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Planning for a cookieless future: 5 things marketers should be doing right now

By Matt Read, group head of digital

Space & Time


The Drum Network article

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February 17, 2021 | 6 min read

If you’re reading this, the likelihood is you know that Google is planning to depreciate third-party cookies within the next year, you’re worried this could have a major impact on your marketing, but you have no idea what to do about it or where to begin. Sound familiar?


5 things marketers should be doing right now to plan for the future

There’s no doubt this is a big shift in digital marketing and something to be taken seriously and carefully planned for but at the same time please don’t panic. Rest assured there is still time to prepare.

Third-party cookies have been integral for digital marketing over the last 10 years and their reach covers everything from audience targeting to behaviour tracking to remarketing and more. However, with searches for “online privacy” at an all-time high and this being a key concern for people around the world, the old method of collecting behavioural data as we browse needs to change and that’s why Google will be depreciating cookies within the next 12 months.

For marketers, the key challenge will be to strike the right balance between having the necessary privacy and security in place while delivering a customised user experience. Here are five steps to help you plan for a cookieless future.

Step 1: understand the situation

As you start to prepare for the depreciation of cookies you’re going to come across a lot of information that can be overwhelming, confusing and sometimes contradictory. This is in part due to the fact that there is no one single solution to address the end of third-party cookies. In fact, many of the major players, including Google itself, have not yet shared their full approach on how to deal with it all.

Things will become clearer throughout the year and we are likely to hear of more product and issue-specific solutions from tech providers. But for now, some general learning around the core information will be invaluable; when are cookies going? What are they used for currently? What’s the difference between first- and third-party cookies? A solid understanding of the current environment is essential for being prepared for the upcoming change.

Step 2: find out where you’re currently using them

Start by assessing all of your current digital marketing (PPC, programmatic, social, remarketing, tracking technology etc) and noting down any that are using third-party cookies in their deployment. If you’re not sure, then reach out to your agency or platform representative and pose the question (and don’t feel silly for asking, it’s not always clear).

Once you have a clear understanding of where in your marketing you are currently relying on third-party cookies you’ll be better placed to assess the potential impact and necessary solutions.

Step 3: get to grips with your own first party data

Much of what you will read around third-party cookies will discuss the need to shift towards utilising first-party data more. This is good advice. First-party data is incredibly powerful and now more than ever it’s important to ensure you’re collecting it safely, accurately and are in a position to use it to your benefit.

The key to this is to map out what information you currently collect about people and where. This will be everything from onsite behaviour data in Google Analytics to individual customer data within a CRM. Start to note down what data you collect, where it’s stored and whether or not it’s opted in to allow for marketing.

Step 4: start planning for the future

Once you know where you currently rely on third-party cookies and what first-party data you have available, you should be in a position to clearly see where there will be gaps in the future. At this point you will be better placed to research those specific issues and to again reach out to your agency or tech representatives to get solutions for individual problems (no more worrying about the overall impending doom).

Step 5: don’t stop there

I, like most people, often fear change. It can be testing, confusing and painful, but I truly believe that the end of third-party cookies will be positive for us all. I don’t think anyone would deny the need for greater transparency when it comes to how consumer data is being used online and this is the natural next step.

So, once you’ve smashed through the four steps above and feel good in the knowledge that you have a plan, don’t stop. Take this as an opportunity to explore more ways you can win in the future as the marketing landscape changes. Maybe this is the time to test a new CRM platform or a new way of interacting with your customers and collecting their data or testing other marketing channels. Solving the immediate issue is just the beginning, there’s a whole new world of digital opportunity on the horizon.

Matt Read is group head of digital at Space & Time.


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Space & Time

Space & Time is a growth marketing agency, enabling clients to secure optimal value from every part of the customer experience and their marketing investment....

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