As the phase-out of cookies approaches, brands are concentrated on enhancing their first-party data practices and creating new ones. According to Merkle’s Q1 2021 Customer Engagement Report, 74 percent of brands are increasing investment in technology and vendor solutions due to growing data restrictions.

Some brands have yet to understand the impact of the Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), both of which were introduced in the past two years. Merkle found that only 59 percent of brands have a very clear understanding of the impact of privacy-related restrictions on their systems and operations; the remainder were less clear.

When asked what aspects of marketing they expect to change due to new data laws, 41 percent of respondents said digital media activation, followed by 39 percent who said web analytics.

Merkle suggests that one near-term solution to this shift is a focus on contextual targeting. A long-term priority should be exploring new ways to capture first-party data, such as loyalty and form capture strategies. Already 52 percent of respondents are prioritizing the collection of more first-party data from digital experiences.

Similarly, 88 percent of marketers say collecting and storing first-party data is a high priority in the next six to 12 months. Another 84 percent said that integrating this data will also be a priority this year.

Increasing investments that enable brands to take more control of their first-party data will also be important, reports Merkle. This includes developing new experience strategies that build a first-party data asset with a private identity graph. In fact, 74 percent said they plan to invest more in technologies or vendor solutions in response to stricter data regulations.

As in-store shopping slows, consumers expect the same level of personalization in digital interactions, which ultimately rely on customer data and an integrated data platform. Nearly half (44 percent) of respondents see this as their biggest gap in delivering personalized omnichannel experiences.

Nevertheless, 77 percent of respondents feel they deliver a better customer experience online compared to in-person or over the phone. For 76 percent of respondents, a full continuity between their brands’ online and in-person experiences is missing.

Across industries, 81 percent said having an audience management platform that centralizes and activates data across all online and offline channels is their highest priority.

Zero-party data, that which a customer voluntarily shares with a brand, is also becoming a high priority for brands. They can acquire this type of data through transactions or during conversations with customers online and in person. Alternatively, a brand can request this feedback through forms or surveys in exchange for a coupon, discount or limited products/services.

Another valuable source of data brands should invest in is second-party data, data that’s shared by partner companies, alliances and consortiums. Forty-nine percent of respondents labeled second-party data a high priority. One example of this when Amazon partnered with Buick on a campaign to reach young buyers to the brand while also promoting Alexa. Nearly 60,000 people participated by asking their Alexas about the activation, and 150,000 people have visited the digital showroom on Amazon to date.

To make sense of all their new data, businesses should also look to invest in data clean rooms, where multiple sources of data can be analyzed to protect privacy and data ownership. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they’re increasing investment here.

Merkle’s findings are based on a survey among 800 marketing, analytics and technology executives of major companies from the US and UK.