It’s time we finally got serious (and honest) about what we are doing in marketing and media. The reality is, third-party cookies were a farce. They should have never been relied-on for substance and certainly not for justification of spend. The elimination of cookies is going to force brands to become more aware of consumer needs – and to offer those consumers something for the benefit of transacting with them.
By Alex Yoder
Google did this very effectively early on by offering free web applications, like Gmail, to consumers, in exchange for access to the data they were handling.
Direct-to-consumer brands like Uber and Harry’s have also done this well by offering a personalized experience, more control, and more direct-to-manufacturer pricing.
This disruption is having major implications and some of today’s methods of activating, managing, and measuring digital media will no longer exist. But what does all of this mean if you are in marketing or media for a major brand? How do you move forward?
Well, you have two choices:
- Accept the world as it is and go all-in with the Google/Facebook crowd. Just know that as a brand, you are losing control of your consumer data and information – the networks will control it, do all of the targeting and measurement, and provide the brand with a summary. This will work fine for some brands.
- Decide that it is a requirement for your business to own customer experience and data and to understand the detail of every customer transaction and desire. Accomplishing this goal is possible but will take considerable investment in infrastructure, emphasis on identity, analytics, changes in marketing strategy, and the willingness to engage in an exchange of value with the consumer.
Moving forward – Which data best meets your needs?
Brands will need compliant and consumer-friendly ways to collect, enrich, and organize first-party data. The first step is to honestly ascertain – who you are, who your target audience is, and what you can afford.
We have reverted back to, effectively, four major publishing networks – Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon – with a local channel thrown in for good measure.
So be honest with yourself; these companies have really good data and are focused on refining it to continue to help drive sales out of the spend on their platforms. This competition won’t change and will probably get more fierce.
These platforms are pre-built with infrastructure to incentivize and make ad spending easy. Their business model is still focused on volume of advertisements, so they want to show you a good time – they just can’t show you the data.
So, if you are a highly transactional business-to-consumer brand, let Facebook and Google do the targeting, measure your progress in the form of sales, do what you can to improve sales, and allow marketing to be focused on driving awareness and attraction to that media.
But what it means for a brand is simply this: accept that you are not dealing with your own customer data, one of the networks owns and is providing that data to you as a service. They are good at it and will provide sufficiently effective results, but as a brand, you do not own the customer experience.
In the new world, marketers will quickly see how customer experience and the customer journey are gaining prominence. Brands will need to increase their use of first-party customer data to drive better experiences that are based on reporting and insights.
If done right, you can take full ownership of your data, and at the same time embed direct, person-based targeting and data management strategies that build your own walled-garden of first-party consumer identifiers; your own “private ID graph”.
This will force you to make some changes. For one, multi-touch attribution solutions will need to evolve, because last touch will be more useless than ever.
Attribution based on third-party cookies will no longer be possible, and in its place will be new identity and people-based data sources and advanced methods, such as mixed-media models.
Platforms that rely solely on cookies will also need to evolve and be replaced by new solutions.
Technologies like customer data platforms (CDPs) that can connect first-, second-, and third-party data to support audience management and activation using persistent IDs like first-party email addresses and PII, will grow in importance and will ultimately evolve into enterprise-wide customer management platforms.
Analytics and very active test and design principles are going to tell you what data is important and necessary. Just dumping it all in “a data lake” is not going to do the trick.
What are the benefits of not having third-party cookies?
Measurement in a world without cookies can ultimately be achieved with proper structure and planning. Begin with clarity about your business model and what you want to accomplish. If it is simply to accelerate sales, acknowledge and accept that as the design and outcome. If you have a need, strategy, and willingness to build a customer data asset that appreciates over time, like a financial investment, you will need to build out the technology platform that will enable the capture and aggregation of customer data.
But be prepared to put a value on that data and commit to the process of improving that value over an extended period of time. There will also be new access to unprecedented data, but with a new operating dynamic. While new solutions have their limitations, they shouldn’t be disregarded, but rather used as guides for next steps and opportunities.
Walled gardens have created data clean rooms where detailed data can be analyzed but not extracted. These data clean rooms offer a privacy-safe environment that allows for more granular and accurate data analysis.
Brands will need to understand how to navigate and leverage these various operational solutions within their limits of data portability and use-cases that can be supported. To counter these limitations, brands will need to establish master ID’s, enterprise identity management and resolution, and their own data clean rooms for cross-channel analytics and measurement. This will set brands up for sustainable success.
Regulations may increase, additional identifiers beyond the third-party cookie will be deprecated, change will be a constant, but a brand’s ownership and control of first-party identity and data will power them as leaders for years to come.
It’s clear that there’s a lot of work to do. There is no easy button. Brands need to commit to being truly customer-centric and identity-enabled or accept that they are not and move forward with advancing the optimization of what is important to them.
Those that invest in analytics and take it seriously have the opportunity to excel. But be warned, those that don’t pay attention will struggle to survive in a world without cookies. Let’s not pretend anymore. Ultimately, the consumer will benefit and make choices based on this level of authenticity, as it will become the definition of that brand in its purest form.
Alex Yoder is EVP of Analytics at Merkle. Alex has tremendous executive level experience having held president or CEO level roles at Trueffect, Ebiquity and Webtrends, where he was instrumental in major rebranding efforts; product, solution, and technology enhancements; team and organization development; and driving sales growth. As an accomplished leader, he strives to help organizations see through their full potential by focusing on team member strengths, collaboration, and strong clarity of purpose.