This article was originally posted on CMS Wire.

Personalization is becoming the norm, not the exception. As renowned business strategies and global keynote speaker, Bryan Kramer said in a recent interview: “The marketer’s challenge is to create relevant and personalized content for consumers. So one has to develop a real relationship with the consumer.”

Marketers must develop these relationships at a time of great fluctuation: more people than ever before are interacting with brands through digital channels, a trend that the pandemic accelerated. Even the most digital-reluctant consumers now shop online. And these consumers are demanding relevance in the way brands communicate product offerings to them.

So what does “a real relationship with the consumer” feel like in the digital world, especially when consumer privacy is a growing concern? As brands across all industries adjust their marketing strategy, here are three actions to succeed in a digital world.

Treat Customers Like Humans: Embrace Consented First Party Data

To treat customers like humans is to know each of them in great detail. Details like their birthdays or anniversaries, products they looked at for daily use or special occasions, products they have bought online and offline, reviews they have given, or what they left in the shopping cart. Having a person’s first-party data is the important first step towards personalization.

But beyond first-party data, when brands use consented first-party data for creating a 1:1 experience with the customer, it transforms advertising into relationship building. Consented first-party data is when people opt into data gathering — whether through company domains (in-app or on-site) or offline retail points of sale. How can this kind of data lead to relationship building? The brand can recommend a product, or a series of products, based on “knowing” each customer’s preferences and habits that they agree to share with their trusted brand. The brand can then predict in-the-moment desires by combining consented first-party data with contextual data and using AI-based purchase prediction technology.

But brands will continue to use third-party cookies to attempt personalization for as long as Google Chrome permits .

Those days are numbered. More than ever before, I’ve noticed people are paying close attention to how organizations use their data. Many now view the gathering and distribution of their data — primarily through the use of third-party cookies —  as a violation of privacy. This is in part due to user advocacy and privacy safeguards such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and many others in progress that emphasize privacy protections. Google plans to join other web browsers in disabling third-party cookies in 2023.

Because of these developments, brands need to begin incorporating personalization without third-party cookies now. Consented first-party data allows marketers to deliver relevant messaging while respecting consumer privacy. Through this consented data, marketers can merge “signals” beyond just gender and age –– including variables like preferences, purchase history and frequency of visits –– that allow them to approach the human behind the consumer with the use of personalization.

To accomplish this, brands can start by asking all customers to opt into data collection. For example, how would someone order a rideshare service if information about their location and destination was not revealed? Typically, the service rewards its customers with taking frequent rides by collecting their data. The same goes for bakeries. If we want a free cupcake on our birthday, we share our birthdates with the brand. From my perspective, customers are generally OK with  sharing their data with a trusted brand for personalized services and perks such as these. This is also why arbitrary ad offers are viewed as a nuisance. In contrast, personalized ads — made relevant by combining various data about a consumer’s preferences, habits and purchase intent in the right context — are a helpful service.

Meet Consumers Where They Already Are: Go Omnichannel

The emphasis on omnichannel delivery of personalized content sets today’s digital strategy apart.

Yet omnichannel is a lofty goal when advertising is still run mainly by agencies while owned channels are run in-house. Adding to the challenge, these owned channels often operate in silos: social media in one, video in another, email in yet another, and website in yet another. Different platforms and data are used to communicate with customers within each silo. How could a brand construct an individual customer’s journey across all these functional silos, technology platforms and data in this environment? What could the brand know about each customer and personalizing communications and relationships with each one?

Privacy regulations have added yet another layer of complexity to the brand-consumer relationship building if the brand is unprepared to move to a first-party identity approach. The good news? Technology inhousing is on the rise. Brand CMOs are increasingly building out their own data capabilities while investing in technology and teams who can help to collect, organize and use consented first-party data for advertising and marketing.

Brands could excel here by incorporating data and technology inhousing into an omnichannel personalization strategy. Technology inhousing allows brands to integrate all the data about a person — for example, the consented first-party consumer data from their websites and apps, CRM systems and offline point of sales. Technologies exist today that can help brands see the full picture by connecting the data without sacrificing compliance.

Be Ready for Fast-Changing Environments: Stay Nimble

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 forced the digital marketing and advertising industries to pivot to meeting customer needs –– often with minimal budgets. As consumers adjusted their work and personal lives to a digital world, e-commerce brands that sold directly to consumers thrived. Allocated ad spend for desktop video and CTV spiked during the pandemic, and eMarketer is projecting CTV spend to surpass $17 billion in 2022.

While digital commerce and e-commerce marketing succeeded at the height of the pandemic, travel, hospitality and automotive took a dive. How could brands continue to build relationships with consumers when selling vacations and cars was curtailed by stay-at-home orders? I’ve seen a clear demonstration of treating consumers as humans through a brand’s use of dynamic creative (DCO) technology. A global hospitality brand decided that it was irresponsible to sell hotel rooms internationally when overseas travel was prohibited due to the pandemic. It halted advertising of hotels in international areas impacted by Covid-19 and instead focused on a domestic “safe travel” theme. An automotive brand stopped its advertising campaigns for car sales and quickly changed the campaign to expressing empathy.

These brands were able to change the entire campaign theme and messaging in just 24 to 48 hours, exemplifying their use of dynamic creative technology for marketing agility. A few other brands similarly leveraged this technology to make immediate changes and allowed distinguished messaging strategies in certain micro-markets. Each market had unique attributes, so messaging could be customized to the needs of specific areas.

Brands can remain agile by adjusting their messaging to fulfill the demand for personalization. Personalization in this case means offering one message to one individual in a particular context. As leading social marketing strategist Ted Rubin put it: “Calling me by my name IS NOT personalization. Create systems that allow and empower engagement at scale, and be sure to bring personalized information, what I have bought, what I have returned, and my feedback, to the fingertips of your consumer-facing employees.”

The speed of changes within the marketplace will only increase, so now is the time for brands to take on a transformative approach with their marketing strategy. If these strategies are executed, they can directly impact how consumers view the brand and, in turn, provide their loyalty even beyond the pandemic. That’s the power of humanizing marketing through each individualized human experience.