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Combating cookieless: Why opt-in, people-based marketing will replace third-party cookies



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April 2, 2024 | 6 min read

Kurt Weinsheimer, (chief product officer) at Sojern, discusses the transition away from third-party cookies towards people-based marketing. Embrace a future of precise targeting and personalized strategies in a cookieless era.

It’s official: third-party cookies in Google Chrome are finally going away. Despite the delay, the day third-party cookies disappear will be a day of reckoning, testing our preparation and efforts to find new solutions for a soon-to-be cookieless world. And, based on what I’ve seen, most marketers simply aren’t ready. 

Given that 98% of website visitors don’t convert on their first visit, retargeting is critical for us to woo prospects back to our sites to capture the conversion. By moving towards a people-based approach, we can lay the groundwork for success in a cookieless world.

Are third-party cookies all they’re cracked up to be?

As marketers, many of us likely know how third-party cookies work. But do we really understand what we’re trading for convenience? For years, third-party cookies have been our go-to tool for retargeting, but in reality, they limit our ability to accurately retarget a single user across various devices. This can not only create a disjointed customer experience, it can also increase our costs.

Here’s an example: In the travel industry, our customers often research hotels on their phones but book using a laptop or other device. Since third-party cookies won’t recognize the booking across devices, a traveler who has already booked will still receive retargeting ads on their mobile phone. It’s confusing to receive a retargeting ad after you’ve made the purchase. What’s more, it’s also annoying.

In today’s world, we’re expected to know our customers–and third-party cookies won’t give us the level of personalization we need to stand out in a way that allows us to cultivate both sales and brand loyalty.

Out with the cookie, in with the people-based approach

While the demise of the third-party cookie is certainly inconvenient, we now have the opportunity to find new ways to more accurately target our potential customers in a privacy-safe way. While I believe that we will ultimately move toward a unified personal ID, opt-in people-based marketing will serve as an excellent foundation for a cookieless world.

Demand-side platforms (DSPs) work with all types of data, so we must be flexible in order to navigate a market that will continually change. By using all available data that we can access, we can unify profiles of our potential customers, ensuring our retargeting strategies are accurate, personalized, and relevant. This involves using multiple targetable identifiers that are collected with permission from your customers and advertising partners, such as hashed emails, securely collected IP addresses, hashed phone numbers, and other universally accepted industry identifiers.

Targetable identifiers are used with first-party cookie IDs, giving you the means to recognize and differentiate individual users online without compromising their privacy. First-party cookie IDs live on your website and collect information about your site activity. When you share first-party cookie IDs with your marketing partners, they can match your customers’ website activity to their other targetable identifiers. With this approach, you can anonymously identify your customers each time they visit your website, allowing you to retarget them even if they don’t log in.

Beyond targetable identifiers and first-party cookie IDs, it’s important for all brands to have a strong first-party data strategy in place. First-party data is the online and offline customer data that you collect in your customer relationship management solution (CRM), which includes call center data, website activity, loyalty program information, and in-person interactions. However, it’s important to remember that all first-party data must be collected with consent, so asking and receiving permission from your website visitors is a great first step.

Together, targetable identifiers, first-party cookie IDs, and first-party data will enable marketers to deploy people-based marketing strategies once third-party cookies are phased out.

People-based marketing in action

Once you have the right data in place, you can perform contextual targeting as well as audience targeting, including retargeting and CRM reactivation. Contextual targeting uses the category or keywords of the website a user is viewing and then serves them ads that are relevant to the site content.

Site retargeting allows advertisers to target site visitors who come to your site and either log in or make a purchase. You can retarget them later across other sites, apps, platforms, or connected TV as long as they are logged in.

Here’s how it works: A consumer visits your site and you use a first-party cookie ID to track their activity. Once they log in or make a purchase, their email is hashed and shared (with consent, of course). Their consumer profile is formed by matching the first-party cookie ID with the hashed email. Once the consumer logs in or makes a purchase elsewhere, advertisers can strategically serve retargeting ads while they browse.

‍CRM reactivation uses your historical customer data from your CRM systems as well as email, text, WhatsApp, and any other channels where brands interact one-on-one with customers, to target consumers who have made prior purchases. 

This method uses past purchase information to serve up relevant promotional offers. Just like with site retargeting, their emails are hashed, allowing you to retarget them on other sites where they are logged in. CRM targeting can compensate for the dip in site retargeting once third-party cookies go away because it uses your CRM and other channel data to enhance your customer profiles so you can create more impactful retargeting ads. 

With CRM targeting, you share past purchase behavior that is stored in your CRM system as well as other databases with your marketing partner, who hashes your customer emails and then matches them to first-party cookie IDs. You can then run a promotional campaign targeting your customers, sending them relevant ads while they are logged in on other sites.

A cookieless world is approaching. While no perfect solutions exist yet, using all available data sources to piece together customer profiles is crucial for accurate retargeting. Tools like artificial intelligence (AI) will help bridge gaps by predicting user conversions post-ad exposure and inferring preferences from behavior. As tech advances, so will our retargeting, equipping us to provide desired experiences without third-party cookies.

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