Navigating the Absence of Third-Party Cookies

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Amber Knight
Associate Account Manager

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By now, you’ve heard the news: Google has shifted the phaseout of third-party cookies on Chrome until 2024. The move gives developers more time to evaluate and test the Privacy Sandbox technologies before deprecating third-party cookies altogether. With yet another extension, it’s important for businesses to ensure they are prepared for a world without third-party cookies.

When it comes to the reason why Google has chosen to deprecate third-party cookies to begin with, an increase in users’ demand for more control of their data is only the start.

Google must also comply with a long list of regulations surrounding privacy, the most notable being the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). These regulations ensure that there are certain standards for what constitutes valid consent when collecting personal data, as well as giving consumers more control over the personal information that businesses collect about them.

The phaseout of third-party cookies will support these legislations and ensure the success of the privacy-first era. From an overall perspective, the deprecation of third-party cookies will impact how campaigns are implemented and managed by brands and their partners. Previously, brands relied on third-party cookies to learn about a target audience and their online behaviors. Without this information, we can expect significant impacts on remarketing, frequency management, personalization, attribution and measurement. 

New ways to identify are on the horizon.

Third-party cookies facilitate cross-site audience identification, which essentially allows marketers to “follow” users across the web, collecting data about their interests and online behavior. Each of the tactics above rely on this form of cross-site audience identification, and without third-party cookies, marketers will be unable to access this information about their target market so easily. 

But that doesn’t mean marketers will no longer be able to conduct successful remarketing campaigns, control the amount of times a user views an ad, deliver highly personalized ads, or identify a user’s touchpoints along the customer journey—provided they prepare for the cookie-less future now and minimize its impacts on their digital media activities. 

Since the announcement of the deprecation of third-party cookies, Google has been working on a range of solutions to continue to show relevant content and ads. FLEDGE and Topics are two examples of current Privacy Sandbox solutions for showing relevant content to audiences.  

FLEDGE’s purpose is to serve remarketing and custom audience use cases, without using third-party cookies. It enables interest-group-based advertising by asking the browser to choose which ads users see based on the sites they’ve previously visited. To keep this data secure, the browser conducts an on-device action to select relevant ads. 

Topics is a proposal that enables interest-based advertising without tracking the sites a user visits. It provides topics that a user may currently be interested in, based on their recent browsing history. These topics can supplement contextual information to help select appropriate advertisements. 

However, trials for FLEDGE and Topics are still a work in progress and the solutions are continuously changing, so we must focus on what we can do now to be able to navigate in a world without third-party cookies. Don’t take a “wait-and-see” approach. Those who look to prepare now will increase their chances of success and advancement in the privacy-first era. Here are some strategies to help you on your way to post-cookie marketing success.

Prioritize and invest in a first-party data collection strategy.

To prepare for the deprecation of third-party cookies, marketers should focus on growing quality customer data that informs both strategy and tactics. Utilizing the data from customers who have shown interest in your brand is more reliable and powerful than buying and selling access to third-party data. 

First-party data gathered from your websites, apps, physical stores (including offline transaction data), or other places where customers interact with your business, are all examples of first-party data that you passively—but directly—collect from consumers. Earning this data relies on building a fair value exchange, so that consumer data is understood to contribute to a better experience. Customer trust is built on transparency, hence it's always important to explain how you’re going to collect and use the data in your cookie consent banner or consent management platform. When collecting data about your customers, you must also make certain that you are compliant with regulations such as the GDPR, ensuring you are getting valid consent when collecting personal data and not collecting personally identifiable information (PII). 

With first-party data, brands can evaluate local touch points and preferred paths, while customizing interactions for a superior customer experience. Now is an excellent time to look inward and begin to build the foundations of your data strategy—one that will power your marketing with clean, unified and actionable data. Collecting first-party data and linking it together allows you to have a persistent, cross-device recognition for a single view of your customer, and an overall understanding of your audience. Mondelēz, for example, understood that digital marketing is most effective when you know how to play to consumers’ personalized taste. After helping them along the road to clean data, we achieved a +70% global return on investment.

Focus on collecting information and data you have access to.

As a marketer, you have access to a plethora of data about your customers, whether it be purchase data, device information or email engagement. Having an identification-first approach to customer data will give you an upper-hand to targeting effectively without third-party cookies. With data from third-party cookies being cut off, the priority should lay with first and second-party data, audience partners such as walled gardens, prominent publishers and media platforms, retailers and strategic partners. 

