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Curation in travel: A personalized, private replacement for third-party cookies

By Teesta Raha

Sojern

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May 23, 2024 | 6 min read

Here, Josh Beckwith (vice president of corporate sales, Sojern) wades into the pool of cookieless solutions to talk about curation – and why the deprecation of third-party cookies will actually prove to be a good thing.

Savoring a pre-flight breakfast at The Curator in Heathrow's Terminal 3, I can't help but appreciate the intriguing intersection of two realms - curation and travel.

For months (years even), we in the travel industry – and every industry – have read about cookieless doom and gloom. Third-party cookies are going away, prepare now! We’re not ready! It’s happening, it’s delayed…the saga goes on and on. But guess what? We are ready, and the future is better, more private, and more curated than you think. You might even venture to say that deprecating third-party cookies will ultimately prove to be a positive change for advertising.

I’ll bet you’re asking: how? Or you might be wondering if I’m serious. I am serious, and it’s because I believe that, among other solutions, curation will give travelers such inspiring experiences that they’ll be more inclined to book.

Let’s dig in.

The deprecation of third-party cookies: tectonic shift or speed bump?

Third-party cookies have been a targeting tool for marketers for nearly 30 years. But soon that will change. At some point in time (at this point it’s anyone’s guess when) Google Chrome will follow on the heels of Safari and Firefox, and deprecate third-party cookies in the interest of consumer privacy. But what does that really mean for marketers?

In reality, without third-party cookies, post-view attribution as we know it will be gone, retargeting will be a huge challenge, and everything we know about targeting and attribution reporting will change. Sounds like a big change, right? It is, and it’s because consumers want privacy (73% of consumers are prepared to sever ties with companies that don't protect their data) – and that won’t change. Recent regulations, such as the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), show that privacy is here to stay. But here’s the thing: consumers also want personalization, and third-party cookies don’t offer that, so we must find a better way to retarget potential travelers.

Targeting without third-party cookies will certainly be a challenge, but with that change comes opportunity. With curation, the travel marketing industry is rising to the occasion.

What is curation?

What, exactly, is curation? More importantly, how does it work? Curation is when brands and buyers work with an SSP to activate the packaging of data, audiences, and inventory to be pushed to their own demand side platform (DSP)

Many brands, like airlines and hotels, have huge databases of profiles and search information about prospects and customers. All of this is first-party data that has been collected with consent and it all feeds into customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Using curation we can take that first-party data, augment it with partner data, such as Sojern’s billions of data points that show traveler intent, and use that information to find people on websites.

Here’s an example. Recently, I searched for flights on the EasyJet website and gave them consent to collect my information. Later, I visited the BBC website to check the news and I also gave them consent. Curation technology acts as the middleman to figure out where there is overlap between the marketer’s (in this case EasyJet's) database and the available ad inventory. The marketing partner sees that I’ve given my consent to certain websites, including the BBC, and then gives the travel marketer the option to purchase that impression to serve me an ad on the news website. Once the impression is purchased, that information is sent to the client or ad agency as an approved deal and I see an EasyJet ad the next time I visit the BBC website.

How curation protects privacy

In the past, these types of transactions were done on the buy side, but with curation everything is being done on the sell side. And that’s the privacy difference-maker. Essentially, by doing all of the audience selection ahead of the auction, it gives the advertiser access to a sell-side audience that uses only first-party data. The entire transaction is completed directly through the publishers rather than the DSPs, which means there’s no third-party cookie ID required. 

Data is never exchanged; it’s effectively put into an escrow account during the transaction and, once over, everyone takes their data out. That means the data EasyJet has collected about me is never revealed to a publisher, which protects my privacy while allowing for personalized targeting.

The personalized, digital art gallery

Unlike third-party cookies, curation uses first-party data for retargeting, which means it’s highly accurate. In short, I’ll see a personalized EasyJet ad that is targeted to me – not just an anonymous user – when I visit the BBC website. But curation doesn’t stop there. Many industries are using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to analyze large datasets, and travel is no different. 

Partners can stitch together multiple datasets and, with AI-enabled tools, they can analyze these large datasets to hone in on consumer preferences and build custom audiences around specific traits, such as those who are serious about booking travel. For example, at Sojern, we offer advertisers customer ML audience segments that learn, optimize, and scale in real-time over the course of a campaign.

By mixing AI and ML in with curation, marketers can not only gain critical insights so they can tailor messaging, these custom audiences can be packaged up and sent to any DSP, which will broaden their reach while giving them greater flexibility and convenience. The result is real-time audiences that are super specific to each marketer’s needs and highly-personalized, so potential travelers get served beautiful, curated retargeting ads that inspire them to complete their booking.

Curation is proving to be a beautiful way for marketers to personalize our targeting efforts while maintaining consumer privacy. While the demise of third-party cookies will still certainly send shockwaves through the industry, the future is bright with curation at the helm.

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