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How can marketers make sense of the third-party cookie conundrum and emerge winners?

What are some of the emerging tools in the cookieless toolkit that a chief marketer today must quickly adopt?

Even as the chatter around data privacy and the deprecation of the third-party cookie takes center stage, it is time for marketers to get back to basics and work towards strengthening and valuing their first-party data, points out Ashish Sinha, managing director of Epsilon, APAC.

Imagine yourself doing your daily morning walk. You’re breathing fresh air, taking in the beautiful sights, listening to the trilling of a songbird... until you reach that still blue lake you were originally looking to find. You settle down to devote your time, mind space and all your senses.

And now imagine your alter ego, who knows that a world like this is near impossible. As you walk down the same pathway, in your quest for the same still waters, you are armed to protect yourself. As you stop to take in something that catches your attention, you need to duck. Someone walks out flashing a sign that you try your best to escape. And as you bend down to scrutinize that flower, a crate of juicy red apples lands at your feed. Very good, except that you already have one at home that you bought just the day before. The birdsong is frequently interrupted by loud announcements for new attractions you are not in the mood for. And when you finally find yourself near that placid lake, the blue frequently reflects disconnected messages interrupting your reverie.

As I compare this metaphorical illustration to the interrupted online experiences we know all too well, I am extremely cognizant of the importance of the internet being funded by corporates, so that it continues to remain free to access. But it is also too close for comfort to advertising as we know it on TV and in print. Mass targeting, the inability to rise beyond vanity metrics, the race for eyeball acquisition, the lack of true accountability from media owners because it’s just not possible – all of it is now a reality.

Time to go back to the basics of marketing

While I sympathize with advertisers who are at the mercy of how media is managed and sold, I’d like to keep the human center stage. The person whose mind, heart and wallet have multiple suitors deserves far gentler treatment than to be caught unawares, and often left confused or worried over what to buy – or even worse, concerned over privacy. It is time advertisers rose above the noise and confusion, and used their resources and energies to focus. To focus on the consumer, every single one, because that is the altar where brand fortunes are built or ruined. Imagine a brave new world where a two-way relationship is not managed by a third party, but governed by the two parties that matter – ‘my brand and me’.

Get the consumer at the center of the journey

Brands are freed from the ‘just one opportunity to say it all’ mindset, but know that the consumer relationship is after all a human one and needs to be built in stages. One doesn’t propose marriage on a first date, but gently woos and becomes irreplaceable in a loved one’s life; a conversation that needs to continue all through married life.

So here I am, turning well-known marketing metrics on their head. It’s not about how many consumers have the brand top of mind, or need a nudge. It’s about the consumers that the brand has made meaningful contact with. The moment the metrics are read from a brand effort lens rather than consumer-dependent outcomes, the meaningless noise will cease, and balance will begin to make its way into the relationship.

The world in the post-third-party cookie regime

So, is the deprecation of the third-party cookie – now delayed to late 2023 – such a worrisome situation? Other than familiarity and ease of spending marketing dollars, there is not much to be lost here. Plus there’s a lot more to be gained. And much less noise and a consumer more at peace. Third-party cookies have always been flawed and customers have unfortunately borne the brunt with repetitive displays. When third-party stops playing referee in how a relationship is nurtured, both first parties have a lot more to gain from each other. There is an increasing sense of urgency among marketing leaders in APAC and MEA to free themselves from the dependence on the walled gardens and the big tech. At the same time, the nervousness from years of dependence on some of these things is visible too.

Against this dynamic backdrop, what are some of the emerging tools in the cookieless toolkit that a chief marketer today must quickly adopt?

Championing first-party data

First-party data is a sign of incredible trust, and this trust needs to be nurtured. Customers are looking for value exchange; focusing on hyper-personalization for people who have given consent will drive much more value than spray and pray media activation. When you apply your learnings from your own first-party data of existing customers, you will be able to offer better and more meaningful experiences to new customers who are most likely to convert – thus saving you a leaky acquisition bucket and lowering the cost of acquisition.

Getting the technology right

Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) have emerged as a viable solution to solve the impending loss of identifiers. CDPs can help combine all the data, make it accessible at scale and power real-time recommendations that can be activated across the channels. A recent study highlights that the opportunity for CDPs is big, though most firms struggle to turn insights into action. 35% of respondents said they are planning to invest or increase their investment in CDPs in the next 12 months.

What can marketers do to get the tech story right?

  • Collect, cleanse and activate first-party data. It belongs to you and your consumer, so use it.

  • For your owned channels of communication, set short, medium and long-term objectives with relevant ROI goals.

  • Balance spends on third-party-driven walled gardens – evaluate short-term tactical reach and sales objectives against long-term customer needs.

  • Get your ‘customer identity resolution’ right for the CDP to work.

Let the machines do the heavy lifting in the background, and while that is ongoing, let us go back to the basics of marketing and storytelling. It will be about enjoying the human process of building and nurturing our most enduring relationships.

Ashish Sinha is managing director, APAC & MEA, Epsilon.

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