How retail marketers can empower back-to-school campaigns in a cookieless future

School pupils studying.

Nick Watson is VP of Customer Success at Cheetah Digital and has supported brands like Coca-Cola, Shell, Manchester City FC, Bauer Media and Reckitt Benckiser collect over 1.3 billion preference insights, purchase intentions and opt-ins from consumers to power truly personalised marketing. After many years at BBC Magazines and Tag: Worldwide, Nick joined Cheetah Digital to help create technology that made it easier for marketers to collect ‘zero party-data’ across all owned, earned and paid channels. Nick is now leading the Customer Success team in EMEA.

Cookies have long been a lunchbox favourite. However, when they’re of the ‘third-party’ variety, they leave a bad taste in the mouths of consumers everywhere, including those getting ready for back-to-school shopping. According to Cheetah Digital’s 2022 Digital Consumer Trends Index, 64% of U.K. consumers say they believe cookie tracking is “creepy”.

Google and other browsers have taken note, cementing plans to comprehensively cease third-party cookie tracking within the year. So, if your current strategy is still fat with third-party cookies, it’s time to find a new, better and ‘healthier’ way to connect with consumers.

The ABCs of collecting data

Since the days of dial-up, roughly 30 years ago; intrusive, third-party cookies have followed users around the internet, reporting their activity and information back to marketers. And consumers are sick of it. So to win in the upcoming — and short — back-to-school purchasing window, it’s vital that retail marketers shift to a first- and zero-party data strategy to power their advertising and marketing initiatives.

The first rule of thumb, think “ABCDE” — always be collecting data, ethically. Grammar aside, this acronym will help you remember that data collected the right way is soon to be the only way. The future of marketing to individuals with relevance is all about asking them about their interests, motivations and desires, rather than inferring or ‘spying’ on them.

This type of data is called zero-party data. Forrester defines it as “a class of data that a customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand, which can include preference data, purchase intentions, personal context and how the individual wants the brand to recognise her.”

Zero-party data empowers retail marketers to build direct relationships with customers. In turn, this helps to better personalise their marketing efforts, offers and product recommendations, which is vital in today’s landscape. According to Cheetah Digital’s report, there’s been a nearly 60% increase in U.K. consumers that feel frustrated with a brand whose personalisation initiatives fail to recognise their unique desires and needs.

That’s why, zero- and first-party data (what you collect from your audience directly, via your own channels) will be essential in creating personalised campaigns that get your products front and centre when it’s time to purchase.

The value exchange

While offering the teacher an apple for an A+ on your midterm exam might not work out, value exchanges are a great way to get information from consumers. Basically, if you want your customers’ preference data, then you need to offer something tangible and enticing in return — this is the value exchange economy. More than an ‘ask and you shall receive’ type of exchange, consumers expect to be entertained, engaged and receive something in return for their attention and personal data.

Perhaps surprisingly, this ‘something in return’ doesn’t always have to be a red-letter prize or massive discount. Of course, consumers are prepared to trade data for a discount, but many will share their product preferences in return for exclusive access, content unlocking or the chance to feel part of your brand’s community. In fact, more than half of U.K. consumers say they will trade personal and preference data to feel part of a brand’s community, according to Cheetah Digital’s report.

Retail marketers can deliver this with interactive experiences that conduct research, accrue opt-ins and deliver an overall better experience with a value exchange for the consumer. Questionnaires, polls, quizzes, contests or social stories can incorporate reward mechanics that give consumers a genuine reason to engage and submit their first- and zero-party data.

Making the grade

Reckitt Benckiser

One of Reckitt Benckizer’s brands, Veet (the ‘hair-removal experts’), utilised a swipe poll and Spotify playlist to engage potential consumers on Instagram. To support its #readyforanything messaging, Veet deployed a Cheetah Experience to create a swipe poll behind an Instagram ad. It asked users what big night they were getting ready for.

An exclusive discount and a curated Spotify playlist creator offered the value exchange for submission of valuable first-party data. The brand banked 500,000 unique entries with this strategy.

For retail marketers focused on back-to-school, it would be quite simple to poll what parents are most looking forward to when their kids head back to the classroom and provide a school-themed playlist. Something to the tune of ABC by The Jackson 5, perhaps?


For over half a century Vans has not only been delivering authentic skate shoes for skaters but apparel that reflects the individual personality and style of riders. Walk down any main street and you will see somebody sporting a pair of Vans.

Over the past couple of years, Vans (primarily a brick-and-mortar retailer) has embarked on a rapid digital transformation to gather the behavioural and preference data required to build deeper, more meaningful relationships with customers. But rather than finding surreptitious ways to collect data, snooping on customers or inferring what drives them to action; it devised its pioneering Vans’ Family loyalty program — the award-winning benchmark for any loyalty initiative and a channel.

What sets the Vans’ Family loyalty program apart from its competitors is rather than the all-too-familiar points-win-prizes scheme with discounts and coupons, the program celebrates its fans, giving them access to exclusive products, early releases, events, collaborations and experiences like custom-made gear.

Download the back-to-school white paper here.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person? Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.

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