If there is one universal truth about the digital world, it is that as soon as we become comfortable with one set of standards, everything changes. And now, as the industry moves away from third-party cookies, we are in the midst of yet another seismic shift for digital marketers.
Consumer privacy concerns have long pressured digital marketers to be transparent in what data they collect and how they use it. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and consumers’ growing demand for control of their digital identities have led developers to make significant changes to their technologies. While these advancements are a win for consumer privacy, many marketers may view them adversely.
These changes could feel like a step backward for marketers at first, but if we act nimbly, they will likely result in a wave of innovation that takes us beyond the third-party cookie and into something we have yet to imagine.
What’s Happening To Cookies?
Since their invention in 1994, digital marketers have relied on cookies to track the behavior of consumers. But soon, third-party cookies will no longer be an option. Safari and Firefox have already phased out the use of third-party cookies, and Chrome will follow suit in 2023. Apple now requires user permission before allowing third-party cookies, and Facebook has restricted marketers from targeting ads to someone based on specific pages they have visited, liked or engaged with.
The online landscape is changing rapidly with respect to consumer privacy, and digital marketers need to be prepared. With the loss of third-party cookies, digital marketers will lose the ability to track users uniquely from site to site and aggregate the data. Instead, each third-party network will need to be considered its own “microchannel” or “walled garden.” In order to execute the hyper-targeting many have made their primary strategy, digital marketers will need to create new strategies and begin relying on their own data.
Change Brings New Opportunities
The impending shift in data access will pose a challenge to many companies, but it is also an exciting opportunity: we have the chance to create an entirely new landscape of digital marketing.
Marketers will need to find ways to drive people to engage with their products more directly, which could lead to stronger connections through deeper partnerships, audience acquisitions and expanded content creation. Furthermore, by examining target segments, cohorts and cluster categories offered by publishers, we may discover audience connections we had previously overlooked.
We can also look to the past of digital marketing to spark fresh ideas from old tactics. Renewing our focus on omnichannel efforts instead of single-focused programs by medium could lead us to exciting new insights. Reintroducing the contextual advertising that was a primary focus before third-party cookies will enable us to take a closer look at our content and identify what truly resonates with our audiences.
Of course, each company’s approach to the new regulations will be slightly different. There are some who will find a first-party data strategy the best approach through content development, social media and robust customer relationship management (CRM). Others will need to augment their process with partnerships and media placements. Some may go into a contextual ad renaissance or build complex audience profiles that can be accessed through their media buys. Regardless of the path we take, the more we can prepare and think through the possibilities now, the less this change will impact our ability to thrive.
Privacy and Marketing: Finding a Balance
According to research, 81% of consumers say they want brands to get to know them better, but 73% of consumers also say they are concerned about online privacy. To address these two conflicting concerns, we have to strike a balance between the needs of marketers and the privacy concerns of the public.
As a marketing professional and consumer myself, I’ve appreciated the level of specificity third-party cookies have delivered. I’ve encountered fewer meaningless ads, and the ones I receive are highly relevant. But in the age of cyber-attacks and identity theft, I understand that many consumers want to choose what they share and with whom. In recent years, the prevalence of third-party cookies has made many feel as though digital marketers know us better than we know ourselves. Third-party cookies have allowed marketers direct access into each person’s online world, which, in 2022, is as close as you can get to peering into someone’s brain without a scalpel.
Dissolving the use of third-party cookies gives agency back to consumers and allows marketers to begin more meaningful consumer dialogues and engage proactively rather than passively with their audience.
Say Goodbye to Cookies
When they were invented, cookies seemed to be marketing’s golden ticket, providing insights into consumer behavior we had never seen before. But the shift away from third-party data is already in motion, and it will soon be universal. If you are still reliant on third-party cookies, it is time to start preparing for the inevitable.
However, we do not need to view this shift as the death of digital marketing. Instead, we can see this change as benefiting our relationship with our audiences. Now more than ever, consumers want honesty and transparency from the companies they engage with. By doing away with third-party cookies and returning to direct engagement, we can build a new foundation of trust with our customers, which will simultaneously make them more receptive to our marketing.
The benefits of embracing this shift may still be hard to see—in fact, it may feel like the exact opposite. But times of change are often when the most exciting innovation occurs, and if we are able to proactively embrace this change with creativity and grit, the rewards of our temporary discomfort could be priceless.