Cookies pulling at a thread

I will apologize up front for this horrible smash up of a metaphor, but stay with me.

Cookie deprecation has pulled at the thread of a very big sweater. And it’s not a marketing sweater, it’s a business sweater that impacts so much of what we do it’s hard to tell where one thing ends and the next begins. The little thread starts an unraveling that is a little daunting, but it’s 2021, so we’re all in the mood for a fresh look at things, right?

The What and The Why

Upon learning of cookie deprecation, a reasonable first question is “what?,” quickly followed by “why?” What is this whole thing about in the first place and why is it happening? I’ll answer those in reverse order. The “why” is all about privacy. A study late last year found that 57% of U.S. consumers would give up customization for greater privacy. This is a topic that the internet has been addressing since the beginning. Things started getting serious with European countries setting requirements way back in 2016 with the GDPR. And California adopted the CCPA in 2018.

Cookies are a little line of code, also known as a pixel, that is stored in your browser to capture data – this is the “what.” When you ask Google Chrome to remember your password, it stores it in a pixel/cookie. In this scenario, the password is first-party data that you are asking the browser to store for you, and we can all be grateful for the help we have remembering those logins. Things get messy when we start looking at third-party cookies. The third-party is an advertiser who stores data about your browsing habits so that it can be sold for marketing purposes. Marketers want to know who is looking at new furniture or shoes or whatever so that they can get their furniture or shoes or whatever in front of people wanting to buy! The ad is relevant to you. Personally, I have discovered some great new brands this way, but I have also had my share of Instagram purchase fails. It’s this exchange of data, moving cookie info around, charging for it and paying for it that makes digital advertising go ’round. It’s not a perfect system – there are plenty of inefficiencies and imperfections, but we’ve all made it work for a long time. That’s coming to an end, however, as we trace privacy issues back to those third-party cookies. 

Others, like Mozilla (Firefox) and Apple (Safari) have enabled third-party cookie blocking for some time now, but now Google’s Chrome is planning to do so in early 2022. About 65% of consumers use Chrome, so this is going to make a significant impact on marketing efforts. Now that consumers are demanding control of their data, we have to change the way cookies work. We have to create an environment that allows users to opt-out of this exchange of info; and this has brand marketers wondering, “If we can’t buy data about possible customers, how do we find people who want to buy our stuff?” Now that unraveling is really getting going.

Finding Your Customers in the Cookieless Environment

The most immediate answer is to look at your current customers and the data you have for them. Email addresses or mobile numbers – first-party data that they have chosen to give you. What do you have and where is it stored? Can you easily access it and maneuver it? If not, you may want to consider a Customer Data Platform (CDP) to make that data more useful to your business. If you understand what a loyal customer is, you can find more people like that. But those data points are not necessarily enough, you should have a more complete picture of that customer in a profile/persona, and you should understand how they interact with your brand. All of this can be defined with some Customer Journey work. Combine this knowledge with some CDP and DMP integration and you will be ready for a high-powered campaign.

But, let’s be honest, all of this work takes time and effort, so what can you put into action a little more quickly? Behavioral Targeting, Retargeting, Audience Extension, and Look-Alikes are a few possibilities. The good news is that you may already have some version of these in play for existing campaigns. The not-so-good news is that you might still need to access that existing customer data for some executions. But there are options you can use while getting your other efforts lined up.

One More Change

Digital marketing is always evolving, and your campaigns are not going to stop while all this gets figured out, but remember how we were ready for a fresh look in 2021? Now is your chance! Find out where you are using pixels – how this will immediately affect you. Get your first-party data organized – or start collecting it if you don’t have any! Understand your audience – who you want to reach, and start testing efforts so you can track success. Oh, yeah, performance measurement – did I mention the change there? Let’s pull at that thread. 

If you are using the free version of Google Analytics – Google Universal – to track activity on your website, that’s getting an update too. GA4 is now the default when you set up a new property. (Google hasn’t announced when the previous version will no longer be supported.) Analysts are starting to dig into the new tools, and there is a lot of positive chatter. Those smarties at Google built GA4 knowing cookie deprecation was coming up, so they’ve considered that. And they’ve made the new version more about tracking events and what defines a successful journey for a user. But what’s important to know right now is that GA4 will not carry over any historical data. So when you make the switch, you are starting at day 1 with zero data. The recommendation is to run GA4 parallel to your current install of Google Universal so that it starts gathering data for your eventual switch.

We have about a year before Chrome starts blocking those third-party cookies, but what are the tech overlords suggesting in place of cookies at that point? Well, we don’t know. Google has set up a playground for Chrome, and they have cool code names like FLoC and Turtledove in place that are testing a cohort model for the data exchange. Everyone is tracking these and trying to keep up as information trickles out. Data providers like The Trade Desk are getting a lot of momentum with their Unified Solution and LiveRamp is preparing to support a cookieless world.  

See how quickly one little cookie can make an impact across your entire organization? The good news is that you have some time to prepare. Audits and assessments are great places to start. Let us help you figure out how to manage these efforts so that you can start feeling confident about being prepared!