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What does the end of third-party cookies mean for market research methodologies?

December 6, 2021

2023 is set to be a seismic year for the digital ad industry as third-party cookies are phased out of Chrome, fundamentally altering how online advertising has functioned to date, and requiring advertisers to get familiar with alternative strategies of targeting, from cohorts to contextual. But what does the end of third-party cookies mean for researchers? Cookies are the lynchpin of a lot of online methodologies and their demise poses a challenge that will need to be navigated in the months to come. Here, members of the IAB UK Research Advisory Group lay out what to expect and how to prepare for a post third-party cookie era.

Owned first-party data will become more important

James Powell, senior marketing manager, Kantar:Advertisers are increasingly seeking to make more of their first-party data. Recent Kantar research reveals 82% of advertisers in Europe feel they should be using first-party data alongside other data. Furthermore, 78% say they want to take more control of their media spend. In addition, half of advertisers believe that data to guide real-time targeting will become more important in the coming months, as they look ahead to a cookie-free future. To fill the void left by cookies, advertisers need to enrich their knowledge of consumers via their first-party data, requiring a modelled approach with various datasets such as contextual and user-consented survey-based data - with the latter enabling particularly deep consumer insights.”

This is a chance to ditch short-term thinking

Maren Seitz, senior director, Analytic Partners: “The loss of third-party cookies, while painful, is a chance to refocus marketing strategies and finally detach from siloed, short-term thinking, allowing for better alignment of digital with other channels. Our ROI Genome research shows that the most successful campaigns are multi-channel across online and offline, e.g. increasing ROI by 35% when combining TV with online video. Without cookies, there should be even greater focus on creating and maximizing channel synergies – using creative and content for storytelling across channels, reinforcing the message on some, adding call to actions in others. The effectiveness then needs to be measured holistically, in one currency, and based on an analytics foundation that is independent from user-level data.”

We’re transitioning from ‘big data’ to ‘deep data’

Mike Follett, managing director, Lumen: “Up until recently, digital marketers have adopted the mantra that ‘everything counts in large amounts’. Cookie data may have been fairly basic, but there was lots of it and you could do lots of clever things to it. The demise of the cookie has led us to reappraise the quality of the data we’re getting, and its predictive value. Smart marketers are looking to high quality, behavioral panel sources to help them transition from ‘big data’ to ‘deep data’ - real insight that links to real behavior change. When it comes to datasets, size matters; but what you do with it matters more.

Panel data combined with other sources provides a rich alternative

Jessica Bohm, director, Similarweb: “With the impending loss of third-party cookies and increasing rollout of regulatory changes, advertisers are looking for new ways to target consumers and track online behavior that is brand-safe and anonymized. While alternative data sources such as user panels won’t be directly impacted by the sunsetting of cookies, they also aren’t a replacement for the volume of third-party data accessible to the industry today. Panel data alone provides a limited vantage point into consumer behavior. User panels combined with other anonymous data sources - such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs) - can be aggregated and modelled to create an accurate view of the digital world.”

Cookie changes may lead to richer insights

Dr Sarah Turnbull, reader in advertising, University of Portsmouth:The changes may encourage advertisers to explore alternative ways of understanding how viewers behave online. While third-party cookies may record viewer’s actions, alternative methodologies, such as ethnography or experimental approaches, may help to provide richer insights into consumer behavior. Unlocking the reasons why consumers view content as they do, or gaining a better understanding of how interactions occur, will enable advertisers to consider new ways of engagement. In particular, ethnographic approaches such as netnography, where researchers study online behaviors and patterns, could provide a valuable alternative for advertisers seeking to understand the why and how consumers engage.”

Communication with consumers is key

Emily Thompson, insight manager, The Guardian: “With the deprecation of third-party cookies, first-party data is going to become all the more important and its essential that businesses have an established strategy. To inform our first-party data strategy, we partnered with Tapestry Research to understand people’s perceptions towards how their data is handled and their willingness to share data. We found that:

● Communication is key. Consumers want brands to be clear and transparent - explain what they get in return for sharing their data.

● There’s no 'one-size-fits-all' approach. Consumers fall into five segments depending on their knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. It’s important to get the tone and level of detail right.

● You should think about how you ask people to share information. People have varying expectations of what is acceptable to share, depending on the business.

Qualitative is an opportunity to get closer to consumers

Luke Devereux, PhD, lecturer, Middlesex University: “It will be interesting to see what this means for qualitative research. These changes could allow the chance to step back and look at methodologies in general, reassessing what could be done to fill this gap. In some respects, third-party cookies were a bit abstract, intrusive, and distant from the consumer. So qualitative may provide an opportunity to get close to consumers in a more transparent way. Overall, I think it’s an exciting time for research across all methodologies - often when restrictions are put in place it can lead to innovation elsewhere.”

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Third-party cookies
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