3 things marketers need to understand about the post-cookie future

Trent Lloyd
By Trent Lloyd | 11 September 2023
Trent Lloyd.

Trent Lloyd – Head of APAC, Eyeota

People in our industry have spent a lot of time talking about the “loss” of third-party cookies, suggesting that the end result of Google’s deprecation of these identifiers in Chrome will ultimately represent a setback for digital marketing. But what if we were to flip that notion on its head for a second? What if this “loss” is actually a gain for our industry?

No doubt, third-party cookie deprecation is having and will continue to have significant short-term repercussions for publishers, advertisers and ad tech providers alike. But the third-party cookie has also been widely acknowledged in the same circles as being highly flawed and incomplete as a method of targeting consumers.

In solving for the “loss” of third-party cookies,we have an opportunity to build a more complete and more sustainable approach to data-driven marketing, both in terms of retention and acquisition. Here are three realities that marketers in APAC need to embrace when it comes to a post-cookie.

Third-Party Data Is Not the Same as Third-Party Cookies
First things first: As we prepare for a post-cookie marketing landscape, there’s something we need to get straight: Third-party cookies are not the same as third-party data. The confusion between third-party cookies and third-party data, no doubt, stems in part from the similarity in the phrases themselves. But it’s more than that. The flurry of headlines within our industry over the past few years has most certainly caused some additional confusion, so let’s be clear:

  • After multiple delays, Google is planning to deprecate the third-party cookie in Chrome by 2024. Given the size of Chrome’s influence in the market, this has caused a great deal of concern among industry parties that rely on third-party cookies as a means of targeting their digital media buys to individuals across online environments. That said, support for third-party cookies has already been eliminated in a number of other browser environments. Google’s move is just the final nail in the third-party cookie’s coffin.
  • Concurrently, a number of global privacy regulations have recently or will soon go into effect that have implications for how organizations can collect, use and distribute users’ personal information. It is in the conversations surrounding these regulations that implications for third-party data practices are commonly discussed.

One challenge is that, in discussing the effects of new privacy regulations, our industry has begun to repeat a common false narrative: “First-party data is good. Third-party data is bad.” But that’s simply not correct. In fact, any marketer turning away from third-party data right now is going to be more challenged than ever to succeed in the marketing landscape of the future. Even after third-party cookies are deprecated once and for all, companies will still require privacy-compliant access to third-party data in order to connect with their customers and prospects in a meaningful way. 

It’s Possible to Balance Privacy Compliance with 1:1 Messaging Relevance
Today’s marketers understand the importance of personalized marketing and ensuring that their messaging resonates with customers and prospects on a true 1:1 level. But at the same time, the pivot toward a cookieless landscape and privacy as the default state continues to transform the tools available to brands and agencies when it comes to identifying and communicating with consumers on an individual level. Previously relied-upon identifiers—third-party cookies being just one example—continue to vanish from the playing field, new privacy regulations abound, and walled gardens are building their walls ever higher when it comes to user data.

So how, then, can today’s marketers balance the need for privacy with the desire for 1:1 messaging relevance? The answer lies within a recalibration of data-driven marketing strategies, particularly when it comes to the balance of deterministic first-party data and third-party probabilistic data.

What’s the difference between deterministic and probabilistic data, and how does that play into a marketing organization’s data strategy? Simply put:

  • Deterministic data is information that can be reliably matched to an individual. Examples include phone numbers, usernames, customer IDs and email addresses, among others.
  • Probabilistic data is based on likelihood rather than concrete knowledge of an individual. This data is often built around behaviour, such as page views or click-throughs, and is used by algorithms to determine the probable age, gender or other demographic or psychographic facet of a given user.

Deterministic data, which provides the foundation for truly personalized messaging, can be difficult to scale. Meanwhile, the nature of probabilistic data means it can be less precise at the individual level, but it can scale easily with the right data partner.

In recent years,marketers have placed a great deal of emphasis on deterministic data as the key to personalized marketing. However, the move away from cookies and the push for greater consumer privacy means this type of data is going to be far harder to come by in the future without a direct relationship to the consumer. The good news, however, is that the necessary shift toward probabilistic data tactics means that marketers will be able to unlock new benefits when it comes to sustainable customer acquisition.

To be clear, Deterministic data will remain a vital piece of the marketing puzzle, particularly when it comes to retargeting and personalization for existing customers. However, as probabilistic techniques take centre stage and brands increase their focus on data onboarding and data enrichment, marketers are going to be able to take what they know about their customers and leverage it to target prospects at scale in a meaningful way. And, because probabilistic data methodologies do not need personally identifiable information to onboard first-party data onto a digital identifier, they are typically not affected by shifts in privacy regulation and are, thus, more stable within the global marketing landscape.

The Loss of Third-Party Cookies Is Nothing to Fear
As cookies vanish from the landscape, we have an opportunity to build transparent and future-proof means of helping marketers enrich their audience understandings and activate those insights across channels. Here are three areas where we think a post-cookie world can and should serve marketers better:

Identity in Other Browsers: Lest we forget, the forthcoming deprecation of third-party cookies by Google is specific to Chrome. And while Chrome represents a huge venue for online user activity, it’s not the only browser in the game. The utility of third-party cookies was lost in environments like Firefox and Safari long ago. As an industry, we need to invest in ID-agnostic tools that can unite a view of consumers across browsers.

Omnichannel Audience Targeting: If third-party cookies in Chrome are only a piece of the online browser targeting landscape, they’re an even smaller piece of the true omnichannel media landscape, which extends across web, mobile, CTV, offline media and more. As an industry, we need to invest in privacy-compliant, multi-ID audience solutions that have the ability to extend across all channels.

Serving the Broader Enterprise: Finally, let’s think beyond marketing for a moment. When we talk about data and consumer identity, we’re talking about value that extends well beyond a company’s marketing function. As an industry, we need to invest in sophisticated identity solutions with applications beyond the ad tech stack. Compliant, quality third-party data should be offered in a way that its value can be extended to the broader enterprise, solving for identity and experiences in customer service, support and beyond.

Third-party cookie deprecation, approached the right way, represents an opportunity rather than a challenge. We can build a more sustainable post-cookie future for data-driven marketing in which quality third-party data can, and will, do so much more.

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