3 Things Every Marketer Should Know as Third-Party Cookies Disappear

Third-party cookies are on their way out. However, that doesn’t mean you have to throw your marketing strategy into a tailspin! Consider this an opportunity to tweak your marketing plan and create a sustainable, long-term strategy. Here are three things you should know as you build your new plan:


1. Other strategies, like first-party cookies and group-based tracking, are surprisingly helpful.

Cookies can continue to be helpful, even without the ability to use third-party cookies, but the approach must change. Instead of third-party cookies that allow for tracking user behaviors outside of a specific site, marketing professionals should be shifting their focus to the new world, particularly first-party cookies. Don’t worry – cookie-driven data and research aren’t going away entirely!


First-party cookies will still allow you to see how visitors to your own sites behave, especially since there’s a correlation between a user’s trust of a site and their willingness to accept cookies. “Only those visitors with intent to buy or who view the site as useful are likely to accept cookies, particularly if the rest of the content is restricted until the agreement is submitted.” The data gleaned from these sources, then, is more likely to help target consumers, who already are primed to view your products or services in a positive light.


The biggest and buzziest element of this new approach is the Google “privacy sandbox,” a more customizable and consumer-centric set of tools designed to protect individual users’ privacy, without advertisers losing the ability to target ads. “Advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising,” Google wrote in a blog post announcing their changes. “One way to effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation [is to] instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests.”


What does this actually mean? Essentially, the “privacy sandbox” approach is about group behavior, rather than individuals. Advertisers will be able to target groups of users who have similar browsing behaviors and common interests, although individual users will be anonymized and cannot be targeted and tracked one-on-one. It’s part of a push to improve the user experience and assuage privacy concerns.


The idea behind these strategies is to strike a balance between customer privacy and advertiser benefits. Although they may first seem like opposing goals, wise advertisers know that the two are actually more related than you might think. Mistrustful consumers aren’t happy, open-minded potential customers – they’re annoyed and wary.


There are a lot of mistrustful customers out there right now. One study by the Pew Research Center found that “72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits, according to a study by Pew Research Center.” Put simply: changes in cookies may present a challenge at first, but in the long run, it helps everyone.


2. Diversifying strategy is key.

Although cookies can and should still play a significant role in your marketing strategy, ensuring you have a diverse ad strategy will offset any issues with the elimination of third-party cookies. Diversification should be two-pronged: diversifying types of marketing strategies and diversifying the content of these ads for broader-appeal options to shift the focus away from hyper-targeted advertising.


Contextual advertising is one popular option that removes the element of guesswork, by matching ads with content that will be relevant to readers of that content. This technique focuses on strategically placing pay-per-click ads on sites and pages that will appeal to your target audiences. For instance, if your company makes custom-made aprons, you might place your ads on a cooking website. In this way, you can maximize your advertising impact and target likely customers through common sense, without algorithms and cookies ever having to play a role at all.


While it’s tempting to look at the loss of third-party cookies as a setback, it should be reframed as a major opportunity. This is a time to really explore marketing creativity. It should be considered as a challenge for innovation and a good exercise in keeping up with changes, rather than getting rote and complacent. Without being able to lean as heavily on cookies and similar data collection strategies, you can focus on developing strategies that can evolve with the times.


3. Focus on building relationships

Cookie-based ad strategies tend to obscure one simple fact: the best marketing is all about building trust and relationships between companies and consumers. Even Google itself emphasized this in their announcement about phasing out third-party cookies: “Developing strong relationships with customers has always been critical for brands to build a successful business, and this becomes even more vital in a privacy-first world. We will continue to support first-party relationships on our ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers.”


Having your own customer relationship management database (CRM) is another way to offset some of the losses of third-party cookies. Vast amounts of data can be collected. These data are more targeted towards those people you already know are existing customers. At this point, it’s better to focus on retention and loyalty, rather than shouting into the void, even a well-targeted void.


Relationship building isn’t just about the customers you already have – it’s about the customers you could have and, specifically, about the customers your existing client base can bring in. According to one study, “consumers around the world continue to see recommendations from friends and online consumer opinions as by far the most credible.” As a result, word-of-mouth reputations are invaluable. If you make your customers happy, they’ll provide better marketing than you can buy!


A Marketing Checklist

  • Get acquainted with the new rules around cookies, including first-party cookies.
  • Revisit how much of your strategy relies on cookies. If it is a primary component, consider a revamp.
  • Brainstorm other strategies that don’t rely on this type of data collection.
  • Consider whether contextual advertising is right for your brand.
  • Frame this with your team as an opportunity to create more flexible marketing strategies.
  • Consider building your own customer relationship management database.
  • Create strategies that reward customer loyalty, work for customer retention and build a word-of-mouth reputation.