Just for fun, let’s imagine the late great Don LaFontaine (aka the King of Movie Trailers) voicing this intro:
IN A WORLD WITHOUT COOKIES, marketers will face grave challenges.
The digital universe as they know it will change. How will they track and measure campaign impact? How will they prove the VERY WORTH of their efforts?
And most importantly, how will they get the data they need to TOTALLY CREEP OUT INTERNET USERS EVERYWHERE?
All kidding and theatrics aside, a cookieless world (coming soon to a certain browser near you; spoiler alert – it’s Google Chrome) will impact marketers who rely on third-party data to personalize and measure online advertising and digital campaigns. That’s roughly 80% of advertisers, according to Epsilon.
So let’s all make like the Girl Scouts and Be Prepared. (Girl Scouts know a thing or two about cookies, amirite?)
Here are some things to consider as you prepare for a cookieless future.
Why are cookies going away? Here’s the (cookie dough) scoop:
According to a June 2021 announcement from Google, the end of third-party cookies (which has been nicknamed the “Cookiepocalypse” [!]) will happen over a 3-month period in 2023.
With this move, Chrome will join other leading browsers Safari and Firefox in eliminating support for using third-party cookies to gather consumer data. This ban on cookies comes amid heightened concerns around data privacy, as well as the emergence of laws governing the collection and use of internet users’ data (e.g., the EU’s GDPR; the California Consumer Privacy Act.)
Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s a mini-glossary of cookie-related terms:
Cookie: A text file placed on your device by a website that stores information about your online activity and behaviors.
Third-party cookie: Cookies loaded onto a website by (you guessed it) a third party, such as a social media site or an advertiser, used most often to track users’ behavior across websites and serve targeted ads. Like, say you’re researching monster trucks. Then, you notice ads for Grave Diggers and Hemi engines “following” you all over the internet, even when you’re on sites dedicated to your other favorite hobby – collecting antique teddy bears. Jarring, right? These are the cookies that will go away.
First-party cookie: A cookie set by the website owner that tracks visitor behavior only on that domain. Generally, first-party cookies are intended to provide a better user experience by remembering key pieces of information like site preferences, language preferences, login information, or products added to the shopping cart, for example.
First-party data: Information collected through the use of first-party cookies or given voluntarily by the user, such as on a lead-gen form or email opt-in form.
Third-party data: User information gathered by a third party.
(You can get more details on the differences between first- and third-party data from MTS’ own Irene Mason.)
Impacts on data-driven digital marketing and advertising
The impending demise of third-party cookies means losing visibility on audience behavior (other than on your own website). This will impact digital marketing and advertising in a few major ways:
1. It’ll shake up measurement and reporting. Without third-party tracking, it’ll be harder to follow customers across digital experiences. Which means methods like multi-touch attribution reporting will become less reliable.
2. Ad re-targeting and re-marketing will be severely impacted. The loss of third-party cookies means losing insight on audience behaviors, which hinders targeting capabilities.
Many in the industry believe that contextual targeting will re-emerge as a viable way to get ads in front of the right viewers. This content-focused method of reaching prospects involves serving ads relevant to a website’s content rather than based on user behavior.
You may have heard of Google’s FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), a solution Google is testing right now that it touts as a privacy-friendly, cookieless way to target users. It places users into interest-based cohorts, essentially hiding individuals in a crowd to protect privacy, but it gets a lot more complicated than that. If you’re so inclined, read all about FLoC here.
3. Adopting a first-party data strategy will become paramount. As a result of these first two points, marketers should strongly consider pivoting to a first-party data strategy.
How can we strengthen our first-party data core?
If “Cookiepocaplyse” was indeed a movie (God forbid), first-party data would be the hero that swoops in to save the day.
The twist? Our first-party data hero can’t just pop into a phone booth and emerge transformed within seconds like some other superheroes we know.
On the contrary, pivoting to a first-party data strategy will take work. But by building up first-party datasets, marketers can continue to cultivate exceptional experiences for users already engaged with their brand.
And first-party data can serve as a new bedrock for gaining reporting insights, as data gathered through first-party cookies can be used to calculate actionable metrics like pageviews, sessions and visitor numbers.
It can also provide a basis of website analytics for long-term measurement of customer engagement and conversion tactics.
Take control of data management
Before focusing on collecting more first-party data, assess the current processes in place for customer data acquisition, organization, segmentation and storage. Also, it can’t hurt to investigate technology that supports a strong infrastructure for collecting and managing real-time data, like a customer data platform.
Build trust with customers regarding data collection and usage
Remember, part of the reason we’re facing the loss of third-party cookies is consumers’ growing wariness of how their data is used. Transparency is key to making people comfortable enough to share information.
One thing you can do right now is examine the text in your cookie pop-up. Does it disclose how and why you’re collecting data? Does it communicate the potential benefits (i.e., a better user experience)?
Incentivize first-party data capture
Make it compelling for customers and prospects to share information about their preferences, interests and demographics via your owned channels. Loyalty programs are a stand-by not to be overlooked (and possibly refreshed). Offline approaches, (e.g., surveys, soliciting feedback during customer support calls), are viable ways to increase first-party data collection.
Content is, as always, huge here; in fact, the author of a Search Engine Journal article believes content will be the new cookie. So create gated content that’s useful and engaging enough for users to bother filling out an access form.
Make sure you’re using first-party data to deepen customer engagement and provide a better user experience – and that you’re communicating this to customers.
Plan for alternate reporting approaches
Without third-party cookies, it will be tough for marketers to track the customer journey. Taking away third-party cookies will essentially be like turning the lights off, leaving marketers in the dark regarding how customers are interacting with all the touchpoints that come before the final conversion.
So, monitoring campaigns and evaluating performance could look pretty different (literally) in a cookieless world. Most likely, you’ll be simplifying your analytic dashboards, moving from granular-level data to more holistic, aggregated data to report on campaign impact.
Protip: Communicate early to stakeholders throughout the organization – including execs – that your reporting dashboards will look different.
Marketing Mix Modeling, anyone?
Marketing mix modeling (MMM), a statistical approach that’s been around since the 1900s (ancient, right?), could see renewed enthusiasm as a future-proofed way to measure channel performance and optimize strategy.
MMM looks at historical data on how past campaigns impacted sales to predict the success of future campaigns. This is a long-term approach that requires high-quality data and will become more viable as you build your first-party datasets. (Disclaimer: This is an extremely dumbed-down, Cliffs notes explanation – learn more about how MMM can help with cookieless reporting here.)
Tying content to attribution and revenue will be important
With content set to play a major role in amplifying first-party data, prepare to shift away from reliance on third-party data to measure impressions, clicks, shares and other activity.
Instead, focus reporting efforts on identifying:
- The most revenue-generating content
- The most effective content for each stage of the customer journey
- The content that drives the most lead generation
- Content that gets the most traffic from highly engaged customers
- User intent behind why prospects engage with your content
Still looking for more? Check out our other articles on reporting & ROI.
I’m a Philadelphia-area freelance content writer and mom of three kids and one dog. That’s critical information, because, guaranteed they’ll Zoom-bomb us if we ever meet that way. I’ve covered topics ranging from preventing fire ants in nursing homes (yup) to creating a baller direct mail postcard, although my current niches include HR / employment issues, marketing tech and healthcare. I firmly believe in the power of words and love to help clients wield them for the best possible results. And also, importantly, in fairies.