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The cookieless future: how brands should navigate the interim period

Accord Marketing on why the end of cookies could spell a return to great creativity

We know now that Google’s planned cull of third-party cookies has been delayed until 2023. But what should brands do in the meantime? For our Deep Dive on Data Dan Ward, head of performance at The Drum Network member Accord Marketing, investigates.

Soon we’re going to be living in a world where third-party cookies don’t exist, making the internet a very different place for understanding consumer behavior.

While Google’s decision to cull third-party data has been delayed until 2023, it does not alter the timeline for marketers to act – think of this as a second chance to be prepared.

Let’s remind ourselves of what’s at stake here. Third-party cookies are by no means perfect, but they offer an easy way to capture usable data. Losing cookies will have huge repercussions on audience sizes and targeting ability. Alternative solutions are required.

The delay

News of Google’s delay was met with open arms by the ad industry, bringing with it a more defined timeline of things to come. Google will roll out new technologies in late 2022, giving publishers and the ad industry nine months to migrate services before a three-month cookie phaseout, completing in late 2023.

Perhaps wary of Apple iOS 14’s impacts on Facebook, the delay gives Google a greater chance to get it right, to find a robust solution that balances consumer privacy against effective advertising.

They have time to develop and progress their Privacy Sandbox initiative which, in their words, “aims to create web technologies that both protect people’s privacy online and give companies and developers the tools to build thriving digital businesses to keep the web open and accessible to everyone, now, and for the future.”

But what about independent ad tech firms such as Criteo, Quantcast and The Trade Desk? Development on their independent, consumer-centric solutions continues. Some, such as the Unified ID Solution 2.0, use hashed and encrypted email addresses to build an open-source ID framework.

It remains to be seen if Google will allow these alternatives to progress; they are keen to ensure cookies are not replaced with other forms of individual tracking and want to discourage covert approaches such as fingerprinting.

Privacy must remain a priority

Removal of third-party cookies will impact everyone: internet users, digital advertisers and publishers. The future remains uncertain, but our fundamental understanding and usage of data will need to change dramatically to ensure user privacy is the highest priority.

Ultimately, Google is in control of their own fate and will be reticent to cull third-party cookies without an effective alternative in place. Their solution will ensure their mammoth ad business is minimally impacted – it’s a money-driven world, after all. Despite competition watchdog concerns, this change could well lead to Google’s walled gardens having higher and less penetrable walls.

That’s potentially great for Google, and those who heavily advertise with them. But, once again, it leaves independent ad tech firms in a tricky position. They face an uphill battle to find cookie alternatives that can be implemented effectively, adhere to consumer privacy demands, and satisfy Google’s requirements.

What brands should do in the cookie interim

Conversation, announcements and deliberation will continue across the coming months, but what should marketers be doing in this uncertain interim period?

The key is to keep your brand close to its online audiences throughout the transitionary period. This should start with reviewing your cookies. Assess your current digital marketing activity (PPC, programmatic, social, remarketing) and note down any that are using third-party cookies in their deployment. Having a clear understanding of your marketing reliance on third-party cookies will help you assess any potential impact and possible solutions.

You also need to understand your own first-party data. Fill the void that will be lost by third-party cookies by inventorying and making the most of first-party data. Review the user data at your disposal (Google Analytics, email systems, CRMs) and check if it includes a marketing opt-in. Then decide how this can be used constructively to inform targeting and optimization. Consider adopting a customer data platform (CDP) to streamline and unify this data.

Use all of this information to plan ahead. By knowing where you are using third-party cookies and understanding what first-party data you have available, you will be well-placed to tackle challenges and fill in any gaps. This should inform a robust measurement plan to map out and identify which KPIs are likely to be affected and the best alternatives.

Finally, the importance of creative in the coming world cannot be overstated. Use this as an opportunity to engage with customers in an improved way. Create compelling content and engaging videos across digital platforms to create solid, trust-based relationships to develop an enthused and loyal customer base.

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