After prioritizing your first-party data and collection strategy, you should focus on building experience with reputable, trustworthy second-party data partners. Second-party data is essentially someone else’s first party data that you purchase access to from partners like Google, Amazon, or large publishers. You should focus not only on historical data, but real-time behavioral data such as users’ devices, interactions with your website, their carts, purchase history, media consumption, as well as the categories and products they visited while browsing on your website. By leveraging second-party data from trustworthy partners, you will have more data transparency and access to more precise and niche audiences which are crucial after the deprecation of third-party cookies.

Conduct a measurement audit. 

Conducting a measurement audit will consist of analyzing everything you’re currently tracking and identifying if it is necessary to be measuring it. It will help you to identify potential gaps and develop a roadmap to achieve measurement excellence that drives business results in a world without third-party cookies. A measurement audit includes the evaluation of current measurement tools and systems, as well as the alignment of key goals to further develop the practice. When conducting the audit, you’ll want to identify the necessary data, reporting and analysis methodology to improve measuring marketing effectiveness going forward to help with planning and forecasting.

Key considerations when conducting the audit are to understand the need and whether you can drive more value from your analysis and analysis partners. You want to develop a robust framework that will be effective and efficient to leverage in your decision making. You also want to ensure the roadmap provides added value, and is adaptive and not difficult to implement. By conducting a measurement audit, you hope to identify opportunities for maximizing the value of your measurement, strengthening your analytic capabilities and performance, and understanding how to holistically link together different techniques for marketing effectiveness in a world without third-party cookies. 

Evaluate your ad tech stack and partnerships. 

It’s important for you to evaluate your ad tech stack and partnerships to identify technologies and practices at risk of deprecation in the near future. Having a strong, well-engineered ad tech stack will create seamless, relevant, and meaningful experiences for consumers and give you a deeper insight into those interactions. When evaluating your tech stack, you must analyze how much control you have over fee transparency, brand safety, streamlined operations, data ownership, targeting and ad serving. Your tech stack should also be able to enable current operations and be able to incorporate future ones. 

A partner risk assessment should be undertaken to evaluate how reliant partners are on non-compliant tactics, data and technology; what their new publisher and media partner offerings are, and opportunities beyond basic ad units. Those partners who rely on non-compliant tactics, data and technology should be making it clear what they are doing to prepare for the third-party cookie deprecation. Marketers should carefully consider their platform partners and ad tech stack and focus on those that can deliver results without third-party cookies.

Consider a dedicated testing budget. 

Marketers should allocate a dedicated testing budget for first-party data practices, audiences and strategies across thousands of variables. These areas should be tested and leveraged, becoming an integral part of the targeting strategy where successful. One way to do this is by  testing and targeting customer experiences to improve digital performance using optimization and personalization. You’ll want to design net new campaigns and tests running without cookies, leveraging experimental design. 

As the data agency of record for Molson-Coors, we’ve spent the last year helping the brand undergo a data transformation that ranges from data acquisition, data activation and optimization. With hands-on-keyboard talent and an in-house team, Molson-Coors is able to use that data to better understand creative and media performance, then make tweaks to drive long-term growth.

By testing audiences and strategies across thousands of variables to build detailed customer profiles and to increase ad performance, scaled experimentation is the best alternative to third-party cookies when it comes to personalized customer experiences, and the performance benefits have consistently been shown to outweigh the costs of investment. 

Don’t wait to get your digital house in order.

Third-party cookies have played an instrumental role in the immense growth in online advertising. Yet their often-intrusive nature is misaligned with current attitudes toward privacy and transparency—so moving beyond our reliance on cookies, while maybe painful in the short term, is a net positive in building stronger brand-consumer relationships. That said, we can expect more changes to data collection and privacy on both the platform and legislative level in the long term; the only thing that’s certain about privacy is that there will continue to be uncertainty. A privacy partner can help you navigate the always evolving world of data privacy with ease, and our Data Foundations offering is designed to help brands build data maturity to meet the demands of a new era, including increased privacy scrutiny.

In a broad sense, laying the foundation of a first-party data strategy will enable a clearer understanding of your audience. Meanwhile, new solutions on the horizon like Topics and FLEDGE will help brands mitigate risk and continue to deliver relevant content to their audiences. But marketers shouldn’t wait for tech giants to implement new solutions before they act. Those who build and enhance the core components and practices of a customer-centric marketing strategy will be better positioned for a world without third-party cookies and thrive in the privacy-first era.

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