If there's one thing we can say with certainty about the past two years, it's that consumer behavior changed significantly throughout the pandemic. From the shift to online-only life in early 2020, to the frantic Googling for new hours, policies, and stock updates in the first phase of reopening, consumers turned to the internet and relied on it in new ways.
But not always in the same new way. Covid-19 certainly accelerated the adoption of the "digital-first" mindset, but the sub-trends within that shift haven't always been clear. Writing for Think With Google, Philip Steggals sums it up well: "The pandemic created an inflection point that led people to reassess their priorities and needs, and buy goods and consume information and entertainment in new ways," he writes. "But pivoting without due consideration… carries a risk that's substantial for businesses. And it can be difficult for marketers to determine which of these new consumer behaviors will stick for the long term, or even as things become less uncertain."
At the same time, marketers are also contending with the demise of the cookie, as Google phases out the third-party cookie on Chrome browsers this year. This means that in an increasingly digital world, marketers can no longer rely on one of the primary tools that dominated conversations about personalization and "consumer experience" over the past decade.
But the one thing that is for sure? Digital adaptability (or "agility") is going to be required for the long haul — and it's the only way to truly stay relevant in the post-pandemic, "cookieless" future. Here's what that means for businesses.
Prioritize digital agility in 2022
The global pandemic accelerated digital transformation to unprecedented levels, so gone are the days of being digital first as a marker of innovation — to thrive in 2022 and beyond, businesses need to be "digital best." And we found the data to prove it. As we wrote in 2021, when we were already a year into the pandemic, fact updates surged — with Yext clients updating their facts 75% more than they did in 2019.
In plain English, that meant that they were keeping their online information current and communicating with their customers more frequently. The result? The more updated facts a business offered to customers online, the more customer trust increased — and so did customer engagement.
In one sense, this is simply proof of the old Darwin adage "adapt or die." (Hey, businesses and species have some things in common. Most businesses would have been unlikely to survive 2020 if they couldn't adapt their offerings and communicate with customers online.) But beyond that, it offers us a peek at what makes businesses successful no matter whatis going on in the wider world: an ability to seamlessly adapt and communicate with customers, digitally.
In short, business success today isn't about being the best at any one online trend, whether that's adopting a certain e-commerce platform or getting on Clubhouse (remember that phase)? Instead, digital agility — being able to adopt and adapt as consumer behaviors shift, regulations become stricter, and consumer expectations for ecommerce heighten — will be the major key to business success. Being one step ahead of the consumer (while still maintaining a consumer-centric approach) is the only way to stay competitive.
The New Cookie? Listening To Your Customers
For all the hand-wringing about the demise of the cookie, it's important to remember that cookies were never the goal — just a means to an end.
As we wrote recently for Adobe, for a long time, brands used cookies to improve the quality of "push marketing" — where they served up a variety of messages to consumers. This made sense: if you're going to show someone a banner ad or send them an email, you might as well make it about something that's relevant to their browsing history, right?
But "push marketing" is now on the decline. Brands have been throwing message after message into people's faces: via billboards, commercials, display ads, and it has almost felt like an arms race to see who can be the most distracting. Meanwhile, the people on the receiving end of those messages — customers — have started saying "enough." They're opting out and trying to avoid ads, with close to half of all internet users (42.7%) now using ad blocking software worldwide.
The good news? There is a better way. Stop throwing display ads at your customers and start listening to them instead.
Your customers are actually already telling you everything you need to know in order to deliver them a relevant, personalized experience on their terms. How? They're doing it every single time they search. The questions they ask — from "Japanese restaurant near me that's open now" to "buy midi-length dress with pockets" — reveal their intent. People search so that they can access information or take a specific action.
What can you do with this information? Well, you can start by embedding search into your digital experiences to deliver more relevant, personalized content — no cookies necessary. When you can see (and understand) what your customers are searching for, you can understand them better and deliver more of what they want.
Start with a data structure that's at the center of all great search experiences today: a knowledge graph. A knowledge graph is a data structure that's optimized for answering questions. Then, you can add on a great search experience everywhere your customers could ask questions: on your own website, in your app, on your customer support page, and on Google.
Finally, it's critical to pay attention to what people are searching for, both so that you can serve them the right answers when they ask questions and so you can highlight more important and high-value things in your other marketing efforts.
Marketers who do this see an estimated 1.4X increase in conversions* — a stat that looks pretty great in the face of ad blockers and email unsubscribes.
Embracing the cookieless future
According to research from McKinsey, 75 percent of consumers tried new shopping behaviors during the pandemic. Fully 39 percent of them, mainly Gen Z and millennials, deserted trusted brands for new ones. In a moment where we see a decrease in brand loyalty and an increase in time spent online, the status quo isn't going to cut it.
So, give yourself the best chance to win: not by adopting one digital trend but instead by being prepared to adjust — and adopting solutions that give you the digital "agility" and allow you to prioritize truepersonalization through search (not ads).
Learn more about how you can be "digital best" in 2022 — and beyond — with Yext.
*Yext customer data, 2020