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Adobe sees sales opportunity in the death of the browser cookie

Adobe unveiled updated software to help brands target customers with advertising and offers.
Image: Lam Yik/Bloomberg

Adobe unveiled updated software to help brands target customers with advertising and offers, replacing third-party cookies that are being eliminated in the name of consumer privacy after tracking users across the internet for more than two decades.

A new version of Adobe’s Real-time Customer Data Platform is designed to use brands’ own data, rather than insight from third-party cookies, which are already blocked by several web browsers and are soon to be nixed by Google Chrome. The Adobe product introduced Tuesday will let clients ask consumers for permission to use their information, said Amit Ahuja, vice president, experience cloud products and strategy.

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The cookie has been the foundation of personalised web experiences since the mid-1990s when Netscape first started using the tracking technology in its browser, putting a little piece of data on a user’s computer while they were scanning the internet in order to remember them. Amid privacy regulations, ad-blocking software and the decision by browsers to get rid of them, cookies placed by third-parties that provide advertising and tracking services to websites and brands are disappearing. To reach customers and respect their privacy wishes, Adobe’s customers will have to look for new options, including using data they collect directly, Ahuja said.

With the new Adobe software, consumers browsing on a site should expect that it will be much clearer how the site is using their data and why they are being shown certain personalised experiences, he said.

“Your expectations for a brand understanding you and knowing you and giving you a personalised experience are really getting higher and at the same time, the counteracting balance is that consumers are correctly placing more value on their privacy,” he said.

Another factor in the demise of traditional tracking: companies that collect massive volumes of data in their own services — think Facebook or Google — have been less generous about what they’re sharing with others who want to use that data, said Tina Moffett, principal analyst at Forrester.

“It’s really forcing brands, and specifically chief marketing officers, to go back to the basics of marketing and advertising,” she said. “For a long time, marketers got real slap-happy with using cookie-based level data to personalise.”

Google is replacing cookies with another approach, called Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC, although it, too, is attracting ire from privacy advocates. Adobe said it’s examining Google’s system, although generally Adobe’s software integrates with all major platforms and services that customers want to use.

More than half of the clients that Adobe surveyed aren’t using the full breadth of the data they collect to personalise their approach to customers — often they don’t know what they have and information is stored in disparate systems, Ahuja said.

The new Adobe software is being tested by clients such as FedEx Corp., T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. It will bring together all sorts of first-party data and events to get more complete insight on customers and will let the companies combine that data with information from apps and media websites that use browsers. Adobe’s Target software also uses machine learning to provide real-time predictions of what information or offer to show users next as they move through a brand’s website.

One new feature allows clients to find new customers who are similar to their existing best-known users. The software will also let brands share non-sensitive data with each other to better personalise what products they pitch — for example an apparel company can combine with a jewelry company, giving them data on what types of dresses a certain group of customers are buying so the second firm can suggest appropriate necklaces or earrings.

Using these kinds of technologies in combination will be more complex than just signing up to buy information gleaned from third-party cookies, Moffett said, but it’s good for user privacy and brands don’t have much choice.

“The future of data-driven marketing is going to be more fragmented,” she said. “But it’s better than using the third-party cookie.”

© 2021 Bloomberg


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