There has been a lot of discussion recently around the “death of cookies” and what this means for digital marketing. The proposed restrictions around 3rd Party cookies on Google Chrome have provided added urgency to the debate. Nick Yang, Senior Expertise & Innovation Manager at data company fifty-five looks at how what brands should do in response.
This is inevitably quite a nuanced topic and various initiatives have been developed and tested. This includes the big tech vendors such as Google as well as industry partnerships with the likes of Unified ID and ID5, all of which take slightly different approaches. This has added some confusion over what the state of play will be when the additional Chrome changes come into effect.
What is actually going to change?
Firstly measurement will be less impacted due its primary reliance on 1st Party cookies. This means that core analytics capabilities (click through measurement, analytics metrics like bounce rate, time on site, data import for CRM ingestion etc) will remain as normal and will not be affected by environments where 3rd party cookies are more restricted. What will be impacted are things like view-through measurement, multi-touch attribution analysis and reporting and any audience insights around demographic or affinity audiences.
The activation side is where things will be more difficult. Whether you’re running audience targeting for prospecting or retargeting, 3rd party cookies are required to match users to the relevant segments as they browse the internet. Contextual targeting is not reliant on 3rd party cookies however, and is where some brands are focusing more of their activity.
How can I still run targeted campaigns next year?
This is still to be exactly determined and nothing is fully concrete yet, however Google recently made their clearest position on this with their blog post around moving towards a privacy-first web. They reiterated their commitment towards the Privacy Sandbox that they’re developing as their primary solution towards enabling targeting activations in a post-cookie world. The Privacy Sandbox itself covers many different areas, including FloC (Federated Cohorts of Learning) and FLEDGE which aim to enable prospecting and retargeting activations without the usage of 3rd party cookies. However the most important takeout here is the direction in which Google are taking to enable marketing in a privacy-centric manner.
The Privacy Sandbox is focused on enabling media targeting at an aggregate rather than a user level. So rather than identifying each individual person and assigning specific attributes for segmentation, Google are instead moving towards clustering groups of users based on similar behaviours and signals. This forms the basis of audience segmentation to be used for prospecting and retargeting purposes. The segmentation is based on algorithmic models to anonymously aggregate and process online behaviour as a privacy-first alternative to 3rd party cookies.
At first this may sound like a less accurate and definite way of targeting. While it will always be less robust than user-level cookies, initial tests have shown that these new methods are 95% as effective as traditional cookie-based advertising. So even at this initial stage the outlook is certainly less gloomy than the various “death of personalised targeting” headlines may suggest.
What are the non-Google Alternatives?
As you’d expect Google are not the only ones trying to come up with a solution for this, with various initiatives such as the Unified ID Solution 2.0, LiveIntent and ID5 offering up alternatives to a post-cookie world. Whilst each of these differ in their exact methodology, their approach is primarily around pooling together user data across various vendors (email address, subscriber details, phone numbers etc) to create a new user-level identifier that can be used to track and target users on the internet instead.
In theory this sounds like a great idea and will make us less reliant on tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. However there are inevitably limitations to these initiatives. Firstly there is the issue of scale. This only works for users that you can identify. Therefore this is only a practical option for brands with huge volumes of media spend where the lack of complete digital coverage is less significant. Another consideration is that the success of any of these IDs are entirely reliant on the continued cooperation of partners, many of whom will be direct competitors to one another. Getting buy-in from the rest of the industry to integrate these IDs will be crucial.
Furthermore Google themselves have already declared their stance on these alternate identifiers and have specifically stated that they will not allow them to be used within any of their platforms. As it stands today there are still many hurdles to be overcome before it can be a viable solution.
So what should I do today?
It’s useful to note that there isn’t an exact date for Chrome updates around 3rd Party cookies to kick in (outside of it happening sometime in 2022), and that Google almost certainly will not roll this out before it has fully defined it’s Privacy Sandbox solution and its practical applications. As their recent blogpost outlines, their goal is to continue to enable all the same activations that you can do today in a post-cookie world. Rather than worrying about what you can/ can’t do next year it’s more useful instead to start to understand how your approach to this may be slightly different next year and the new considerations you’ll have to account for instead.
In reality the core tenants of media activation will not really change going into 2022. Having a robust testing and measurement approach for all your marketing activations will be just as important in the future as it is today. It is still hugely important for brands to focus on now and moving into next year. The ‘death’ of third party cookies definitely doesn’t mean the end of being able to provide relevant, timely and targeted advertising. However it does mean a new beginning for your digital marketing strategy.
By Nick Yang
Senior Expertise & Innovation Manager