The Death of the Cookie Doesn’t Mean a Return to Old Ways of Marketing

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Over the past couple of months, cookies have returned to being a hot button item for digital marketers. Ranging from Google’s announcement of the removal of cookies in its Chrome browser to the fight between Facebook and Apple, discussions on the death of the third-party cookie and removal of browser and device-related tracking have dominated marketing news.

Some browsers, such as Safari and Mozilla Firefox, have already announced that they no longer support third-party cookies, while Google plans to block cookies in Chrome by the end of this year. As this shift continues, digital marketers and businesses must find a new approach to cut through the noise and deliver meaningful results for the business and personalized experiences for their customers. In response, too many digital marketers have thrown up their hands and assumed these changes mean a return to relying solely on first-party data.

The blind spot

When managed effectively, first-party customer data provides significant value, giving marketing teams the ability to understand and act on how consumers are engaging on their turf.

Problem solved, right?

Not so fast. A return to the old ways of leveraging first-party data will only take marketers backwards and leave consumers without the highly personalized experiences they have come to expect. The focus should be on how to effectively enhance first-party data assets to maximize their value and continue to perform targeted marketing effectively while respecting consumer contact preferences.

Since first-party data is information collected directly through a company’s own sources (websites, apps, call centers, stores, etc.), it is inherently limited in scope. Though it may provide the organization with highly relevant information, it only provides insight into the customer when engaging with your brand. This begs the question: What are they doing on other relevant websites or locations? Failing to gather this information leaves marketers with a significant blind spot.

This blind spot is understanding the behavior that consumers and prospects are exhibiting outside of the brand’s four walls—whether virtual or physical. Third-party data can illuminate this blind spot and makes up the largest share of consumer data. While the death of the cookie changes the dynamics of how third-party data is used, significant value can still be captured by leveraging it to enhance a brand’s first-party data without the use of cookies. In fact, research has shown it can result in a nearly 200% return on investment so failing to leverage it represents a significant opportunity cost.

Focus on personalization

It’s the age-old challenge for marketers: trying to understand where shoppers are in their buying journey so we can reach them with the right message at the right time. Gaining a clear view of the consumer’s level of intent at a certain moment and engaging with them accordingly is what makes or breaks a brand’s ability to convert prospects into customers. Without this ability, it can be nearly impossible to establish a consistent, targeted marketing message that meets the consumer where they are in their shopping journey.

By partnering with a knowledgeable data company, a brand can gain valuable assistance in linking their first-party data to accurately identify consumers and gain behavioral intelligence on these consumers through cookie-free, third-party data integrations. In fact, consumer activity from third-party sites can be securely collected according to regulations – without the use of personally identifiable information (PII) or cookies – and integrated with your first-party data to provide a more complete view of the consumer’s shopping journey.

By leveraging third-party behavioral data sets to enhance first-party data in this way, marketers are able to identify trends that differentiate levels of intent, deliver aligning messages, segment audiences, and prioritize efforts on actionable individual data. As a result, brands gain the value of continuing to perform highly targeted marketing, while driving higher engagement and protecting consumer privacy.

Collecting and using third-party data safely

As digital marketers and business leaders move forward using the benefits of behavioral data, they must also consider the consumer mindset in 2021 and the evolving regulatory environment. The pandemic forced consumers online creating an unprecedented growth in online shopping experience and a flood of consumer data. Simultaneously, there has been a heightened focus on privacy. While creating more personalized and meaningful brand experiences will remain key in 2021, honoring consumer privacy is paramount.

While data offers a level of transparency into the customer journey, digital marketers should not take it on lightly. The first step is to structure your marketing strategies in a way that prioritizes consumer privacy and consent. Not only can there be significant penalties for not complying with privacy regulations, studies have shown that consumers are becoming more concerned with how their data is being used and will shop elsewhere if they feel their data is being mishandled.

Privacy regulations have also increased over the years in both the United States and Europe to better protect personal data, and continue to be in flux. The European Union (EU) enacted the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018, which looks to add safety measures for those living within the EU. During 2020, the state of California began enforcing the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and passed Proposition 24. More recently, President Biden released a statement mentioning that the United States should be setting standards more on par with the EU.

As a result of the more stringent regulations, digital marketers and businesses leveraging data must be mindful of where the data comes from, if the regulations will affect their strategy, and if customers have been educated on the ways their data is used. This is especially important when partnering with an outside company to gain behavioral intelligence to enhance your first-party data. When evaluating partners, it is vital to understand how they gather, store and link data to ensure it aligns with your company’s privacy expectations and with current regulations. Failing to perform this step leaves you open to significant financial and reputational harm.

Looking ahead

The death of the cookie is certainly changing marketing strategies, but it does not need to change our ability to provide consumers with engaging and personalized shopping experiences. Now is the time for digital marketers to become more familiar with their data and find partners or resources that can help to enhance that data – illuminating the blind spots.

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