Like Mark Twain’s claim that the news of his death was greatly exaggerated, the news of the browser cookie’s death might also have been a little premature, but the cookie’s demise, like the Twain claim, is destined to be fulfilled and whether it’s within a year, a two or three, it cannot be stopped.
The cookiepocalypse is upon us whether we like it or not. The browser cookie is headed to oblivion because it is incompatible with today’s push for personal privacy that is being embraced by brands and governments worldwide. However, this shouldn’t be something to fear. The opportunity offers to companies willing to embrace the cookieless future is quite substantial.
A Cookieless Future
According to 9to5Mac, Apple’s iPhone iOS 15 will ask whether users want to enable Apple personalized ads for their Apple ID, which is currently the default setting. If enabled, Apple will be about to utilize App Store purchase history as well as other Apple ID browsing information to inform the ads the user sees. Apple’s Safari browser and Mail service will block brands from tracking pixels or IP addresses. Above all, Google is leading the way on the cookie’s front; its Chrome browser won’t support third-party cookies after 2023.
Even in China, Tencent, the owner of WeChat, the Middle Kingdom’s ubiquitous social media super app, has established an independent oversight board to protect personal privacy. As Jiaxing Li reports in KrAsia, “Data privacy and protection has become a major topic of interest in China, and securing user data is an important step to retain consumer confidence in platforms that have become everyday tools for many people.”
Skeptics warn these developments portend a complete disruption in advertising, but the cries that the “death of the cookie is upon us” or fears that we’ll be facing a “cookiepocalypse” are a little hyperbolic. “As an industry, we are transitioning away from opaque consumer data collection and usage and toward a choice-driven, transparent, and privacy-friendly future,” say Fatemeh Khatibloo, Joanna O’Connell, and Tina Moffett, of Forrester. The situation should be viewed in the larger context of the moment, contend the Forrester trio, arguing there are plenty of opportunities for brands to build better CRM and personalization marketing systems.
The cookie’s demise, as Adobe warns, is uncharted territory for every business; “there isn’t a playbook for how to move forward. This is new a journey for all involved.” Adobe recommends brands build “a data management model framed around consumer-trusted, customer-controlled ID resolution.”
Adobe argues marketing and advertising are facing the following four major hurdles:
- Restrictive privacy laws.
- Browser and operating system restrictions on privacy and data collection.
- Consumer adoption of privacy tools and privacy-protecting behaviors.
- The ubiquitous walled gardens of customer data like Amazon, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Google.
Forrester refers to these four headwinds as “data deprecation”, believing these issues will make it increasingly “difficult for marketers and advertisers to collect and activate consumer data at scale.” A problem that will become more acute as the cookie deadline day approaches.
Adobe believes having a technology partner is critical for brands. This will help them centralize, enrich, govern, and scale their first-party data for use in advertising and marketing. Although Adobe is one potential software partner, obviously, plenty abound. Salesforce, SAS, Oracle, SAP, and Acoustic share the Gartner Leader’s quadrant, while Pega Systems and Emarsys come in as Visionaries. Cheetah Digital, Optimove, Sailthru, Selligent, and Redpoint, amongst others, are also leaders in the multichannel marketing space. Adobe’s recommends companies start small, understand their first-party data assets, and test out scenarios while the third-party cookie is around. “Brands must restructure their existing customer experiences around millisecond-paced decisions, that align each individual with the right message and the right moment,” argues Adobe.
In his article Top tips: The new reality of addressability, Florian Lichtwald makes a case for six types of marketing that can help brands succeed beyond the cookie. These are:
- Contextual targeting. This is advertising on a website that is relevant to the interests, characteristics, and demographics of a brand’s targeted audience.
- Cohort-based. Marketing to people with similar browsing habits to a targeted audience who remains anonymous to the advertiser.
- Probabilistic. Utilizing a user’s metadata to build a targetable profile.
- Authenticated users. Utilizing ‘premium’ audience members who have authenticated themselves on a publisher’s website.
- Walled garden social networks: Building an audience on Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, or other similar sites.
- First-party data. Utilizing this kind of data, brands can create their own walled gardens.
For Lichtwald, these methodologies should be seen on a scale, with first-party data being both the most reliable and the highest quality of data, while contextual advertising would be considered the lowest quality data but one that had the most scalability of all.
The demise of third-party cookies proves how important it is to have a “compliant, structured and rich pool of first-party data,” says Lichtwald. Publishers can use their first-party data to ‘build their own’ walled gardens with their high-quality authenticated data, contends Lichtwald, “giving advertisers a new means of high-accuracy addressability in a cookieless future.” This is the reason why so many businesses are building customer data platforms, CRM, and multichannel marketing platforms now, concludes Lichtwald.
As the Cookie Crumbles
Whether we like it or not, the cookiepocalypse will soon be upon us. In most good thrillers, the novelist or screenwriter utilizes a ticking clock to both set up a clear timeline for the story as well as establish the dramatic stakes for the protagonist. In this case, Google has provided us with the timeline for the death of the cookie — 2023.
Adobe advocates building deeper publisher relationships. In a world of data deprecation, brands should work with fewer publishers but more deeply with their chosen ones. Publishers with high-quality content and strong authentication will thrive, says Adobe. They will blend “content, data, commerce, and advertising to help power the next generation of customer acquisition,” contends Adobe.
The browser cookie’s demise, like the claim about Twain’s early death, will eventually arrive and businesses needed to prepare for that moment today. “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity,” is a Sun Tzu quote that couples well with his other quote about opportunities — “that they multiply as they are seized.” Companies that choose to recognize the so-called cookiepocalypse will be able to weather the approaching personalization marketing storm. Those brands who ignore it might find what crumbles is not just their customer base and CRM lists but maybe even their entire raison d’être.