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Reaching The Right Audiences In A Cookieless Future

In 2020 Google announced its plan to phase out third-party cookies. Apple also announced changes that would make Identifiers for Advertisers (IDFAs) less valuable for tracking audiences. Are we facing a cookieless future as marketers?  

These changes in the digital advertising industry have brought up questions about how we’ll be able to target the right audience in a post-cookie world. 

This article will dive into the cookieless landscape, explore the changes that will come with it, and provide tips on how to reach the right audiences without cookies. 

What Is A Cookieless Future? 

A cookieless future is an online advertising landscape where tracking users with cookies, pixels, and other third-party technology is no longer possible.  

Cookies are small pieces of code stored in a user’s browser that allow websites to keep track of their activity and target ads to them accordingly. Third-party cookies specifically enable advertisers to reach targeted audiences by tracking the behaviour of their users. 

In January 2020, Google announced its plans to phase out third-party cookies on its Chrome browser, significantly changing how digital advertising is done.  

Since then, they’ve moved this deadline to 2024. As the world’s leading search engine and one of the largest digital advertising platforms, this move will profoundly impact the industry. 

The cookieless future means marketers must rely on first-party data and find new ways to reach target audiences. This change presents new challenges and opportunities for digital marketers.  

One of the most significant opportunities this shift presents is the potential to reach more diverse and relevant audiences. As privacy regulations continue to evolve, marketers must find new ways to identify and engage with their target audiences without relying on cookies. 

Why Did Google Choose To Replace Cookies? 

According to Google’s Director of Chrome Engineering, Justin Schuh, Google’s rationale for doing away with third-party cookies was based on a desire to improve online privacy.  

By phasing out support for third-party cookies, Google hopes to give users more control over their data and help protect them from being tracked by advertisers.  

This is all part of the company’s new Privacy Sandbox initiative. The initiative seeks to create an open ecosystem allowing advertisers to target their audiences without compromising user privacy. 

Data shows that 86% of people report a growing concern about their online privacy, and 78% are concerned about the number of data companies collect on them.  

Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies is part of its effort to address these concerns and create a more secure online environment for everyone. 

How Will Online Ads Work Without Cookies? 

One of the biggest concerns about a cookieless future is how online ads will work without cookies. Many believe that without third-party cookies, audience sizes will dwindle. It’ll also be more challenging to gather and store data about user behaviour. 

However, this is far from true. Marketers can leverage new audience analysis strategies that don’t rely on cookies. For example, they can use contextual targeting to reach people based on the type of content they’re viewing or engaging with. 

Contextual targeting enables advertisers to target users likely to be interested in their products or services based on the context of their search terms, page content, etc. This form of targeting can be more relevant and practical than cookie-based targeting since it considers the user’s intent and interests. 

Marketers should also focus on leveraging first-party data to reach their target audiences.  

This approach involves collecting and analysing data directly from users interacting with a website or app to understand their interests and needs better. The data can then be used to create more targeted and personalised ad campaigns tailored to the user’s preferences. 

Before phasing out 3rd-party cookies was a reality, marketers collected user data through cookies placed on users’ browsers by 3rd-party advertisers and data brokers. This allowed for tracking user behavior across websites and building profiles for targeted advertising.

After Google announced the phasing out of 3rd-party cookies, marketers have shifted to alternative methods including device fingerprinting and marketing cloud solutions that rely on proprietary data collected directly from users (with their consent).

They are also exploring newer technologies like browser-based APIs like the Privacy Sandbox. These changes mean marketers have to be more transparent and obtain user consent for data collection, resulting in a shift towards more privacy-focused marketing practices.

The Bottom Line: Invest In First-Party Data 

When third-party cookies finally disappear, one prudent approach can help brands reach the right audiences without relying on them: investing in first-party data. 

First-party data is data collected from customers and users who have interacted with a business’s website or mobile app, including email addresses, purchase history, browsing behaviour, etc. 

This data type allows marketers to understand their customers better and target them more meaningfully. Marketers can use this data to create audience segments tailored to their business needs and serve relevant ads, leveraging email marketing or offers to each segment. 

Email marketing as a tool for 1st-party data collection

Attracting 1st-party data through email marketing is simple, effective, and forms the basis of a CRM. Email marketing is a great way of collecting first-party data from customers because:

  1. Direct access to customers – emails can be sent directly to customers’ inboxes.
  2. High open rates – emails have a higher open rate compared to other forms of online communication.
  3. Ability to personalise – email marketing allows for personalisation with the use of customer data.
  4. Measurable results – email marketing results can be easily tracked and measured.
  5. Cost-effective – email marketing is a cost-effective way of collecting customer data.

Compared to other forms of data collection, email marketing comes in on the cheaper side. Plus, email marketing allows for direct communication with customers which ensures a high level of data accuracy.

With a well-organised first-party data asset, you can keep up with the ever-changing digital ad ecosystem while reaching the right audiences. You can create accurate customer segmentation and offer personalised user experiences. 

For instance, with first-party data, you can figure out what a user did on your website, how they engaged with a specific product, and what they liked or didn’t like. With this knowledge, you can create custom campaigns to engage users better and increase conversions. 

What Else Can I Do To Prepare For A Cookieless Future? 

Below are a few other things you can do to prepare yourself for a cookieless future: 

Directly Collect Data 

Many data collection mechanisms are available to marketers, such as surveys and polls. You can also create a loyalty program for your customers to collect data on user behaviour, preferences, and interests. 

However, you must provide interactive content, such as quizzes or videos, to incentivize users to share their data. This type of content is high-value, so gating it in some way (like requesting users fill in a short form to gain access to the content) is a great idea to further increase the perceived value while at the same time collecting first-party data from potential customers.

Be Transparent 

To build trust and loyalty with your customers, you need to be transparent about the data you collect. Let customers know how their information is used, stored, and shared. 

Building a trusting relationship with your customers is essential for long-term success. Therefore, incorporate data privacy policies into your website, mobile app, or other online platforms to reach out to customers. 

Enforce Your Privacy Policy 

A privacy policy is an obligation you owe your customers, so don’t take it lightly. Make sure you enforce the policy by regularly evaluating and updating it as needed. 

This ensures that customer data is protected from malicious activities and that all their rights are respected. It also helps you comply with global privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA

Leverage Contextual Advertising 

Contextual targeting is an alternative to cookie-based targeting that’s becoming increasingly popular. It relies on the content of a website or mobile app and uses algorithms to match the content with relevant ads. 

Contextual targeting is more accurate than cookie-based targeting. It helps you reach the right audience without compromising user privacy. This type of advertising also has higher engagement rates, which means you can get better results with fewer resources. 


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