Third-party cookies and digital marketing have long gone hand in hand. For years, brands have relied on these small pieces of code to help them develop buyer personas and ad targeting strategies. But with data privacy growing increasingly important and consumers pushing back hard against data sharing, marketers must now navigate a world in which third-party cookies are quickly becoming obsolete.
The shift away from third-party cookies has its merits. Data privacy is a real issue for today’s consumers as concern over identity theft, viruses, and other cybersecurity threats put a growing number of internet-connected devices at risk.
A cookieless world can even be good for marketers too. It opens the door for brands to interact with their audience in a more human-centric manner, ultimately paving the way for better personalization. But the clock is ticking on third-party cookies and brands that haven't adapted already will need to pivot quickly in order to prepare.
Third-party cookies are small bits of code that track internet users’ searches, website visits, and purchases, among other data. Whereas first-party cookies are dropped onto a website by its owner in order to monitor activity on their own asset, third-party cookies pass information back to an outside organization, like an advertiser.
Third-party cookies heavily influenced ad targeting for nearly three decades. Then, amidst growing concerns over data privacy, it all came crashing down.
In late 2019, Firefox announced that it would block third-party tracking by default. Apple followed suit in early 2020, though its Safari browser has included cookie-blocking features since 2017. Additionally, Apple introduced new privacy features in iOS 14.5, allowing users to customize data privacy settings for individual apps.
Also in early 2020, Google announced it would be phasing out cookies from its Chrome browser—a move that will take effect in 2023. This shift away from third-party data accessibility has led marketers to contemplate the future of ad campaigns.
With user data no longer as readily up for grabs, brands must adapt their approaches to ad targeting and predicting buyer patterns and behavior. Marketers will need to be more strategic with their data and explore new ways to segment audiences.
Unfortunately, not all marketers are prepared for the task. According to a survey by Epsilon, 54% of marketers still don't feel fully prepared for the death of third-party cookies.
Brands that hesitate or refuse to think outside the box for future data collection will likely fall behind the crowd. Ensuring cost-effective advertising in a changing digital world means being vigilant about new technology and data sources. The key is to connect users across multiple, respectful touch points, such as opt-in data opportunities and contextual ads.
How effective have you been at collecting first-party data? Identifying methods to collect opt-in first-party data, such on your website and through email marketing, will help you respect your users’ privacy while still meeting marketing goals. If you’re currently using a content management system (CMS), the analytics dashboards should provide valuable insight into key metrics that can work to your advantage and help you identify where you may need to fill in some gaps.
Want access to solid user data? Just ask. By providing incentives, such as discounts or a loyalty program, you can invite users to share additional data with you and make it a win-win situation—they get a tangible benefit, you get opt-in data that’s fair game for marketing outreach. Just make sure you’re transparent about how you’ll use it. Building trust with your audience is essential to growing brand loyalty.
Predictive modeling uses artificial intelligence to better understand your audience and uncover prospective buyers without relying on cookie-based data. AI tools can work backward from your desired outcome to identify which consumers are likely to be your next best customers, based on a combination of your first-party data and responsibly sourced opt-in data.
Contextual advertising is when ads are matched to the content on a given site page, as opposed to the individual site visitor. Because ads are related to the content a user is already consuming, many consider this type of targeting less intrusive than behavioral targeting. It offers promise for marketers who want to continue serving the most relevant ads possible while still respecting consumer privacy.
Third-party data made it easy for marketers to rest on their laurels. Now, brands must try even harder to remain relevant and earn their audience’s attention. There’s no better way to achieve this than to continue to invest in quality products, services, and content. At the end of the day, nothing is more important than providing value to your customers.
Paying close attention to innovative tools and data sources can help marketers keep up with ever-evolving privacy challenges. Fortunately, a growing array of resources are helping marketers adapt their first-party data strategies and make ad targeting more effective. Remain open to exploring different options and you’ll likely find one that aligns with your goals.
The death of the third-party cookie isn’t all bad news for marketers. Taking the time to make more meaningful connections with your audience and investing in future-proof solutions will mean wiser ad spending in the long run.