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What will a cookieless future look like?

Much of the negative chatter about the end of third-party cookie use may be attributed to ad tech companies

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The news that Google will be removing third-party cookie use, and Apple will be getting rid of access to user device identifiers on iOS has led to some alarm amongst marketing professionals. After all, these features have played an integral part in online marketing approaches for over a decade now.

Yet the future may in fact be less bleak than it initially appears. Instead, smart marketers can use this opportunity to create more effective campaigns and build essential consumer trust. 

The Need For Trust

The spate of high-profile data breaches in recent years has made the public more aware of the privacy issues that accompany their use of the internet. The need for transparency in data collection is now becoming a priority, and rightly so. This mood is reflected by the roll-out of GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act, with more of this type of legislation likely to follow. 

It’s also important to note that the demise of third-party cookies will not leave marketing teams without data to work from. Google itself will continue to gain a wealth of insights from data on users of its services and platforms, such as Gmail, Android devices, and YouTube, and Apple likewise will continue to use information collected from users of iOS and its devices. This demonstrates that in the future, a new path must be forged, where the first-party data held by brands is utilized to maximum effect. 

Much of the negative chatter about the end of third-party cookie use may be attributed to ad tech companies, who ply their trade with the data acquired in this way. Whilst their criticism that the tech behemoths Google and Apple are taking advantage of their powerful market positions to force these changes can certainly be seen as valid, it’s important to consider why else these ad tech firms are feeling threatened.

The answer may be found in an academic study “How Effective Is Third-Party Consumer Profiling and Audience Delivery?: Evidence from Field Studies” by Neumann, et al. This report discovered that the so-called ad targeting was in reality anything but. Rather than using third-party cookies to successfully identify audiences, the study found instead that when a single targeting parameter was used (such as gender) ad targeting was less accurate than the natural population split, coming in at a woeful 42% accuracy. 

When extra targeting parameters were introduced, this ad targeting accuracy dropped still further. The facts certainly seem to point to ad tech firms being largely superfluous to requirements, meaning that a cookie-free future will galvanize marketers to reclaim their data monitoring and see better results. 

A New Approach 

This future will hinge on the use of first-party data, and the onus is on brands to strike a balance between gaining vital metrics on users and maintaining an ethos of security and transparency. It is a critical time for brands to get this balance right. Gartner’s Brand Survey 2019 found that 81% of consumers will reject a brand that they don’t trust, and 89% will cease to engage with a brand they have used in the past, should their data be compromised by the company. 

At present, however, too many companies are adopting a “wait and see approach”. A recent survey by Adobe found that a mere 37% of businesses considered themselves to be “very prepared” for the end of third party cookies. Amit Ahuja, Adobe’s vice president for Experience Cloud product and strategy, commented that the brands which do react now will have “a tremendous opportunity in moving to first-party data strategies now to create long-term differentiation.”

In practical terms, marketers will likely need to revisit more traditional campaign strategies in order to successfully boost awareness and conversions for their brand. Whilst PPC advertising won’t go away, the rules of the game will change and, as Paul Morris from Bristol based Superb Digital states, “there’s no substitute for working with a highly experienced SEO agency who can optimize your PPC campaign and maximize ROI in the shortest possible time.“

The Next Steps

Being prepared for a cookie-free future will also necessitate a technological audit to ensure that your firm has the capabilities it needs to optimize its use of first-party data. Now is the time to check that any marketplaces or platforms used by your brand will allow you to own your first-party data, and identify frameworks for performance analysis. Leveraging the power of cloud computing can also make the transition easier for brands, as its advanced AI (Artificial Intelligence) can deliver instant insights into customer behavior. 

The outcomes that brands should be aiming for are summed up by Ahuja “We consider it a requirement for a future-proof data strategy: to have a system that’s able to update customer profiles in real-time, as new actions are taken across channels or as they’ve opted out or opted into different engagements, to be able to then activate those profiles with governance applied instantly for endpoint personalization.” 

The Benefits For Brands

Going back to basics, as it were, will almost certainly pay dividends for brands. By placing the customer experience at the heart of marketing strategies, and building a reputation for secure, transparent user engagement online, companies can see increased brand loyalty as well as higher conversions. 

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