News | 28 July 2021

Breaking the third-party cookie habit

It’s time to refocus on first-party data and unlock personalisation at scale

Google has pushed back its timeline to kill third-party cookies from 2022 to mid-2023, giving the digital advertising industry more time to plan for more privacy-conscious targeted ads. It’s not the first browser to stop using the tracking cookies – Safari and Firefox both blocked them in 2013 – but it’s the biggest, and since the tech giant sounded their death knell, there has been a rush to develop new tools in their place. Firms including The Trade Desk and Liveramp and have developed identity-based tracking systems or “Universal IDs” that obscure the user’s identity across multiple touchpoints.  

Google meanwhile distanced itself from Universal IDs and is throwing its weight behind its “Federated Learning of Cohorts” (FLoC), a method that categorizes groups of people based on their web behaviour, allowing ad targeting and measurement at the group, rather than individual level. However, privacy and data ethics advocates argue that by lumping people into groups, Google will create a deeper level of personal data that could potentially be attached to other individual-level profiles. The Guardian and Firefox have opted out of using FLoC and Amazon has also blocked them in its bid to become the world’s product search leader. Some are questioning Google’s motivations, with the Competition and Markets Authority looking into whether removing third-party cookies from Chrome could cause advertisers to shift spend to Google’s own tools at the expense of its competitors.  

The death of third-party cookies is the frontline of a broad shift towards a more privacy-conscious data landscape. Regulatory compliance, including GDPR and CCPA, is giving new rights to consumers and responsibilities to businesses. Apple has brought in App Tracking Transparency with the launch of iOS 14.5. The data sources that marketers have relied on are shrinking. 

Focus on first-party data 

So while tech firms, publishers, and privacy campaigners thrash it out, what’s a marketer to do in the meantime? The answer lies in the data closer to the brand – first party data. While third party cookies are on the way out, there’s no such threat looming over first-party cookies – the code that gets generated and stored on your website visitor's computer by default when they visit your site. With a first-party cookie, you can’t see what your visitor did on websites beyond your domain, but you can learn about what a user did while visiting your website. Developing and automating an effective marketing strategy around these analytics is more important than ever. 

Third party cookies are really too invasive for this new privacy-conscious era, and studies have shown that having hundreds of extra data points to use for targeting ads isn’t necessarily that effective. It’s time to break the reliance on what has seemed like an easy option. The challenge in a post-cookie world will be to create a more intentional, focused and effective plan to maximize the value from your first-party data. Often this will require a re-focus on the direct relationship you have with your customers and their journey, rather than fixating on winning new customers through third-party data.  

Collecting as much first-party data as possible now is critical. Explore more expansive and inclusive ways to gather the data, for instance loyalty and form capture strategies. In order to collect, you’ll need to give something of value in return. Ask your customers who they are to drive better experiences, and generate creative content that demands engagement. Your consent banner is hugely important and the wording, design and placing of it needs to be carefully considered. Try testing different options for your consent strategy to see what works best. For instance, you could ask for consent not on the home page, but on the product page. 

Making connections across systems  

Even companies rich in first-party data often find it siloed across systems. The key to bringing that data together around a customer is through the various identities and attributes that can be assigned to a person. A single customer ID can be linked to customer data in many systems and then brought together, in a customer data platform (CDP). This needs to be fed with high quality internal data, such as CRM, mobile and web interactions, and can be combined with external sources such as social media, email and web search.  

You may have a ton of data, but the need for a purposeful data strategy around actually using it is key. First party data exists, and it’s up to you to activate it. For companies that traditionally sell through third parties, this may be a big change, but you can view it as a valuable exercise in getting closer to your customers and taking better stewardship of their experience.   

Building new partnerships 

In the post-cookie world, It won’t be possible to go to a data management platform to buy audiences across different platforms anymore. Major publishers, cloud companies and big tech have been busy creating ‘walled gardens’ – ecosystems where they control access to data to maximize their pricing power. These organisations will be central to audience targeting, as they are the only ones with a broad enough footprint of customer engagement to meaningfully know user identity. While they will control most audience targeting data, you can use your first-party data to augment it. Working with trusted partners will become more important, as will being prepared with integration solutions to unlock value. In terms of advertising to new customers, we may also see the revival of older strategies like contextual advertising, circulating PPC ads on websites that rank for similar keywords to your ad. 

Conclusion 

The new privacy-conscious data landscape will certainly impact on marketers’ efforts to connect with prospective customers before-purchase. This can and should lead to a refocus towards creating customer value across the entire customer journey. First-party data is the best resource to do this. With new technologies it’s possible to unlock personalisation at scale, with relevant, timely and insightful customer experiences. In terms of customer acquisition, new alternatives to thirds party cookies are emerging, and it’s a good idea to stay abreast of these and test them out to find the best solutions for you. The shift away from tracking cookies is an opportunity for marketers to show skill and adaptability, moving away from a one-size-fits all approach to one that is less invasive, more tailored and ultimately more effective.  

If you’d like to explore potential opportunities for using first-party cookies data more effectively, we’d love to chat, so do get in touch. 

 

 

Author
Paul Wreford-Brown,
Digital Director