Be honest. Did you roll your eyes a bit before clicking through to read this article? A little part of you probably thought it was clickbait. Just another website sensationalizing things for clicks?
Or did your heart sink a little? Here we go again with the next Mobilegeddon.
Well, there could be some truth to that.
Marketing automation without cookies, specifically third-party cookies, is about to become the new normal and those businesses that can pivot and adapt their marketing first and best will see some serious wins.
What Are Third-Party Cookies, What Data Do They Collect, and What Role Do They Play in Marketing?
Third-party cookies, also known as tracking cookies or trackers, are created by other parties, in other words not by the website the user is currently accessing. These tracking cookies facilitate advertising, retargeting, analytics, and tracking services. They help us automate our marketing and get the best ROI from the leads we generate online.
The Death of Marketing Automation with Cookies
At the beginning of 2020), Google released an article stating as much, saying: “…we plan to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome. Our intention is to do this within two years.”
Yes, that’s right, digital advertising without cookies. Efforts are in motion to kill the third-party web cookies and cookie-based advertising.
Cookies are essentially a simple concept: they save a little chunk of data on a browser so that the website can follow a user as they move between web pages or visits. That was the original idea, just to be able to save settings or login credentials to give the user a better user experience.
But since it’s inception, the cookie has grown to do so much more. Cookies can extract other data, for example, who the visitor is, where they came from, and who should get paid when they convert. They’ve become a critical part of the marketing information chain. What’s more, they introduced tracking cookies, also known as third-party cookies, that pass information or data across the internet.
Without cookies, remarketing, data enhancement, attribution modeling, and all the other magical push-button services could potentially become obsolete. Your web analytics are also going to take a hit since you can’t tell one user from another, and you can absolutely forget about cross-device tracking!
As someone who works in marketing and tech, it’s time to take this shift seriously. Marketing has become heavily dependent on the third-party cookie. Everything from audience profiling to digital advertising campaigns could become blurry.
Third-Party Cookies Have Become a Bad Word
The decision by Google to sunset support for third-party cookies shouldn’t come as a shock. Cookies have been under attack for years now. Data has become a red hot topic, especially the sharing of third-party data.
Concerns about personal privacy have been in and out of the news. New laws such as Europe’s GDPR and California’s CCPA have popped up in recent years as consumers became more aware of how much personal data is collected about them, and used against their knowledge.
Rather than wait for regulations to kick in, Apple added Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) to Safari to “curtail companies’ abilities to monitor people’s browsing behavior when they visit other companies’ sites.” Fencing off companies in this way has been a strategic focus for Apple, so they can maintain high trust with their customers and maintain their loyalty.
Initially, ITP was aimed at third-party cookies and identifying people between your site and an advertiser or data aggregator. However, in 2019, Apple released ITP 2.2 and 2.3 which automatically deletes client-side cookies just 24 hours after they’re installed on the browser. That’s on all Macs, iPads, and iPhones.
And before you think, “But wait, that’s just Safari,” let me lean in a bit here.
All major browsers are now found among those disinfecting user browser cookies faster than ever before. Just how fast are we talking here?
As mentioned above, Safari now deletes client-side cookies within 24 hours. And all cookies are purged in only 7 days — a major cut back from the original 14-day cookie shelf life. While Google is now making alterations to the life of cookies, shortening them as we near their self-imposed shut down date which is less than two years away.
Firefox has taken its stand in the anti-tracking movement and implemented a feature called Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) which automatically blocks third-party cookies. Even up-and-coming browsers, Microsoft Edge and Brave, are moving towards this.
And as mentioned earlier, Google has joined the march with Google Privacy Sandbox designed to make cookies entirely obsolete.
While Google states the goal of doing this is to make the web more private, the real intention for this move is to recognize that the global landscape of privacy is rapidly changing. Cookies are a failed technology that just doesn’t work with where we’re at in both our world culture and tech timeline.
The other side of this issue is that Google and other browsers are unsure as to what will replace cookies for tracking.
There’s a lot going into this and we’re all at the mercy of Queen Google and King Apple. These changes will fundamentally shift how marketers and advertisers alike orchestrate key pieces of the funnel.
Whether you’ve been apathetic to the topic, or you’re just hearing about it and are eager to act, it’s time we all face facts:
- The world’s most used browser that accounts for 60-70% of all global traffic is officially sunsetting support for cookies
- The #2 browser is already speeding down that path
So what now? Whether you are a business running your own advertising campaigns or you work in or run a digital marketing agency, the concept that cookie-based marketing strategies are to be a thing of the past has probably started to make you sweat.
The truth is, the industry has already started to move on, and develop or refocus on other strategies. Perhaps based around maximizing first-party cookies, or reinvigorating the more traditional marketing channels.
Alternatives to Cookie-Driven Marketing
1. Refocusing on first party data: the rebirth of email?
Gone are the days where marketers could be lazy. It’s no longer possible to use Google Ads or Facebook Ads to chase your prospects around the internet. It’s time to revisit those first-party data sources. A good example and traditionally a very profitable channel is email.
Every brand, almost bar none, drives sales via email. It’s often overlooked because we are used to having our inboxes cluttered with spammy emails trying to get us to buy junk we don’t want.
That’s just email marketing done poorly. The real truth is that even with spam making subscribers more skeptical, email is still a great way to generate new sales, develop a relationship, position your business, and maximize a client’s lifetime value to your business. Because, 99 times out of 100, the cost per acquisition has occurred prior to an email address landing on your email list.
