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Why the entire C-suite must care about the demise of third-party cookies

It’s a mistake to think of the sunset of third-party cookies as a marketing issue. After all, understanding your customers and delivering compelling experiences has everything to do with growing your business, attracting customers and upping your organic growth. Adobe’s Matt Skinner discusses what the entire C-Suite should be thinking and doing during this critical moment.

Here’s an inconvenient truth: third-party cookies for marketing, personalization and related online tracking objectives are a half-baked idea. They’re soon going away as tech giants such as Apple, Mozilla and Google have either banned them or plan to eliminate them altogether from their browsers in the near future.

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about the ban – and it has left a bad taste in the mouths of many executives. After all, the marketing and advertising industry has relied on third-party cookies for decades to measure the impact of impressions and to better understand consumer context. And while much of the data from third-party cookies is arguably imperfect, it has been valuable for marketing use-cases. But change is hard, and finding a new data-driven alternative can feel like a seismic shift for brands.

Although the demise of third-party cookies may seem like a marketing-only issue, the rest of the C-suite will also be impacted by this development. That’s because in the digital economy, understanding your customers and delivering compelling experiences have everything to do with growing your business, attracting new customers and increasing the lifetime value of your existing customers.

Everyone’s on the hook for customer experience, not just marketing

Nowadays, it’s not just the marketing team that is on the hook for customer experience (CX) management. Finance, sales, customer support, IT and other customer-facing departments all touch CX in some shape or form. Understanding the changes to your company’s ability to measure CX and garner customer intelligence is going to be paramount, whether you work in marketing or not.

Additionally, CX metrics, which are typically reported on across the C-suite (and not just in the marketing department), are going to evolve with the demise of the cookie. In fact, research shows that changes in metrics and reporting are going to be one of the major side effects of a cookieless future.

Compliance considerations will bring a slew of other departments into the cookieless mix. Regulations like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which will impact the cookieless world as much as they restricted the effectiveness of third-party cookies, are only a taste of what’s to come on the regulatory front.

In the US, more than a dozen states have privacy legislation in the works. What’s more, Apple and other tech giants are becoming more aggressive about thwarting tracking on devices. In the near future, strategies to secure or maintain the necessary permissions from customers will need to be built out in collaboration with marketing, UX, legal, privacy and other teams to ensure compliance and transparency.

One thing is certain: there’s a need now more than ever to rethink strategies for a cookieless future. Unfortunately, most organizations aren’t being proactive in their preparation. A recent Adobe survey found that only 37% of companies are ‘very prepared’ for a cookieless future. Many are taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach, which typically results in last-minute, short-term fixes and workarounds. The fact that 63% of organizations are not prepared for a cookieless world points to a tremendous opportunity for moving to first-party data strategies now for brands to create long-term differentiation.

Marketing’s going to need your help

Chief marketing officers can’t go it alone when it comes to reorienting customer experience management strategies around first-party data. Chief information officers, chief technology officers, chief digital officers and even heads of commerce, legal, security, and privacy need to collaborate to identify the right technology solutions, implement them, rethink organizational structure, and finally deliver compelling brand experiences while rewiring the underlying processes that optimize customer insights. This means moving beyond the traditional customer relationship management (CRM) data, which is often slow-moving and difficult to apply to effective strategies.

A shift to a first-party data strategy means embracing a real-time framework focused on maximizing the utility and value of customer data collected by your organization. This approach is appealing because it coordinates, unifies and constantly refreshes data across a spectrum of enterprise sources and outside channels. This, in the end, generates richer and more detailed profiles of customers aligned with their expectations – which can benefit all customer-facing departments.

Maximizing first-party consumer data also means doing more with the customer data that may currently sit in silos across the organization. Combining CRM data with other sources such as offline data, customer service data, web analytics and email engagement data allow teams to access complete profiles of valuable customers for richer insights and improved personalization. Critically, this data must be collected with user permission – and the deprecation of third-party cookies increases the importance of encouraging unknown visitors to authenticate or log in across online properties.

Successful first-party data strategies that encourage authentication must be centered around delivering value for consumers. For example, brands can offer personalization that saves time, introduce new relevant products, provide exclusive access to content or promote a limited time offer. Current market forces make it more important than ever for brands to differentiate themselves based on customer experience.

A strong first-party data strategy, combined with the right internal and external business alliances, can help organizations reap even greater rewards. Second-party data – a trusted partner’s resolved first-party data – can prove useful, especially when layered on top of a company’s first-party data. It can help fill in gaps about the end customers’ interests or behaviors for mutual benefit within the scope of customer preference for sharing.

For example, a retail company may partner with a financial institution to offer a co-branded credit card. The customer data shared between the retailer and financial institution helps each organization complete customer profiles in line with customer preferences as well as understand consumer behavior in more comprehensive ways. These types of second-party data use-cases will become increasingly important. Organizations need the right tools to responsibly share data in accordance with customer preferences, which will require cross-departmental alliances and partnerships.

Say ‘goodbye’ to disconnected data and organizational silos

Organizations that build a robust first-party data strategy can finally move away from a ‘Frankenstack’ approach that relies on a mix of disjointed homegrown and external technologies. By steering away from a disconnected and siloed data framework, marketing, sales, operations and support teams can use common datasets to gain both broader and deeper insight into their customers. As a result, they can deliver better customer experiences in line with expectations.

In our digital-first world, the lack of third-party cookies shouldn’t be a hinderance to successful marketing and business. It’s possible to transcend the reactive rip-and-replace mindset – and comply with stringent privacy requirements without any hiccups. Ultimately, senior-level executives can rest assured that the organization has evolved from a tactical to a strategic customer framework. It’s equipped to deal with the twists and turns of today’s business environment, both from an organizational standpoint and a technological standpoint, with the right tools in the hands of people who are able to use them for the benefit of the business.

Once an organization has committed to a future-proof first-party data strategy, the panic about missing cookies is replaced with a sweeter perspective. Real-time data streaming and improved customer experience management become default settings. There’s no need to worry about how cookies crumble and what mess they leave. It’s finally possible to obtain a complete view of customers, embrace digital-first business practices and build a framework of trust.

Matt Skinner is senior manager of product marketing at Adobe.

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