Google’s announcement that Chrome will join Firefox and Safari in phasing out third-party cookies by the end of 2021 appears to be the final nail in the coffin in the much anticipated demise of the cookie long used by advertisers, publishers, and marketers to track a user’s activity across websites.
Some of the clamor over what the decision ultimately means for marketers has sparked discussion about the effect it will have on first-party cookies, used by a domain primarily to enhance the user experience on that domain. The short answer is, it won’t. The first-party cookie will still do all the heavy lifting for a website to provide a consistent experience; recognizing a loyalty member at log-in, remembering multi-page form information, associating a shopping cart with a specific browser, etc. Most consumers recognize and appreciate a first-party cookie’s value in providing a personalized experience.
Because third-party cookies have evolved mostly into a tool for targeted advertising, their impending demise will likely not be mourned by most consumers, especially those frustrated by retargeted ads that seemingly follow them all over the web. That use case explains why third-party cookies are colloquially known as “tracking” cookies; managed and placed by a third-party domain, the cookie can be accessed by any website that loads the browser’s information, enabling the advertiser to track users and collect information as they move across the web.
No Third-Party Cookies? Now What?
The end of the tracking use case is one of the main consequences of the inglorious phase-out of the third-party cookie. This will end not only following a specific user – attached to a browser – as they move from website to website, but also the classic marketing use case of trying to reach look-alike audiences. Both will cease because the lack of third-party cookies will make it impossible to track your own users on someone else’s website.
There are, however, replacement methods being offered that innovative marketers can use to fill the gap created by the loss of the third-party cookie. The first is for a brand or company to establish a relationship with customers based on trust. A trusted brand practices authentication, it asks and abides by customer preferences, it offers intuitive opt-in options, and it is completely transparent about how it collects information, what it uses the information for, and its policies for complying with GDPR, CCPA, and other data privacy regulations.
The second replacement method is the use of emerging technology – the LiveRamp Identity Link, or Google’s Privacy Sandbox – that do not rely on third-party cookies, but rather appropriate bits of information that can be shared at an aggregate level, essentially masking a user’s identity while reaching a cohort of users with relevant messages.
A tangible result of this – as compared with using a third-party cookie – is that a customer who places, say, fishing gear in a shopping cart, will no longer see an ad for the same tackle box track them across multiple websites. Instead, they would see generalized yet relevant ads based on surfing history, or purchase history.
Redpoint helps our clients with both of these methods through native capabilities in our platform: privacy workflows and management, a privacy-first anonymous customer store, opt-in and opt-out controls for campaigns, channels, and engagement, and selection rules to control ad usage and suppression. We also partner with LiveRamp, PossibleNOW, and others for preferences, web and mobile privacy controls, and intelligent ad tech.
Take a Good, Hard Look at Where to Find Value
The two replacement methods pre-date the death of the third-party cookie because the writing has been on the wall for some time that consumers have steadily been pushing back against a laissez faire approach toward data privacy. We’re not in a static place, in other words. Forward-looking brands have been hyper-sensitive about the “creep factor” resulting from ads following consumers around the web, and wary about the unauthorized access and/or use of their customer data by third parties.
Open ad networks are most susceptible to the long-term ramifications when third-party cookies disappear, but replacement technologies will cushion the blow. While it’s true that the value, reach, and specificity of ad placement through an ad network will diminish, the needle won’t drop to zero.
What this means is that brands placing marketing and advertising dollars with an ad network will have to be more judicious about ROI from adtech, martech, ecommerce, mobile, and other methods of customer engagement.
Companies who have long used the third-party as a crutch to track a user across the internet might view a heightened need to consider how they reach their customers as a kind of nuisance. Retargeted ads may not be pretty, but they’re easier than devoting the necessary time and resources to engage with a customer across an omnichannel journey.
Delivering a personalized customer experience in the context of a unique customer journey does not rely on third-party cookies. Rather, it is based on having a single view of the customer – of which a device ID is just one component. A third-party cookie is not a true ally for a brand interested in recognizing a customer’s preferences, patterns, and behaviors across all channels, which is the foundation for a superior customer experience that drives new revenue.