketing looks very different. Instead of asking the customer for an email address to notify when a product is back in stock, brands can encourage the customer to enter into a two-way conversation over WhatsApp or via chatbot.

By communicating in real time, the customer has an instant answer to their query, building confidence in the brand and increasing the likelihood that they will make a purchase. What’s more, the brand has now collected first party/opt-in compliant data.

Almost three quarters of people use multiple channels whilst online shopping, and those that use four or more channels spend 9% more than those who use only one. It’s for this reason that apps originally intended for consumer use, have slowly become tools for businesses to communicate with customers.

And with the launch of things like company search inside of WhatsApp where users can find businesses to engage with, we fundamentally need to start thinking of these consumer applications as untapped acquisition opportunities.

Where to begin

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Undergoing an overhaul of marketing and customer engagement processes can seem like a daunting task, so it helps to break it down into different areas of focus. The most important thing is to start from the customer and work backwards.

  • Think about what types of experiences they want with you, what the touch points need to be and on which channels so you can construct the right customer journey.
  • Take a look at where there are breaks in your current customer experience journey; where are you losing customers in the funnel?
  • Where are there fracture points in your customer service? Check for bottlenecks caused by staffing ratio misalignment.
  • Document what the ideal journey for your customer could be and then map that to your systems and personnel to figure out which are the most important areas to tackle first.

Having an understanding of your customer’s context will help you design an experience that feels natural. For example, it is great when a customer can resolve their own challenges by talking with a bot over WhatsApp, but you shouldn’t force it. For complex questions it might make more sense to escalate to a human on voice or e-mail, and to have a smooth process for these cases.

Conversational marketing and conversational commerce put the customer in c the driving seat, and give them the control over the relationships they have with brands. It works for both sides, because for marketers, it makes valuable data capture much more natural, enabling them to provide customers with the high quality experience they deserve.

It's a completely different approach from more traditional marketing methods, but an exciting one, that will revolutionise the relationships between brand and customer for years to come.

By Rachel Thornton, Chief Marketing Officer, MessageBird

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