Digital Advertising Brand

What CMOs need to know to thrive in a cookieless world

By Adam Fulford | chief customer officer

November 17, 2021 | 7 min read

Depending on third parties for the lifeblood of a business is extremely risky, yet that’s exactly what many have done and continue to do, writes Engine UK’s Adam Fulford as part of The Drum’s Data Deep Dive.

Cookies can represent the difference between growth and decline for some organizations, which has always been less than ideal and creates a parasitic relationship between brands and third parties.

data center

Brands should proactively build first- and second-party data

We’ve had plenty of time to adapt our approach, yet a survey of the top sites in the UK published in July showed that 81% of opted-in experiences still depend on third-party cookies – 79.1% of which were for advertising and 8.3% for measurement and website customer experience (CX). Clearly, we’re still addicted, but it is time to kick the habit.

While Google has extended its deadline to 2023, inaction isn’t an option. Marketers might seek stability, but they should do more. The approach taken now will have ramifications for decades to come.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. The solution will be borne from initiatives in a number of directions. Chief marketers not sticking their heads in the sand should think about the following to thrive in a cookieless world:

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Pick your partners

Naturally, Google, Facebook and other platforms have solutions that allow you to continue to target affinity audiences. Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) automatically allocates non-identifiable users into cohorts based on interests and behavior. This provides advertisers the opportunity to target broad dynamic audiences – at a cost.

This has triggered new alternatives to the tech giants, providing more neutral solutions to affinity and behavioral targeting, and cross-device tracking through universal IDs. The Trade Desk’s open-source Unified ID 2.0 and LiveRamp’s RampID operate in partnership, with Unified IDs being accessed through LiveRamp’s platform as well as providing a direct solution. Together they enable matching via first-party logins and allow audiences to manage consent via encrypted email addresses.

For many, these solutions will provide a quick alternative to third-party cookies. Understanding the alternatives, their strengths and how each influences the security of their digital pipeline will be key. Whether solutions aggregating publisher inventories (LiveRamp) or based on opted-in email identifiers (Unified ID) can match the scale of platform-based solutions will sway many.

Stockpile data

As well as plugging performance, brands should proactively build first- and second-party data.

Building experiences that exchange value for customer and prospect data begins to overturn the power dynamic. Experiences should do more than offer ‘10% off your first order for your email,’ but they don’t need to be a traditional loyalty card either. Nike Membership offers the perfect balance by creating content that inspires every athlete as well as connecting the digital and physical customer experience.

Creating a partner network sharing anonymized insights and targeting opportunities is a step further. Distributed data-clean rooms offer the opportunity to share insights without breaching privacy regulations.

For brands with scale, selling insights into their customer base and targeting opportunities to partners of their own is the ultimate play. Moves by both Boots and Tesco to formulate their offerings are testament to the potential in this area.

Codify the brand

Without third-party cookies, activity such as cross-platform frequency capping becomes difficult. As well as removing wastage, these caps improve the experience for customers. The truth is though, while they remove poor experience, they didn’t improve it or define the brand.

Where brand experiences are defined by the algorithms that control them, there’s a danger that what results is vanilla, optimized and reductive. While designing for a post-cookie future, brands should consider how they behave in ‘relevance-driven’ communications.

Exactly how much and how frequently do brands want to target, and how overtly relevant do they want to be with their targeting? It’s unlikely that a luxury brand would want to be seen targeting with the same frequency and obvious use of data as an e-commerce specialist. For some, such as Patagonia and its relationship with Facebook, it might involve a total boycott of certain channels on more ethical grounds.

Segment for success

Relevance is, for most brands, a relatively untapped opportunity. While third-party cookies have improved targeting, in most cases the creative fed through digital is one-size-fits-all.

Media, creative and CX agencies remain distant in approach, even though brands as sensitive as Burberry and Ralph Lauren have embraced the use of automated tools to create assets, delivering personalization at scale. Segmenting customers and using these segments to inform more relevant, targeted acquisition has had powerful effects on both performance and cost for the brands.

Campaigns such as Boots’s ‘Feel Good as New’ provide a blueprint for how to approach: a central idea, established in broadcast, then made personally relevant based on digital signals. It’s surprising how rare an approach as clear as this remains today.

Connect around customers

Everyone is a customer today. Yet our industry remains – despite agency mergers – organized with different teams working on brand and customer communications. While agencies have evolved, agency rosters haven’t. To succeed, clients should consider evolving their approach to roster pitches, bringing data, media and creative agencies closer and working to a single blueprint for a truly omnichannel customer experience.

According to Salesforce’s Brian Solis though, transformation shouldn’t stop there: “Operational models must adapt to place customers in the center of everything.” Whereas 69% of business customers and consumers want companies to offer new digital ways to access existing products and services, 53% of respondents to the HBRAS survey said organizational silos are a top-five barrier to improving CX.

The clock is ticking. As we approach abolition, proactive businesses can do more than secure their new business pipeline. Eschewing sticking plaster solutions with a holistic approach to data and customer experience can win share by unlocking the potential of customer data.

By broadening their approach, brands have a chance to turn the tables on Google, Facebook and Apple, establishing themselves as players in their own right.

Adam Fulford is chief customer officer at Engine UK

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