How the cookies are crumbling

Jodie Sangster

Jodie Sangster has been the CEO of the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) since 2011 and is also chairperson for the International Federation of Direct Marketing Associations (IFDMA). She has worked across the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific for 14 years with a focus on data-driven marketing and privacy, and began her career as a lawyer in London specialising in data protection. Her resume includes senior positions at Acxiom Asia-Pacific and the Direct Marketing Association in New York.

Many Internet users remain wary of Web cookies. They don’t understand their benefits and believe negative media reports that suggest cookies – small text files downloaded onto your computer when you visit websites – are bad for a variety of reasons.

This was a finding in a comprehensive study conducted by ADMA into the level of comfort consumers have with their personal data being used for marketing and advertising purposes.

The results are yet to be published, but as a general outcome, we learned that consumers are reasonably comfortable with their data being used by companies where they have established relationships.

But where there is a level of discomfort, consumers are taking steps to protect their personal data – often by deleting the cookies on their computers. Interestingly, among the 1600 people surveyed, over half said they delete cookies to preventing their data being used in a particular way, and 12 per cent say they are going to start managing their cookies in the coming year.

Even among those who don’t understand what cookies are, just over half are still deleting them. This is an extraordinarily high number, particularly taking into consideration the admitted lack of understanding as to what cookies actually do.

Much of this behaviour is fuelled by negative media reports that cookies are bad for your privacy, or bring viruses and malware to your computer.

It’s unfortunate these myths persist, as cookies offer many benefits to online users. Without them, the customer experience online can be fraught as cookies make the interaction between users and websites faster and more consistent and personal. In addition, it’s hard for a website to let browsers load up their shopping cart or to remember a person’s preferences and sign-in details for future visits if cookies aren’t used.

Similarly, businesses use cookies to make the online browsing experience better for consumers. They use them to monitor consumers’ Web habits to get a better understanding of their demographics and to make their marketing better.

From a marketer’s perspective, cookies are a valuable tool used to measure the success of digital online advertising campaigns. But if indicators are right and consumers continue to increasingly delete cookies, we will have a problem with doing all of the above.

So what should marketers be doing?

As an industry, we need to do a better job of making consumers understand how cookies can enhance the online experience. It starts with communication about what cookies can and can’t do and by being transparent about how you use cookies in your business.

This was confirmed in the ADMA consumer research study, within which consumers consistently agreed that if they were provided with additional, more user-friendly information about how cookie data would be used, they would be more likely to trust the companies they deal with. They’d also be significantly less likely to delete cookies or take other preventative measures.

This approach would also avoid the risk of an increasingly regulated marketing and advertising landscape. For example, in Europe there is a now a Cookie Law that requires websites to get prior consent from visitors to store or retrieve cookie information from computers, smartphones or tablets.

The consistent pop-ups that have resulted certainly do not make for a great customer experience. This is something Australian businesses should proactively try to avoid by adopting their own best practice ‘transparency’ measures.

Tags: digital marketing, data-driven marketing

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