Where have the cookies gone, and what will I eat now?

In a soon-to-be cookie-less world, StopPress takes a bite out of the biscuit in an attempt to understand what this new reality for the Cookie means for marketers, creatives and consumers.

The party’s just about over for third-party cookies. Last year, Google followed the lead of other browsers by announcing plans to block third-party cookies (by default) on Chrome by 2022.

For the past 25 years, cookies have tracked which websites people visit, how often they visit them, what they do on them, as well as the device they’re using and even their location. Marketers have been leveraging this data to enable their brands to deliver relevant and effective targeting and retargeting strategies to sway consumers to click, register and buy.

Given that Chrome has 66 percent of the browser market share, it’s not surprising that this decision has sparked conversations about the future of the ad-tech industry, and the impact on brands and marketers. Many marketers are concerned that a cookie-less browsing experience is seen to be killing off much of the intel marketers – from B2B to retail – have relied on for insight.

This coupled with consumer concerns over privacy breaches and with transparency and direct ad sales on the rise, new channels, methods and tools for audience data gathering is going to be increasingly important for marketers looking to personalise their messaging.

Before we delve into a discussion on the future of the Cookie, it’s work taking a look back at how the discussion over cookie-less came about and the concerns marketers have.

Emma Tait, Digital and Data Strategist at Colenso BBDO says that the Cambridge Analytica scandal was a catalyst to putting the spotlight on data privacy.

“Users now understand the depth of data these companies have on them, and demand accountable, responsible and transparent data use. In Google Engineer Justin Schuh’s words ‘Our goal is to create a set of standards that is more consistent with users’ expectations of privacy’,” Tait explains.

To this, Chetna Bindra Group Product Manager, User Trust and Privacy at Google says: “Advertising is essential to keeping the web open for everyone, but the web ecosystem is at risk if privacy practices do not keep up with changing expectations. ​People want assurances that their identity and information are safe as they browse the web. That’s why Chrome introduced the Privacy Sandbox [and]shared progress on their path to eliminate third-party cookies by replacing them with viable privacy-first alternatives, developed alongside ecosystem partners, that will help publishers and advertisers succeed while also protecting people’s privacy as they move across the web.”

Emma Tait, Digital and Data Strategist at Colenso BBDO

First and third-party, whats the difference?

So, with third-party cookies out, and first-party cookies in, what does this mean for marketers? Tait explains, saying that first-party cookies and third-party cookies have different uses and functions:

“First-party cookies are collected by the website the user is on and are focused on improving the users experience on the site – this is how the site remembers what you’ve added to your shopping cart, or what your username is for example. This data is collected by a brand, for use by a brand, and as per the global privacy regulations they require explicit user permission – hence all the cookie banners popping up all over the place.

“Third-party cookies are created by advertising and tracking providers. Third-party cookies collect user data from across the web and aggregate these thousands and thousands of data points to infer and predict what someone will do. They enable us as marketers to find, and to talk to, the right person, at the right place at the right time. They allow us to take and apply learnings from other websites,” she explains.

Important to note here is that Google is (currently) only talking about restricting third-party cookies – first-party cookies will still be enabled by default in all the browsers.

“From a data ownership and privacy perspective it makes perfect sense, and is naturally the right thing to do. It puts the onus back onto the marketer – without the ability to use existing information, we’ll have to collect our own, and to do that we’ll have to earn the right to the data,” says Tait.

For many marketers, it might be hard to imagine how advertising on the web could be relevant, and accurately measured, without ​third-party cookies.

Possibly without realising it, many marketers are reliant on third-party cookies. This is especially the case when looking at retargeting, if you have invested in a multi-touch attribution, or use digital data segments to build prospect audiences. Many of these data attributes (age, gender, income) are tied to those third-party cookies, cookies that soon won’t look like anything.

Some, like Shawn Phillips Chief Technology Officer at Heart of the Customer, a firm specialising in customer journey mapping, is however not that convinced on third-party data. “It’s worth noting that third-party cookies were never all that reliable.”

He says that marketers have made assumptions on ad personalisation and performance since the first cookie dropped decades ago. “What ended up happening is, conversions were low because the data you were collecting was bad. Most third-party cookie data is lost between cookie syncs,” he explains.

He suggests that first-party customer data can deliver the level of personalisation consumers crave, at the speed and scale marketers need to keep up with evolving market demands.

Tait says that while we do need first-party cookies, third-party cookies are still useful. “The targeting ability that third-party cookies allow won’t go away, but it will be rebranded. For example, Google has proposed changes that will allow us to continue to target pretty much as we can now, just without passing that information back to advertisers,” she says.

What will this mean for marketers?

Tait says that cross-platform targeting is the biggest thing marketers will lose. “With tech-giants building out their own walled gardens, reducing our efficiencies so it’s likely we’ll need bigger budgets to reach the same amount of people. We have to remember why we embraced third-party cookies in the first place, and hope it wasn’t just the shiny new technology. Relevance. Right place, right time, right person.

“We’ve been relying on third-party data to ensure relevance, but we need to remind ourselves that customer centricity breeds relevancy. Through truly understanding our customers, we can tell meaningful stories and become meaningful brands.”

She goes on to say that marketers need to think practically about building and enriching their first-party data, ultimately gleaning insights directly from those engaging with their brands.

“But, we have to earn the right to have someone’s data, and the right to use it. We need to continue to develop considered strategies, which focus on true value and great user experiences, and start asking ourselves some tough questions.”

Ultimately, as we shift away from third-party cookies, advertisers will have to continue to look for solutions that protect consumer privacy while also providing the data necessary for optimal customer experiences.

What will replace third-party cookies?

Tait doesn’t believe first-party cookies will go anywhere anytime soon, but third-party cookies will. “I’m sure we’ll still be able to use some (if not all) the targeting power they currently give us, they’ll just be called something else.”

Google have been working on a bunch of technical alternatives – ones that ensure ads are relevant to the user, whilst retaining the users privacy – i.e. the data won’t be shared back to websites and advertisers.

“But yes, it’ll be in their best interest to have an alternative up and running prior to flicking the switch on third-party cookies.

“In fact, it looks like some of these alternatives may offer even stronger opportunities to us as marketers, but I suspect the cost will be higher,” she says.

This is the first article in a series to be published on the topic.

Keep reading StopPress for more insight and analysis on the future of cookies, here.

About Author

David Nothling-Demmer is Editorial Director - Business Titles at ICG Media. Titles include: StopPress, NZ Marketing magazine, Idealog and The Register.

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