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With customer data having gone back underground, the magical genie is back in the bottle. That means now is the time to prove that as advertisers and marketers, you can juggle both engagement and privacy.

Just about a year ago, consumer data was everywhere and readily accessible. But following data restrictions by Apple, countless consumers have clawed back their privacy. Indeed, not only do consumers doubt the security of their personal data, they feel as though their daily lives are subject to being tracked by companies, according to a recent study by Pew Research.

After the data floodgates began to close, a major problem was revealed: Many marketers and many companies had gotten quite lazy. We had the gift of easy data, which helped identify consumer behavior with a pretty high degree of confidence. As it turns out, that adjustment may have been just a modest first step: Google plans to discontinue third-party cookies in Chrome sometime in 2024.

Related: Importance of Customer Engagement in This Day and Age

The future of digital advertising

While the Apple changes were one of the first dominos to fall, the proposed Google changes also have the entire digital advertising industry nervous, since Chrome has the majority of global browser market share. Google’s move could represent a drastic departure from the current methods of targeted advertising. Indeed, I foresee a cookieless future for digital advertising that looks a lot less appetizing.

That means the battle for authentic customer interaction has to adapt and come of age. Advertisers and marketers often find themselves at a loss for what to do to get authentic consumer engagement. This move away from high confidence, data-driven sales scenarios means that inroads for engagement need to happen as early and often as possible by working to make digital feel more personal.

We all know that clicks do not necessarily convert to sales or loyalty, but the era of gaining insight into what makes a consumer tick based on behavioral data like keyword searches and previous page views is behind us. A consumer’s initial search for a microwave oven, a car or a soccer ball might have meant reminders showing up in a social media feed later on as a nudge of sorts. These days, the same search brings up dozens of examples that don’t necessarily inform or educate or sell.

As a result, we are in a very confusing time for digital advertising, where the old, programmatic best practices — to optimize cost, scale and personalized accuracy — are becoming extinct, but new ways of trying to optimize digital advertising with personalization aren’t clear. Amid that uncertainty, the best approach to redefining customer engagement is a back-to-basics approach that, at its best, can be a differentiator for brands by helping to build customer trust and loyalty.

Related: Now Is the Time to Get a Grip Around New Data-Privacy Realities

Redefining customer engagement

For certain purchases, potential customers will always want some sort of engagement that feels more personalized. This means any company hoping to make a sale without that built-in ability to get organic insight about a customer’s needs and preferences is now faced with creating a three-dimensional relationship in a one-dimensional environment. With less data to go around, purchase decisions rely more heavily on creating a sense of value exchange by going back to some of the basics, starting with creating a more human connection.

One age-old solution to this modern problem is a return to insight sales. Many brands moved away from human-enabled sales to 100% digital because, at the time, the move was more cost-effective. But now is the time to rethink this move. In a world where there’s less “easy data,” companies risk spending a lot of money on engagements or clicks that don’t become engagements that convert.

A personal, human element can potentially transform those clicks into an engagement or a sales conversion, creating a sense of value exchange that drives not only engagement but a confident purchase decision and even better consumer loyalty.

Brand owners will need to work harder to truly know their customers. That is where a meaningful, strategic customer engagement strategy will be decisive. Consumers have lost their appetite for cookies, but they are hungrier than ever for meaningful connections.

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