Bruno Rodriguez
Jun 10, 2024

Keeping up with AI search, a cookieless future, TikTok and X uncertainty

Amid digital disruption and AI automation and insights, don't lose sight of three marketing basics: experimentation, research and audience-based planning.

Keeping up with AI search, a cookieless future, TikTok and X uncertainty

The last few months have highlighted the changes that will define digital marketing this decade: Joe Biden signing the TikTok ban law, Google rolling out AI overviews to all of the US, and a reminder that cookies are (probably) disappearing for most users next year. At the same time, ad platforms are doubling down on machine learning for campaign optimisation (Google’s Performance Max, broad targeting), making campaign management simpler and less time-intensive while limiting the tools for marketers to optimise manually.

An uncertain media ecosystem combined with streamlined marketing performance creates a great opportunity for marketers to transform in-tool execution time into added strategic value. 

One way that will help marketers de-risk, innovate , and still maintain best practice is to go back to three marketing basics: experimentation, research and audience-based planning. In today’s fast-changing digital world, the basics are often deprioritised to focus on day-to-day performance optimisation.

Diversifying in social channels through experimentation

Experimentation has become a necessity in the current social ecosystem. There’s a real chance that TikTok will be banned in the US now that it’s been signed into law. ByteDance will fight it, and it might push it back, but we’ve seen this happening in the past when India banned the platform in 2020. The result? 200 million users flocked to Instagram and Youtube.

A solid experimentation program that hedges bets across these three leading platforms may reduce the risk of an eventual TikTok ban while providing opportunities for innovation in messaging and formats. It will also reduce the reaction time of brands and marketing teams adapting to audience shifts if the app experiences an exodus of users.

Beyond video, social platforms like Reddit and Pinterest are experiencing an understated user boom that opens the door to new audiences and formats. McDonalds has used Pinterest effectively to reach Gen Z audiences, and brands like Toyota and Alpine have integrated their messaging into Reddit, despite being a profoundly underappreciated channel.

The demise of X has given way to platforms like Threads and Bluesky that might reinvigorate micro-blogging, with brands like Google and Wendy’s investing in building a community there and effectively de-risking from Musk’s platform.

The end of cookies and the value of audience-based planning

Which once again takes us back to marketing fundamentals. The last couple of decades have seen marketers work with an incredible wealth of data and the ability to throw creatives at an algorithm to see what performs better. However, changing privacy needs, mainly in browsers' handling of third-party cookies and the info that mobile operating systems share with apps, will force brands to prepare and adapt.

Brands need to determine their data capabilities and ensure they have the human capital and tech necessary to capture, consolidate, and retain all their website and channel marketing data. Marketing teams will also need to double-down on audience research to generate zero-party and first-party data, both qualitative and quantitative, to ensure an advantage in choosing the right messaging, platforms, and formats.

Technology has made panel research, customer interviews, and surveying more effective and efficient than ever, and leveraging the right tech and processes can result in a wealth of valuable information. Ensuring collaboration across marketing and analytics teams will generate insights that have been available but painfully neglected while digital teams aim to squeeze out every efficiency from their Meta and Google/Bing campaigns.

AI search highlights the importance of best practice and fundamentals in an uncertain future

Major platforms will continue to be essential and bring their own set of opportunities and challenges. Both Google and Microsoft have reworked their search engines to be built on AI. This is a major change: 75% of all web traffic comes from them, and up to 25% could disappear in the next couple of years, according to Gartner.

How can brands, especially those heavily relying on search engines (such as retail, health, and finance), prepare for a situation where search engines become walled gardens? Be ready to adapt quickly and learn from past experiences.

Amazon is leveraging AI to summarize product reviews in an SEO-oriented move. The Australian furniture giant Temple & Webster was an early adopter of Generative AI, and some of its strategies focused on organic search.

Historically, engines are more prone to evolution than revolution. Predictions of voice search overtaking traditional search were eclipsed by the reality that voice search became just one more way to use search engines, often in specific situations.

The first step to prepare for these evolutions is to get the basics right. The principles to rank in voice weren’t different from those for other search snippets. Experience has shown that many brands were trying to be ready for voice search when they weren’t interested in being prepared for web search. Similarly, many companies are now worrying about the arrival of AI search without solid organic search strategies.

Ultimately, these changes tell us that digital marketing will remain challenging post-2024, and marketers must diversify their strategies. But we do know that there are a wealth of opportunities to get ahead by reacting quickly and strategically to these changes with solid messaging and a deep knowledge of target audiences. 

Only if we can get back to fundamentals can we get the basics right.

Bruno Rodriguez is head of organic at digital marketing consultancy Orange Line, based in Sydney

Campaign Asia

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