GDPR may well make cookies and third party data impossible to use, argues Mike Hemmings, Marketing Director, EMEA at adtech firm Grapeshot. But he won't be mourning their loss.

Whenever I've heard or read marketing people talking over the past few months about the upcoming GDPR regulations, I've been reminded about the folk-tale Chicken Licken. This chicken was always dashing around panicking, convinced the sky was about to fall in.

It often feels that GDPR, which comes into force in four months, is putting marketers into the same kind of spin. They are convinced that the EU's new requirement that digital marketers actively check for consent each time they want to use customer data is going to make their work impossible. My view is quite different.

Recent research by anti ad-blocking solutions provider, PageFair, suggests that “consent is unworkable”. Indeed the research indicates that the percentage of users who would grant consent to requests such as “allowing third parties to track your online behavior for targeting of relevant ads” is very low, ranging from 5 to 20 percent.

To jump over this hurdle, marketers need to understand that being compliant is not the solution. The real solution is adding value to the consumer. And I believe that GDPR could actually prove to be a force for good in our industry, prompting the adoption of some truly innovative technology into an arena that would certainly benefit from it.

There is no doubt of course that GDPR is going to prompt some significant changes to the way we all use data – on that point I am in agreement with the pessimists. In fact, we are already seeing some brands upgrade or invest in new data management platforms (DMPs) that will integrate and optimise their first party data, making third party cookie data redundant.

This is because GDPR is likely to wipe out cookies, and their ability to follow users across devices, constantly serving ads at them. This new limitation on how you can target users that are contained on a list (whether that is your list or one bought in from a third party), will put a huge question mark over the wisdom of holding a massive database of contacts.

So-called 'big data' was once something to boast about. For many in the industry it was almost a childlike obsession - the size of your database was a qualification of your marketing weight and reach. However, just like that kid we all knew in the playground who had 2,000 football cards - but did not really know what to do with them plus they’d include a fair few duplicates – it’s not all about quantity.

Brands will no longer see customers for the commodity they once were, to be traded quite so freely on the open market in the form of third party data. We will all be forced to put our money where our mouth is and actually demonstrate our value in their lives through better, more relevant content.

This is where I believe the opportunities lie for those who are open enough to embrace them.

Bottom of the funnel retargeting was once the primary method for many brands to engage with audiences at scale. GDPR might be the final push needed for some brands to investigate and implement newer targeting techniques. Blockchain technology has been mentioned by many as possibly offering one kind of solution in that the customer data is held securely and centrally and thus would not be affected by the new regulation.

But my belief is that the digital marketing industry reinvention will centre around the more widespread use of complementary / contextual solutions for digital advertising. Put simply, if we focus on the immediate context and less on what a consumer might have done or bought a week ago, our advertising is much more likely to be effective. In a way, it's a very traditional approach – like the poster ads for Alka Seltzer that appeared on January 1.

Contextual targeting technology is on the ascendant. In a post-GDPR world, it will become essential for all marketing to become contextually relevant to a consumer, and simultaneously we will see the methodology move from a secondary to a primary source for brands. This is the only way that consumers will agree to marketers holding their data – by proving the brand can provide an appropriate and useful communication.

Over the next few months we are likely to start to understand more about the detail of the implications of GDPR, chiefly because there is still some doubt about exactly what kind of consent will be required to use data. In parallel with this process, consumers will gradually start to see that they have a new weapon at their disposal in the power dynamic between them and brands.

Once the dust has settled on this new regulation it will only be the brands that can prove to consumers that they serve relevant, appropriate communications who will retain their 'license to advertise'.