That could be just a newsletter subscription, it could be an existing client, or you could be using a lead magnet or whitepaper and paying for traffic to get leads into your funnel. Now you have that audience, the profit margin is excellent.
when someone joins your email list, they have either discovered your brand or website and decided that they want to learn more about what you offer, or they bought something from you. Either way, they have opted in to receive content from you, until the point they decide to opt-out.
Whether it’s GDPR or CAN-SPAM, CCPA and even CASL, you have a legitimate reason to make contact with them.
With a well-structured email strategy, you are able to have segmented audiences who receive targeted communication. What’s great is that you are able to further segment your list, which will make the messages you’re communicating feel even more personalized to the recipient.
Unless you are implementing a progressive profiling strategy, you are likely to have very little first-party data other than name and email address. However, by the way they interact with your emails, you are able to make some assumptions and segment audiences without needing to process additional first-party data, which is now heavily legislated. You get similar results with less headache.
Email is just one channel that can utilize first-party data. There are other channels that could be more effective depending on your audience and offer. They all have their value in terms of nurturing leads and maintaining relationships, and often a mix of channels delivers the best results. Some of the more noteworthy channels worth exploring include in-app push notifications, SMS and direct mail.
Note: Progressive profiling is the process of collecting additional information as part of the nurturing process and incorporating data enhancement through the use of third-party data that would match the person’s email and append missing data accordingly.
2. Super targeted ads on social media
Social Media platforms rely on data to sell advertising, and for a long time, third-party cookies have played a significant role in their use. But let’s take a step back and remind ourselves that they still manage to legitimately obtain first-party data from users, which we can leverage in our marketing campaigns.
With less buying behavior data available, we are going to have to get more creative, but it can still be a very effective and profitable channel to market your services and products.
For example, a recent dating app that targets women in their thirties used social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to target audience members who fit their sex and age demographic, and who had liked iconic movies such as Bridget Jones Diary.
With cleverly blended ad copy, they were generating high quality, targeted leads at a great cost per conversion. All obtained with just first-party data.
Remember: We tend to focus on paid ads because they’re a channel we can scale in a more predictable way. But it’s important to never lose sight of the value of earned media, such as organic social. Earned channels are another instance where we don’t need to rely on third-party data anymore. Run a measurement audit to see if you’re collecting all the first-party data you’re allowed to collect.
3. Retargeting your contact list
OK, it’s a little diluted when directly compared to current retargeting, but we don’t make the rules of the game. We are just adapting to the rule changes as effectively as possible and although retargeting contact lists is a little more labor-intensive, it’s still mightily effective, when done properly.
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You can look to target your current audience on social media,, either directly or just to keep nurturing the relationship. This is especially important when you have longer buying cycles.
You still have the ability to use lookalike audiences who fit the same demographics as your list. This means you are able to expand your exposure to prospects who are demographically similar to your current audience, all without having to track cookies across the web or rely on third-party cookies or data you haven’t directly acquired.
4. Google’s first-party cookie
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Google is still a resource to utilize through their first-party cookies.
Although Google’s recent statement and move away from third-party data puts them squarely in the “bad books” for many businesses and agencies, they still have the largest advertising platform available online and will still allow you access to the data and information they have directly collected.
This will all take place via the Google Privacy Sandbox (at this time, it’s still not confirmed if Safari and other browsers will follow suit).
Granted, at this stage, we are all guessing just what to expect. But Chrome still collects a massive amount of data, Google is still an advertising platform, and advertising data is still a major part of their business model.
Experts are expecting to be able to get hyper-targeted data or audiences similar to if we were still using the third-party cookie, simply because taking this away would jeopardize Google’s dominance.
5. Maximizing social media insights
There is an abundance of tools available when it comes to exploring your audience and their behavior on social media, before now, they were often underutilized. The changing of the cookie-tracking landscape and new data protection laws means we have an opportunity to revisit these tools to see how they can help us get better insights and access to our audience. Mastery of these insights will give you an advantage over your competitors. When exploring third-party tools, remember to use Google Analytics and Facebook effectively. They both offer great insights, especially Facebook.
You can get valuable information that includes age range, location, and other demographic information about user interactions with your content. That’s data you can unpack and utilize.
Facebook Audience Insights allows you to go one step further and measure how your page stacks up to similar, competitor Facebook pages. This allows you to measure your audience, your competitor’s audience, and to make your marketing strategies more laser targeted.
Summary of Action Items
Third-party cookies and data are no longer a marketer’s best friend. We are not able to retarget the ideal prospect and track them across the internet the same way we used to. It’s not a surprise that the recent law changes around protecting information and personal data are about to be phased out.
The key takeaway is that as third-party cookies get phased out, it is vital to collect and use first-party data instead. This is something we help with.
One strategy is to maximize platforms that have legal access to first-party data and leverage and become more laser-focused on the audiences you target. This often means identifying and segmenting different audiences and thinking outside the box. Social media platforms have tools that you’ll need to master to get the insights you need for your marketing.
Emails will continue to be important. Primarily because you have permission to contact your audience, and you are able to segment your list based on how they interact with the content you send them. You can also use your customer and/or email list to retarget that audience on social media, and even create new audiences based on their demographics.
Google will still be a great asset with its Google Privacy Sandbox, although we are not 100% sure how the interface will look and work.
Ultimately, what’s important is to respond and adapt quickly. Either you or your competition will absorb the changes forced on the marketing industry, and those businesses that embrace and push forwards will reap the rewards.
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