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Why the demise of cookies will make market research cool again

By Ryan Barry, President



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January 25, 2024 | 8 min read

With Google disabling third-party cookies on Chrome this year, marketers must shift to first-party data sources like market research and attitudinal data, says president of Zappi, Ryan Barry.

Cool market researchers in an office

For the better part of three years, third-party cookies have felt a lot like your new year’s resolutions in late-December: impending but just far enough away that you don’t have to worry about them right now.

With the news of Google’s disabling of 1% of third-party cookies on Chrome, it’s like we’ve eaten our grapes and have to reckon with our best intentions. While the reported 30 million accounts taken offline is a drop in the bucket in terms of scale and short-term impacts, it’s a signal of what’s to come. Whether we like it or not, the trenchcoat era of marketing is coming to an end.

Thankfully, 58% of marketers say they’re moderately or extremely prepared for the phaseout of cookies. For the other 42%, the clock is ticking. But before you start panic-buying shiny new tools or paying consultants to solve the problem, answers could lie in existing resources you’re already using.

When sourced ethically and well-managed, consumer data can be a force for good – it makes businesses more human and consumer-centric. The question is how marketers can rally to change behaviors and think outside of the cookie box.

Bridging the gap between cookies and the future

The playbook for replacing cookies in your insights stack remains the same: take in first-party data sources, build a platform through which to manage first-party data, run limited experiments while your growth marketing is kept afloat by existing workflows and optimize. Sounds easy enough, right?

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If you’re part of the 42% who feel unprepared for the phaseout of cookies, time is becoming a factor. Even with 12 months under our belt, building a first-party source of behavioral data seems like a daunting task.

We’ve advanced beyond the point of casual experiments and looking at cookie alternatives as side projects. With Google’s pledge for cookies to be phased out by the end of the year, our solutions need to be actionable and have a high probability of success.

Let’s take this framework and apply it to an age-old means of understanding consumers: market research.

First-party attitudinal data is cool again

You heard that right. Marketers are in our GDPR era, which means we have to look for sources of consumer insight that are opted-in and owned. Market research can be a perfect intermediary to understand consumers in the short-term and build our first-party collection of data.

Before cookies, market research was the standard way of understanding consumers en masse. We used it to track brands and understand how consumers feel about brands, topics and ideas so we could design topical messages that hit them in stride.

The dynamic of attitudinal data has since shifted. There are agile tools at our disposal, and brands test their new ads and products to improve them with consumer feedback, before they go to market.

The technology has evolved as a result. There are agile platforms at our disposal that can gauge the pulse of how consumers are feeling on a moment’s notice. But that’s selling short the applications of attitudinal data.

Let’s be clear: attitudinal data can not retarget and reach disparate consumers at will, but when used correctly it can help you shine a magnifying glass on how key audience segments are feeling and reacting to events, brands and products in real-time.

The secret to long-term efficacy is how we leverage these data points in the future.

Store and leverage what you know with AI

There’s a common saying in marketing insights departments that we don’t know what we know. For the vast majority of organizations that’s true – and it’s because most of our data points aren’t owned, they’re borrowed from sources like cookies. We’ve used these momentary data points to validate or adjust our strategies, but in their absence we have to find alternatives without bogging down processes. Knowing a data point right now can help to sway opinions for the moment, but it isn’t a force multiplier to our ability to understand consumer sentiment and inspire new ideas.

In a world where we own our consumer data, instead of borrowing it, storage and accessibility are paramount. Agile market research platforms present a sizable opportunity not only to acquire data fast, but the ability to store and manage data in the long-term.

Consumer data has to be harmonized across our activation and media buying platforms. It also needs to be queryable and fit to how the teams innately search for information – so it’s in front of the right people at the right time. Only then we can unlock personalization at scale with our owned data sources. With the right foundation, this data asset stores historical data and new data alike, providing an outlet to leverage everything we’ve learned about consumers over time to personalize and drive more impactful creative.

While building a platform sounds cumbersome, it’s not so complex and can have a massive impact when done well. Brands like PepsiCo have mastered this process. Through its Ada platform, the brand created a single source of truth that spans across its business, where every consumer data point is stored. From touchpoints to pre-launch ads and product testing data, people from across Pepsi can tap into a knowledge base of everything they’ve learned to inform strategy.

This is a game-changer when you pair a dynamic data asset with generative artificial intelligence (AI). By nature, generative AI thrives off of large, high-quality data sets. By better managing our first-party data – market research, purchasing data, creative and product testing – we can connect each of those data points and lean on technology to tell us what we don’t know we know.

With the inevitable crumbling of cookies upon us, brands need efficient, proven means of understanding consumers to offset the insight we are losing. By leveraging trusted tools, we can start to rebuild our holistic understanding of consumers in an ethical way. New year, new us.

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