Digital , Yes& General

3rd Party Cookies Are Going Away. Here are 4 Things You Need to Know

Mark Pedersen

As you’ve likely heard, in January 2020, Google announced that they would be getting rid of the 3rd party cookie.  So what does this mean for marketers? Actually, what does this mean for everyone? 

 As a refresher, the 3rd party cookie culprit is a little snippet of code that shares your browsing behavior with big-data giants like Google, who in turn share your data with 3rd party advertisers. It collects information about you, such as the sites you visit, the things you're interested in, or the purchases you’ve made. Marketers have tapped into this data for years in countless ways, all in an effort to deliver you highly targeted advertising. Perhaps a little too targeted, it seems.

A Pew Research Study from November 2019 showed that a majority of Americans are concerned about the way their data is being used by companies (79%). And it’s no surprise that privacy concerns have only grown over the past several years. We regularly hear about data leaks and security breaches that affect millions of people, myself included. Make no mistake, the 3rd party cookie is not sharing my social security number or my mother’s maiden name with evil hackers. But, it’s part of a larger issue that has seen the legislative passing of GDPR, and more recently, California’s CCPA. 

So, as consumers become more concerned and protective over their information, the big-data giants have been forced to respond. The crumbling of this cookie started after Safari and Firefox, in 2017 and 2019 respectively, installed technology that blocked third-party cookies by default. Those two browsers don’t compare to Google’s market share, which you can be sure Google intends to keep. But there is a tricky balance of maintaining a level of privacy for its users, while still offering advertisers the level of targeting they expect.  Afterall, selling your data to advertisers makes up more than 70% of Google’s revenue. 

Will Google's recent announcement change everything we’ve ever known about digital marketing? No. Will this affect the way in which advertisers, businesses and consumers interact with each other, and the data that they are sharing? Yes, absolutely. 

Here are just a few of the ways we’re already moving beyond the 3rd party cookie. 

Person-Based Marketing 

Let's talk about 1st Party Data. Sure, you have knowingly opted in to receive marketing from brands you trust. But, you know those privacy policies you accept and don't read? Well, somewhere buried in the fine print, you might be agreeing to allow that entity to share your data with others, including advertisers. Digital ad platforms like Adelphic can leverage this data and use it to serve ads across your multiple devices on platforms like Pandora, Hulu, or across the web on their own DSP (demand-side platform). 

The 1st party data also permeates much deeper than the 3rd party cookie. For example, platforms that rely on 1st party data from providers like Experian or Dun and Bradstreet can reach users who have had a major life event or made purchases at specific retailers. Or both. Advertisers can then build audiences from multiple 1st party data sources to create profiles of their ideal buyers. For instance, let’s say you’ve made multiple purchases at Home Depot and Buy Buy Baby, and just closed on a mortgage.  Well, recent-home-buying-new-parent-with-a -knack-for-DIY-projects, have we got the perfect product for you! 

Advertisers will need to increasingly rely on 1st party data to reach niche audiences or those that require highly segmented messaging. So basically, everyone.

Customer Experience and Relationship Building 

This is all coming during a time where users are increasingly looking for more relevant and customized experiences that speak to them, while also demanding increased privacy. Therefore, brands will need to double down and continue to find new ways to build trust and establish more personalized engagement with their prospect's and customers. 

Oftentimes, however, tremendous effort is put into building CRMs and attempting to capture the data, without a true strategy to use it for improving customer interaction. This can be a slippery slope, too. Marketing automation workflows can be too broad. Constantly spamming a prospects inbox is annoying. CRM data might be uploaded and used for ad re-targeting, but then forgotten about. 

Brands must make this CX shift both thoughtfully and strategically, and think about how they can use their 1st party data to connect with customers or stakeholders in authentic ways. This is especially true for smaller organizations with longer sales cycles. For instance, rather than segment audiences and send them curated email marketing campaigns, consider also assigning them to additional categories based on other factors, such as their likes or interests. If you have uncovered that a prospect is a foodie, share your positive experience with a new restaurant in their area. Or, simply share a piece of content with them, but customize a personal email that relates it back to a specific need they have. 

The death of the 3rd party cookie will force brands to create more memorable and personal interactions with customers, members, or prospects, so that they remain top-of-mind. 

Proprietary Ecosystems 

The best advertising shouldn't feel like advertising at all. It should provide something in exchange for your inconvenience, whether that is simple entertainment or actual value. Proprietary Ecosystems create environments where it’s inhabitants willingly interact with content, and in doing so, the ecosystem can then use this data to evolve and improve the content that you, as an inhabitant, are shown. It’s why your Facebook feed’s ads feel pretty personalized, and you secretly appreciate that they are actually relevant. 

Advertisers must continue to adapt to the ever-changing world of these ecosystems, especially as it relates to social media platforms, which seem to change daily. There will always be new ad units, new trends, new consumption habits, even new platforms (TikTok, anyone?), that we will test, optimize, measure, rinse, wash, and repeat.  Thankfully, the demise of the 3rd party cookie is not eliminating our ability to measure our success with 1st party data through platforms like Google Analytics, so we still get to nerd-out with dashboards. 

Oh, and Google Isn't Going Away

You’ll likely not see as much ad re-targeting following you around the web anymore, but it’s not like you forgot about that thing in your Amazon cart anyways. You also probably won’t see ads that are just a little too relevant based on something you JUST did online. And, contextual targeting will still be a thing, you will  see relevant ads based on the content you're reading.

Google has also announced their Privacy Sandbox, whose stated mission is to “create a thriving web ecosystem that is respectful of users and private by default.” Details remain somewhat murky, but one thing is for sure: Google will not willingly give up market share, and will find new (and probably better) ways for marketers to reach their audiences.

We will be keeping a close watch on how the Privacy Sandbox takes shape, and keep you posted. 

The thing is, whether they know it or not, consumers actually want (dare I say need?) relevant marketing. They have come to expect a personalized digital experience, and the 3rd party cookie was a huge player in providing that. But with its extinction, it is our job to adapt to the ever-changing world of marketing technology. 

Thankfully for advertisers, with all this change there is one constant: It will always be about the customer. So we’ll always start there, and use a lot of creativity mixed with the latest tech to engage in meaningful and memorable ways.

Yes& is the Washington, DC-based marketing agency that brings commercial, association, and government clients the unlimited power of “&” – using a full suite of branding, digital, event, marketing, public relations, and creative capabilities to deliver meaningful and measurable results.

Let’s talk about what the power of "&" can do for you.

Mark Pedersen
Mark Pedersen
VP, Marketing Strategy