Adapting digital strategies for a cookieless world

Since May of 2018, it has been the pop-up no one running a web site of any kind has dared avoid running: “This site uses cookies. Accept to continue.”

Along with a panicked flurry of emails trying to get consumers to confirm they had opted in to receive marketing communications, the introduction of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation made such banners part of the cost of doing business. Google’s decision to end support of third-party cookies on Chrome by 2022 or sooner, however, proves that business as usual will be impossible for marketers.

The initial reaction from ad industry and marketing associations has been one of understandable disappointment, if not outright fear. After all, cookies have been the predominant mechanism for a range of targeting, tracking and measurement of ads across the Internet.

Even if Google’s decision as not entirely unexpected — Intelligent Tracking Prevention is already in place on Apple’s Safari and Firefox has taken similar measures — brands and their agencies have not been active in developing compelling alternatives.

Rather than succumb to hand-wringing or finger-pointing, this seems like an opportune moment to put the demise of the third-party cookie in a greater context, looking at what might be a viable way forward for marketers:

1. Transparency and trust is not possible without privacy

Until GDPR, and even afterward, the average consumer’s awareness and understanding of cookies and their use in advertising have been minimal at best. The controversy involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica demanded a regulatory response, and Google’s decision reflects the reality that third-party data aggregation comes at a significant trade-off in terms of protecting the public interest in having control over their personal information.

Ad blockers, meanwhile, have been steadily adopted for years by more sophisticated consumers, another reminder that personalization cannot come at the cost of damaging the trust brands need to maintain in order for their messages to be heard.

2. Alternatives to the cookie deserve further study 

Google is not leaving the cookieless world to fend for itself. Not enough attention has been devoted to its Privacy Sandbox, an initiative introduced last year that would leave more consumer information on the device and aggregate data anonymously.

While the use of cookies had become relatively turnkey for many kinds of marketing campaigns, brands and their agencies have probably invested less time in learning about techniques and technologies such as Differential Privacy and Federated Learning, both of which are part of Google’s plans.

With a rough timeline in place before cookies cease to exist on Chrome, it is incumbent on marketing teams to work with partners who can help them better understand how these kinds of approaches might allow large scale interest-based group targeting without sacrificing privacy.

3. First-Party data is available — and preferable

Let’s not forget that the whole point of third-party cookies should have been a better experience for consumers — more relevant and contextual ads. In many cases, that didn’t happen, with ads seeming to follow consumers around the Internet whether they were interested or not.

Contrast that with first-party data, which provides a singular view of customers in a way that makes personalization more achievable. While it won’t happen without some commitment and work, brands already have considerable treasure troves of first-party data. This includes purchase data, email campaign records and even phone logs from calls into a contact center for customer support.

This first-party data should be harnessed so that it becomes easier to manage, and applied in ways that balance one-to-one marketing with a respect for privacy similar to what Google is advocating.

Marketers might feel as though they were being force-marched into a world without cookies, but they can choose to embrace an era that will be defined by privacy-first, opt-in oriented ways to contextualizing advertising that consumers are demanding.

The goal here is not simply to find shortcuts or workarounds to maintain an ad-supported Internet. The goal is to create a digital advertising environment the public will choose to support.

 

In a professional journey that has taken her from user experience design to CMO and now CEO, Julia Amorim blends the agility of a startup founder with the professional expertise that comes with helping some of the world’s largest brands navigate the journey of digital transformation. As the leader of MediaNet, Julia stands at the intersection of strategic thinking, technological capability, business intelligence and user experience. Follow @MediaNet on twitter.

 

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