While the announced deprecation of third-party cookies has been delayed until 2024, it’s important not to let ourselves lose sight of its approach. As marketers, we have a lot to keep track of with new and evolving tactics, channels, and formats, so it can certainly be easy enough to set the post-cookie concerns aside until they’re more immediate. But this would be a huge miscalculation; the extra time we’ve been given before Google ends support for third-party cookies is best spent considering the full range of implications and preparing for the future in the best ways that we can.
The Anonymization of User Data
We know that when support for third-party cookies is terminated, we’ll lose access to the historic levels of user data that we’ve become accustomed to leveraging in digital advertising. Even as the industry and users continue to embrace an increasingly omnichannel direction, we see challenges arising with executing such an approach effectively. The loss of third-party cookies will make it far more difficult to track any given user’s journey with a brand across multiple channels, mapping touchpoints and determining the role that they all play leading to conversions.
Likewise, it will make it more difficult to determine who your customers are; as we all become more aware of the value of our personal data and understandably protective of it, policies and legislation have been enacted to help safeguard that data. For marketers, of course, this means that most users will be anonymized, leaving many advertisers without the insights that they have become accustomed to accessing and utilizing.
These are clear wins for privacy, and important in embracing a balanced approach moving forward securely into an increasingly digitized world. However, they come with challenges that require thoughtful consideration on solutions that both respect user privacy and rights while also ensuring that small and midsize businesses in particular are able to stay competitive by understanding and connecting with the correct audiences, leveraging finite budgets most effectively.
The Value of Zero-Party and First-Party Data
One of the best ways to prepare for the loss of third-party cookies is to bolster your owned, first-party data. This takes time to build, so it would be wise to take advantage of our unexpected grace period to focus on efforts that can help gather this type of data. Even alongside third-party cookies, for the remainder of their lifespan, first-party data provides an incredible amount of value.
First-party data enables you to understand how individual customers interact with your brand and marketing efforts, and can enable you to provide personalized experiences that lead to higher levels of trust, conversion, and customer retention. While first-party cookies are a good start to understanding your users, first-party data that is voluntarily shared by users provides a deeper level of insight. This is often referred to as zero-party data. This data, which is collected directly and voluntarily from users, can provide insights that cookies simply can’t. It gets to the true individual experience, rather than assumptions or tracking that are based on devices.
Some of the most common methods to acquire zero-party data are tried and true, and rather simple. Offering an incentive such as a discount or gift for providing information is a standard and typically effective strategy. This is commonly seen on ecommerce platforms, where promotions are frequently given to those who provide an email address. Customer surveys can go in-depth and provide a value benefit to your users as well. Once any degree of initial user data is obtained and your audience can be addressed directly, it becomes easier to continue the conversation, building a customer relationship and learning more about them, their demographics, and what they value. Anything learned in this process can help you understand your overall audience, what’s resonating with them, and guide you in making informed decisions about how to communicate with them most effectively.
Accessing Second-Party Data
In addition to zero- and first-party data, there is also a great deal of value to be found in second-party data. First-party data is data that you have collected directly about your customer; third-party data, like that collected by third-party cookies, is gathered by an external resource that does not interact directly with your customer. Second-party data is data that is available for your use that has been collected by another organization. Essentially, this is the practice of accessing and utilizing first-party data that is owned by someone else.
Like your own first-party data, second-party data tends to be more reliable and accurate than third-party data; it’s not making assumptions in the same way that third-party data often is. It is also collected in compliance with privacy policies, obtaining the consent of the users whose data is included. This is a great supplement to your own first-party data as it can provide a wider pool of users to source, and can inform you on overall demographic information and insights beyond your own audience, helping you to develop a more informed marketing strategy and reach beyond your existing user base.
Marketers who wish to utilize second-party data should be working now to establish partnerships with the publishers that own these valuable resources. By getting these relationships established and practices in place well ahead of the loss of third-party cookies, you can benefit from the added value of additional data sources now. You’ll also have a head start on those who wait until the loss of third-party cookies to compensate for data loss.
Beyond Third-Party Cookies
Third-party solutions, of course, are not going away altogether, but the level of insight that they can provide is going to change drastically. As Google is still exploring options that can replace third-party cookies while protecting user privacy, it remains unclear what their ultimate options will be. Recently, they have moved away from their initial proposed solution, FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), which grouped users with comparable interests but still faced criticism due to privacy concerns.
From there, they have shifted tactics to their new proposed solution, Topics. This would also learn about a user’s interests as they browse the web, but would only retain data for three weeks on browsing history. In doing so, it would learn about users’ interests based on the topics of participating sites they visited, assigning them to up to 300 topics for interest-based targeting. To address privacy concerns, it would not include sensitive categories such as gender or race. Of course, this is still in development, and it remains to be seen whether Google will move forward with Topics after completing testing and considering feedback. Beyond Google, there also are other solutions available for opt-in signals that can provide varying degrees and types of insight with user consent, and there will certainly be more as we approach the third-party cookie sunset.
While a great deal of uncertainty remains about the future beyond third-party cookies, AUDIENCEX’s teams are constantly working to stay ahead of these developments and find solutions that can help futureproof marketing efforts for any brand or agency. With our integrated omnichannel platform, we have built a foundation that is sound and able to incorporate any new tactics while remaining fully agile and adaptable, enabling us to respond to real-time performance, optimize campaigns, and retain full scalability – all while gathering valuable data and audience insight. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your agency or brand, please feel free to reach out and one of our team members will be happy to speak with you about how you can plan for the cookieless future.