Will Google’s latest changes prompt banks to rethink customer acquisition?

By Rob Birgfeld

If you don’t know what third party cookies are, you’re in luck. They’re on their way out. But you’re not completely off the hook — first party cookies and first party data still matter — now more than ever.

In a previous blog, I discussed Google’s advertising policy and personalization changes that forced bank marketers to rethink their digital outreach. And Google’s latest announcement  regarding the phase out of cookies (which will not be replaced by alternative ways to “track” individual users online) represents another seismic shift for marketers.

There is still a good amount of confusion on this front—and what it means to the strategies and tactics of today's marketer. But one thing is clear, as we lose some of the "cheat codes" we've gotten accustomed (and sometimes addicted) to, focusing on your own turf becomes paramount.

What are Cookies?

As a quick primer, a cookie is a piece of information placed on your computer by the browser that allows the website to remember you. The cookie might keep a product in your cart from your last visit or streamline form submission by prepopulating collected information. These use cases are used primarily to enhance or personalize experiences, reflect what is known as "first party" cookies.

Third-party cookies, conversely, are created by domains other than the one the user is currently visiting and are mainly used for tracking and online advertising purposes. They are traded and purchased without the user’s knowledge, which is partially why consumer groups have long taken issue with them.

These cookies, while useful, have been a crutch to some acquisition strategies and are often a minefield of compliance issues. Too often, marketers (myself included) have been attracted to the scale and granularity they offer, while neglecting owned properties, assets and experiences critical to customer growth.

Our websites, digital experiences and social channels have long been fertile ground for delivering value to existing customers and drawing in new prospects. Allocating time and resources to focus on an enhanced experience and greater personalization through information customers willingly provide (first party data) is a measurable and sustainable effort—regardless of what Google (or Facebook or Trade Desk or Twitter) decides to do next.

Back to Basics for Customer Acquisition

So, while it's not the shiny, glossy next-level targeting effort many have grown accustomed to, getting back to the basics of inbound acquisition makes short and long-term sense.

That means more keyword-driven content development and greater customer segmentation starting with personas evolving into personalization. It also means refocusing on improving the customer experience and engagement and making the most of available information. Think about all first-party customer data that is collected in the call center. When your customers call you, they are telling you what they want. Are you leveraging it?

The very best strategy (disclaimer: it's actually just my favorite) couples organic acquisition with optimal customer experiences and is not rocket science: Identify your very best and happiest customers—pinpoint their highest moments of satisfaction, and encourage and equip them to share their story.

Whether it's asking for testimonials, encouraging reviews on public spaces (like Google, Yelp, etc.) or prompting them to post their experiences or accolades on social media. It’s often as simple as making the ask at the right time with the least amount of friction.

Community banks are built upon relationships. These relationships are rich with meaningful interactions, opportunities to build stronger partnerships, and a shared value of community. With or without third-party cookies or whatever marketing technology might surface or disappear—we'll keep telling our story.

Rob Birgfeld is ICBA’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

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