The impending death of third-party cookies could be seen coming from a mile away.
Publishers and advertisers alike saw the writing on the wall once Apple Safari, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox implemented anti-cross-channel-tracking measures to “comply” with increasing consumer privacy preferences.
Specifically, these changes have affected digital marketers’ ability to serve personalized, timely ads across the web and, in turn, directly attribute success to these kinds of campaigns.
Just like GDPR and the CCPA are meant to protect consumers’ data and personal information, disabling third-party cookies is about giving consumers more rights to their data and privacy.
To many marketers, data privacy laws and web browser changes may seem like obstacles to success with targeted advertising and data monetization efforts and, in turn, achieving core business goals.
In reality, though, this new normal is an opportunity for you and your marketing team to lean into this “age of consent,” get ahead of the curve, and, at the end of the day, gain an edge over competitors.
Having said that, this new normal also requires marketers and businesses to put customers in the center — both by building a robust privacy strategy and having the right technology in place.
The end of third-party cookies: A brief timeline for marketers
Marketers have known for some time the rapid rise of consumer privacy outrage and subsequent laws to deal with that outrage would ultimately have an impact on their ability to leverage the cookie to track and target existing and prospective customers across the web and improve conversion metrics.
And yet, its swift passing has still somehow taken some marketing professionals by (relative) surprise, leading many to now scramble and determine their next best options for connecting with consumers.
Here’s the simplified story of how and why the third-party cookie has crumbled:
- As noted on Marketing Land, Apple “put the first knife in the cookie.” Loopholes to the cookie-blocking maneuvers made in Safari had existed temporarily for marketing pros, but updates to ITP in 2018 and throughout 2019 closed loopholes that allowed companies to continue to track and target website visitors across various webpages. And Apple continues to make changes to ITP — admittedly, with unintended consequences.
- Chrome and Firefox have continued to refine their consumer privacy policies over this past year. Chrome, as of early 2020, is finalizing its own version of anti-tracking, while Firefox implemented Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) shortly after ITP 2.0, auto-blocking cookies from most popular domains.
- Today, with the new decade upon us, marketers continue to grapple with these changes. Some experts foresee a rise in contextual targeting (again) for advertisers in the third-party cookie’s absence. Others say it’s time for publishers to create their own walled gardens to be able to compete with Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
Each of the brands behind the three aforementioned browsers, which account for the overwhelming majority of internet usage and traffic today, have taken measured approaches to implementing third-party-cookie-related changes, so as to account for the impact on marketers such as yourself.
But, at the end of the day, their choices reflect their (rightful) concern that consumers lack power over how companies track them and how they can use their information without permission.
Now, the question marketers must ask themselves is: “Where exactly do we go from here?”
Survival tips and tricks for the new, post-cookie landscape
The best path forward for brands looking to improve ad campaigns and publishing entities aiming to convert more subscribers involves the use of a far more reliable data source — first-party data — and an increasingly popular marketing technology to take advantage of said data source: the CDP.
Advertisers: Target leads, customers with first-party data
It may seem like Apple, Google, and other digital powerhouses that dictate many marketers’ day-to-day work are intent on making their jobs far more difficult with their third-party cookie changes.
The truth, though, is the updates made by these digital conglomerates are opening a new door for marketers — and, more specifically, advertisers: the ability to leverage first-party data.
First-party data’s increasing role as the premier marketing resource for all kinds of companies today — from ecommerce businesses to digital news outlets — isn’t merely a simple coincidence.
It’s fast become the go-to digital marketing asset — one that allows them to target niche audiences through advertising more efficiently and yields greater returns than third-party-cookie-based ads.
As BlueConic Director of Product Marketing Sam Ngo pointed out, anonymous data secured via cookies greatly limits ad targeting for organizations.
Therefore, companies should focus on building an entirely new customer engagement model based on:
- First-party data: As mentioned, with new privacy laws in place, customers are looking for brands to provide value in exchange for data. For example, are you collecting data so you can personalize content? If so, ask your customers if you can collect data for that purpose. Then, make sure you have the tech to store that data with an associated customer in a customer profile. If you offer personalized experience based on data collection, then customers expect it. Building relationships with customers requires you to build trust through consent, authenticating returning customers to continue building a profile, and providing a value exchange.
- Customer experience: Building great experiences requires reliable first-party customer data that communicates with other activation channels in real time. This requires both front- and back-end work, including a technology that allows you to connect a customer profile to activation channels, like a customer data platform. Using a combination of behavioral data, transaction data, and other critical customer information, you can deliver relevant messages or experiences to customers because they’ve consented to said data collection.
Publishers: Test new data monetization, business models
Surviving the “cookiepocolypse” isn’t just something advertisers are concerned with. Publishers also want to adjust their audience-based marketing approaches to better convert readers into subscribers.
BlueConic COO Cory Munchbach noted publishers test new business and subscription models all the time. But many forget to focus on the customer first when developing these monetization plans:
“Understanding the actual, realized, authentic individual who is engaging with the brand is fundamental to a successful business relationship with them.”
Publishers Clearing House Media’s Chris Moore echoed this sentiment regarding relationship-building.
In a guest post for AdExchanger, Moore noted how media and publishing brands now have substantial motivation to prioritize consent-driven, first-party data approaches to improve their user engagement, grow their subscription totals and, at the end of the day, increase their revenue.
Some of the popular (and fruitful) first-party data strategies implemented by publishers include:
- Testing metered paywall models to extract more user information in exchange for access to premium content. As MediaCom Germany’s Oliver Gertz noted to Digiday, “walled gardens have capitalized on the death of the cookie,” as the first-party cookie offers its own unique user ID for logged-in readers and subscribers.
- Focusing on value-adds to their digital presence to give users greater incentive to visit their sites, download their apps, and engage further. In a piece for What’s New in Publishing, expert Mary Hogarth highlighted publishers that have adopted new content-driven business models (“membership schemes”) based on value-adds like tiered content access.
- Building second-party data relationships with brands. A growing strategy implemented by many publishers (and one many more will mimic) is to use private marketplaces to swap first-party data with trusted vendors (for optimal, targeted segments), sell their own first-party data, or purchase another brand’s owned data set for lookalike audience targeting purposes.
Regarding this latter idea, there have been a number of publishers to bear fruit from data-sharing. Ultimately, publishers should be transparent with customers, however, on how their data is being used.
Immediate Media, for instance, created a dashboard for advertisers to “shop” for target audiences. This has allowed the publisher to simplify the ad-buying process for its brand partners, maintain long-term relationships with them, and continue to bring in steady amounts of recurring ad revenue.
Other revenue optimization avenues are assuredly in play for publishers the world over. These monetization opportunities, however, have proven to be the most potent and proven to date.
Life after third-party cookies requires some innovation — and a pure-play CDP
Regardless of who you are — an advertiser aiming to convert and capture more customers through efficient targeting or a publisher pining to transform casual readers into long-term subscribers — you need to continually experiment and innovate to adapt to life after third-party cookies.
That experimentation and innovation can be expedited and improved greatly with a customer data platform as your primary marketing technology to host the aforementioned first-party data.
Personalized and individualized marketing is best achieved with consented first-party data. Similarly, this data is a fantastic asset for media and publishing brands looking for new audiences to tap into and revenue streams to develop.
With third-party cookies eliminated as a viable marketing asset today, it’s more important than ever to turn to first-party data collection and utilization to build and grow a modern marketing strategy.
And with its fundamental purpose of unifying first-party data, a CDP can help you do just that.