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How to Track Online Consumer Activity in a Mobile World

Avatar of Pulse Marketing By Pulse Marketing

Online advertisers have traditionally relied on cookies – little pieces of code embedded on web browsers – to track users’ movement across multiple websites. With the current surge in mobile marketing technology, however, the cookie-based playing field is rapidly shrinking. To stay ahead of the game, online marketers need to focus less on how to find consumer information, and more on how to persuade consumers to share it.

Third-party cookies provide a wealth of information about consumer behavior, such as which web pages they visit, what they’re looking for, and when they’re most receptive to a sales pitch – all of which helps marketers build audience profiles and better target their ads to users’ preferences. Unfortunately, as consumers go mobile in more varied ways, cookie-based information is getting trickier to obtain, and less dependable to measure.

The challenge: cookie-based marketing in a mobile world

Cookie-based marketing worked well when most consumers browsed the internet on laptops or PCs. Now, however, with 55% of online retail activity occurring through mobile devices (comScore), it’s becoming harder for advertisers to track consumer behavior across increasingly diverse channels. Many mobile devices and apps simply don’t support cookies, or, like smartphones and tablets, only allow them limited function. That’s not to say that cookies don’t work on mobile devices – they do, in some cases – but because of the functional variance between devices, the data is often incomplete, inconsistent, or unreliable.

To add to the confusion, web browsers have begun to put their own restrictions on cookie-based advertising. Some, like Mozilla Firefox, have installed tools that allow users to block cookies for better privacy. Other companies, like Google and Microsoft, are working on disabling cookies altogether, and instead developing their own versions of tracking tools. Meanwhile, a few social media platforms like Facebook have also implemented new (and controversial) policies to track user data without cookies.

The trend is pretty clear across the board: cookie-based marketing is on the way out. The good news is, breaking out of the cookie jar might be as simple as asking consumers for an introduction.

The solution: tracking mobile users through authentication

How many times have you typed in a username and password to make a purchase, pay a bill, read a newsletter, or send an email? In the absence of cookies, authentication – user validation – can be an equally powerful tracking tool.  Fewer online companies rely on third-party cookies these days because users already sign in to access their services or activate new ones (new Android users, for example, can log into their Google accounts to set up a new device). With this voluntary information, websites can identify and track audiences who are already more receptive to their marketing message. The challenge, however, is to make users want to sign in (or sign up) and share that information. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Pay close attention to content. Consumers won’t share information without a valid return. Mobile marketing content needs to be clear about exactly what users will get by signing in (or signing up), and also emphasize the real, relevant value of whatever is being offered.
  • Strive for visibility. A brilliant message will go nowhere if consumers never see it. Make sure your business shows up in directories, review pages, map services, and other places mobile users will be looking – especially for local searches.
  • Get back to permission-based marketing. Consumers will engage more readily with your business if it’s easy to do so – and if they’re given the choice. Provide ample opportunities for consumers to opt in to receive marketing content, ads, or special promotions.

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