Spoiler alert: Most likely, the data you’re using is legally and technically broken. We have to wave goodbye to online marketing as we know it since most of our beloved tools face massive legal, technical and organizational challenges.
But let’s start with an easy introduction.
From the beginning, it was important to us to involve the marketing industry as a whole in the progress of developing innovative products at JENTIS. In countless conversations with customers, agencies, industry representatives, media houses, marketers, data protection authorities, public bodies and employees, we have repeatedly learned of three fundamental challenges that the entire digital marketing industry seems to be facing.
We organised these challenges into the categories of technical, legal, and organisational and would be happy to spark a discussion with you. Feel free to reach out anytime to talk further. Please be advised that we will highlight challenges here and discuss possible solutions in a subsequent post.
Let’s talk about online marketing’s favourite topics GDPR, consent and tracking in general.
Although the omnipresent GDPR has been around since 2018, it seems to have been making the headlines of major news portals more than ever. Here are a few keywords to put it in perspective: Max Schrems, the new EU-US Privacy Framework, the new German TTDSG, Google Fonts, Consent Banners, and partial rulings on the illegality of Google Analytics.
Globally, the GDPR is considered the gold standard of personal data protection, with countless new regulations around the globe aligning with it. Even China, often referred to as a surveillance state, is now very drastically regulating the handling of personal data between companies. Need more examples? California, Japan and Brazil are approaching Europe’s level of data protection with regulation.
The current basic consensus that American “electronic service providers” are to be viewed critically in the context of the GDPR questions our entire ecosystem. No matter if it is search engine advertising, website analytics, email tools, CRM tools or simple integrations into websites. De facto, every website operator is affected. And as a well-known lawyer put it in a nutshell: If you think that legal compliance is expensive, try legal non-compliance.
Another spicy development is the current discussion around Consent Banners. More than 80% of all websites use them wrongly, resulting in legal damage for those companies. Fewer and fewer users give their consent to “non-necessary cookies”, resulting in less and less actionable data. New technical features like “auto-decline functions” led to a massive decline in consent rates. Ghostery, one of the most famous ad and tracking blockers, recently launched this feature. Prominent web browsers have already announced the same features being launched in 2023.
An obvious political solution to regulate the notorious third-country data transfer between Europe and the USA is on the horizon. In September, US President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order that will serve as a blueprint for a new EU-US Data Privacy Framework. The ball is now in the court of the EU institutions. But even if there is a new set of rules at some point, it is likely to be challenged in court the moment it comes into force. Will it hold up in the European Court of Justice this time? Prominent activists have expressed scepticism.
Some digital marketers might still remember the times when nobody questioned creating look-a-like audiences manually using spreadsheets and customers’ email addresses. Such practices have disappeared from the scene, which also represents a major challenge.
More and more, we are noticing a change of values in the industry. We have to critically ask the question: Is it really okay for us as an industry to enable our customers’ personal data to be sent to who-knows-where in the world? Even more so, without their consent, or with consent obtained via dark patterns?
“We respect your privacy”, the average web user has read this phrase countless times on consent banners throughout the web. But most companies have not put their money where their mouth is.
In conclusion, digital marketing is increasingly becoming a specialized legal discipline. But that brings us to the next challenge:
Digital marketing as we know it very much depends on third-party cookies, which have been declared dead for years but still enjoy great popularity: The majority of retargeting and programmatic providers rely on them, and classic website analysis via Google Analytics or Matomo also swear by this technology. However, the due date for this modus operandi is looming large: In recent years, browsers have massively restricted the use of third-party cookies.
All browsers? No, one is still resisting: Google Chrome is continuously gaining market share and has not yet cut support for third-party cookies. Google has pushed the deadline for the end of third-party cookies on Chrome back two times. If this decision sticks, remains to be seen. As of now, your most valuable customers, the iPhone users, can not be tracked correctly due to Apple’s tracking prevention. Following the “garbage in, garbage out” principle, your decision-making will also be flawed.
The trend is clear: Technically, nothing will work the way it used to. In addition to the increasingly poor analytics data quality, another development is exacerbating the problem. Adblocker usage is still on the rise and is having a massive impact. A fun fact many digital marketers don’t know: Ghostery, Adblock, uBlock, etc. not only ensure that we no longer see display advertising, curtailing a crucial source of income for publishers. They also block third-party vendors such as Google Analytics. The consequence is even worse-quality data that negatively influences decision-making in organisations. More and more, those adblockers also prevent Consent Banners from being shown, making it impossible for users to even choose between “consent” and “no consent”.
By the way, there are now 9,932 marketing technology tools on the market, all of which want to be understood and used correctly. How many of them can your company handle?
In our estimation, this is the marketing industry’s most immediate challenge. The keywords here: Skills shortages, staffing problems, no or poor applicants, the “laziness” of the younger generation, “the great resignation,” “quiet quitting,” and so on.
But it’s not that simple. A highly complex mosaic of factors is creating a perfect storm.
For one, the demand for digital professionals is growing much faster than the supply. In the past few years alone, eCommerce has grown by over 30% per year, which conversely means that much more human power is required in the industry. But where is this going to come from? With more and more complex tasks and an education system that might be too slow for this?
Likewise, our industry, especially the agency side, has produced quite toxic structural problems over the decades. All-in contracts, low starting salaries, bad company cultures and permanent pitch pressure are no longer attractive scenarios for many young people. If you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys, a wise old advertiser once said.
Likewise, the growth-hungry international tech providers are still on a massive search for personnel. One example: The new social media star TikTok didn’t have a single employee in Europe just a few years ago, but now it has several thousand. Where do they all come from? That’s right, from other companies that are now desperately looking for staff, with structural problems (see above) making it difficult. In addition, all the Big Tech Companies are offering such jumps in salary that “traditional” digital marketing is no longer competitive as an employer. While there are layoffs at the moment, the trend is clear.
The “modern organization” has to adapt, which is demonstrably very difficult. Apart from the staffing problem, of course, the new world of work, “New Work,” is also a constant change that has been massively accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. For many companies, it is difficult to keep up, which in turn reduces the value of the employer brand, and thus leads to lower applicant numbers. This starts the problem all over again.
To sum up, let’s be optimistic: our industry has evolved from niche to broad, and overall, most of us do enjoy working in this environment.