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Privacy by Default

While companies tout the importance of user privacy, few put their money where their mouth is – or in our case, actually live and breathe the concept the way we do as a company. From how we think about our Product to the way we implement our Marketing, Sentry’s take on privacy is rooted in three key fundamentals: Don’t make me choose, think like your customer, and build for tomorrow today. In many respects, these values extend well beyond just our privacy stance but it’s worth digging into how serious we are about privacy being a non-negotiable part of how we do business.

And while you might argue standards are still evolving, between recent regulations around PII to GDPR, we believe these changes are inevitable and that tracking users will not only no longer be an industry standard, it will cease to exist in any sort of “personalized” way. While this may look like we’re going back in time roughly 20 years, we believe that’s because we’re currently in the midst of this privacy evolution towards a new standard that is TBD. Most importantly, we believe it’s solvable and one where industry titans like Alphabet will prioritize in the name of user privacy and in the interest of their near monopoly on search advertising. Much like their actions in the mobile industry in 2012, when Google and Apple both had to address the usage of device IDs for advertising tracking (thus how IDFA was born), we believe these standards will evolve with a win-win solution that protects user privacy and enables businesses to still understand product analytics, aggregated behavior, and even personalization.

This is the inevitable outcome that we expect to arrive. And while large entities like GitHub can remove cookies and still capture user intent with impressive segmentation data, the decision requires a leap of faith that as a marketer in a high-growth business, is high risk. But by taking action now, we believe we’re getting ahead of this paradigm shift toward protecting users’s rights.

In a series of posts over the next few months, we’re going to take you behind the scenes into how we made user privacy a core value for Sentry — from our Product and Legal to Security and Infrastructure. And from a Marketing perspective, this means removing all advertising cookies – which is the bold change we completed last July.

We all use cookies: What’s the problem?

Enter any website today, and you’re prompted with a plethora of irritating pop-ups. Do you accept cookies? How about only the essential ones? What’s the difference between the “strictly necessary” cookies versus those used for site usage or to “enhance site navigation”? In the past two decades, digital advertising has skyrocketed to a $740 billion industry, with search advertising alone accounting for over $306 billion; cookies have become the life blood for how this massive advertising ecosystem functions. And beyond a poor user experience, they’ve also become increasingly complex and disruptive to user privacy, with laws and regulations even varying by geography (e.g. European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, e-Privacy Directive). So why are companies holding on so tightly cookies and what actions can you take to be prepared?

In a nutshell, by removing cookies, you force Marketing teams to re-think how they can scale their customer growth without a lot of data or insights – and at a definite cost. For example, in the short term, you’re saying goodbye to your ability (at least with today’s options from Google) to deeply understand what content, channels, third-party sites, or pages are interesting to your users and answer the billion dollar marketing question: what strategies are the most effective in driving purchase? Without purchase intent data, you’re also removing the ability to do performance advertising at scale with Google Adwords. Within a few months (it took us roughly four), your advertising costs will also increase, as Google Ads lose visibility into the audience conversion signals that it relies on to optimize bidding. Moreover, much of your Marketing operations stack is probably built on cookies to do cross-site tracking, optimization, and even delivering campaigns; removing them will render a lot of your operating tools much less useful. So why embark on this rather painful journey, then?

Because you’ll not only create a better user experience that respects your users’ privacy, you’ll also force your Marketing strategy to get back to core principles. And because as of last week, you don’t have much of a choice. On Jan. 4th, Google began its deprecation of third-party cookies, starting with 1% of Chrome users and ramping to 100% by Q3. So while most of the industry is anxiously looking to Google for effective alternatives before pulling off the band-aid, in reality hoping for a ideal solution that achieves both the world’s increasingly high privacy standards and meets the previous advertising powers looks like a pipe dream – especially if anti-trust regulators like the U.K.’s CMA continue to scrutinize aspects of Google’s proposed Privacy Sandbox alternative, like its in-browser algorithm FLoC and now the Topics API. So instead of waiting, we took action.

Build for tomorrow, today

As a company built for developers, we’ve always faced a more privacy-conscious audience and one that is allergic to a lot of traditional marketing tactics. Four years ago, only 17% of our website visitors accepted cookies and that number has only declined as our audience has multiplied. As a result, we’ve always thought about this as more than just impacting paid advertising or the demand generation part of our business, it is a philosophy that we’ve proactively used throughout our entire Marketing strategy. For example:

  1. We diversify sponsorship channels: While third party sites, newsletters, subscription services have often been dismissed as too manual, we’ve found really clever ads and actually useful content can yield much higher quality results if you sponsor established communities that your audience already subscribes, listens, reads, and watches. We’ve seen nearly 4x the results on Reddit as compared to other advertisers for example.
  2. We experiment with a variety of content creators: We’ve also consistently rotated our content creation partners from customers and product partnerships to industry influencers and those that have a strong voice in the domains where we know developers seek out credible perspectives. And we allow them to tell us what formats work best for the content to be authentic rather than dictating those platforms.
  3. We consistently invest in “dark social” and aren’t afraid of self-reported attribution: From podcasts to Discord, we regularly gauge success from customers’ direct feedback both in surveys and qualitatively about their favorite information sources and topics. And we know that credibly educating an audience may not show with consistent investment vs. one-off bets. We also empower our go-to-market teams to amplify this content in direct customer channels.
  4. We prioritize brand investments: While it may seem counterintuitive to replace the data-driven customer acquisition with brand campaigns, now more than ever, marketers who are fearless about investing in unusual and sometimes even counter-intuitive brand activations will stand out in a sea of noise.
  5. We measure overall growth: As your attribution to different channels and content types get muddy, reporting on singular channels like display ads or youtube conversion becomes less interesting. Instead we align early and often with our financial and business ops teams on overall trends and patterns, as well as implementing new tracking systems, which Matt covers in great detail along with a much more detailed how-to guide for the challenges and solutions that we employed here.

Not only does this require you to get creative on content, channels, seeking out influencers, scaling partners – it requires confidence in an integrated customer journey and an investment in brand and product value that in many ways brings us back to first principles in our customer acquisition strategy: seek out and provide value to those who appreciate what you do best.

Making these changes was definitely a major effort, but it was one that we believe was critical to the privacy values that Sentry stands for as a business. You’ll see this over the next few months as we discuss our latest Session Replay capabilities including how we built User Feedback to be private by default. For more info about how privacy is embedded into everything we do, check out our Privacy page.

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