Most firms clueless or unprepared for demise of cookies

data_privacy2British businesses’ failure to understand UK data protection laws is set to come back to bite them on the derriere, with the majority either confused or unprepared for new methods of data collection in the cookieless age.

According to a new study, carried out by YouGov for data company fifty-five, some 1,272 days since GDPR came into force, less than half (45%) of marketers reckon their firm is compliant with the law. Meanwhile less than a quarter (24%) are developing alternative plans for targeting potential customers once third-party cookies are phased out.

The survey, which quizzed 500 UK marketers from both big and small companies, also highlights the significant gap between the intentions and the actions of businesses.

Three-quarters (75%) of respondents claimed to understand UK data protection legislation, yet when asked whether their customers are able to opt in or out of communications using a consent management tool for their company website, app and email tools, only 45% confirmed they were.

Meanwhile nearly two-fifths (38%) of marketers said their customers were not able to opt in or out and 16% were unsure. This is despite the UK law requiring all websites to provide users with the ability to manage their consent regarding website tracking and data usage, which has been in place since GDPR came into force on May 25 2020.

As well as not staying on the right side of regulations now, the survey also reveals a worrying inertia about adapting to the future cookieless world, triggered by Apple and Google moving away from third-party cookie tracking.

Less than a quarter (24%) of marketers said that their company had a fully formed strategy or were in the process of developing one. Some 20% reported that their company had not yet started but were aware they needed one, and 33% stated they had no intention to do so.

This failure to prepare was apparent across all business sectors, although IT and telecoms firms were the most prepared, with 38% either already set up or in the process of preparing, followed by media and marketing (31%).

Despite having some of the most regular digital communication with customers, retail was one of the worst prepared, with only 19% stating their company had a fully formed strategy or were in the process of developing one. This is despite marketers in the retail sector reporting the most ardent support from their CEO and senior leadership for digital.

The survey also reveals senior marketers’ biggest concerns in developing their digital marketing strategies in the future.

The number one issue was the team not having the skills in-house to develop and implement a robust digital strategy (17%), followed by whether the team’s skills are now up to date and relevant for the data and AI driven future (15%). This was tied with not being able to accurately measure marketing website activity (15%.) Other worries were not being able to accurately target customers in the future (14%), being hampered by legacy systems (12%) and facing a fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office (12%).

Richard Wheaton, managing director of fifty-five, said: “Our survey reveals a worrying inertia among marketers about adapting to a new more ‘privacy-focused’ Internet. It is a legal requirement to have a consent management tool in place and yet a majority of marketers either don’t have one or are confused about what this means.

“It is also imperative that marketers have a plan in place for how they can target customers in the future with the end of the cookie in sight. With only one in four currently doing anything about a strategy, this should be a ‘wake up call’ to marketers. In this new world first-party data will be of increasing importance.

“The good news is that many brands have a treasure trove of this under-utilised data that can be used to understand audiences and achieve marketing objectives. It is vital to work with the right experts to unlock this, particularly given the concerns senior marketers have relating to the skills of the inhouse teams.”

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