How to navigate the cookie apocalypse

The demise of third-party cookies has added layers of confusion to the data privacy debate; and when confused, consumer default is typically to disable and delete.

For consumers, the consequence is that they will need to recreate passwords and re-authenticate themselves. Previous engagement history with a brand may be forgotten and the relationship may go back to zero. For marketers, this raises the concern of how best to (re-)connect with their audience in order to create meaningful, unique content for each consumer.

So, why are so few brands really engaging with their customers about the cookie apocalypse? Roy Jugessur, VP, EMEA, at Acoustic, says that the key is to cut through the confusion: make everything simple to enable marketers and consumers to move forward in a new ‘cookie-less’ state.

What is a Cookie?

We’re all used to seeing the notifications pop up on websites we visit, but does the average person really understand what a cookie is and how it works? Understanding this is the first step. Cookies are text files with small pieces of data, such as a username and password, which help to identify a specific computer on a network. They are essential to the modern internet, helping provide a more personal, convenient online experience by enabling websites to remember key information to enhance the user experience, for example user logins, shopping baskets, and previous browsing behaviour.

For marketers specifically, cookies are used to collect data in order to deliver the most relevant and targeted content, helping to customise every interaction along the customer’s journey. Utilising cookies can be an efficient way to reach target customers at scale, track digital behaviours, and reduce expenses because marketing activity is focused on the right audience. 

Data Privacy Concerns 

Regulations, including EU GDPR and the California CCPA, have made people significantly more savvy around data collection, management, storage, and deletion and the rules that should be in place around this. Since the introduction of GDPR three years ago however, the waters have become somewhat muddied, especially with Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic meaning that public dissatisfaction over data sharing has increased.

A recent study found that 97% of consumers reported that data privacy is a concern, with 54% worrying about what companies do with their data. Additionally, Whatsapp’s need to clarify its updated privacy policy following mass public outcry, reveals just how much people are concerned about the misuse of their personal data. 

These calls for greater privacy controls have led to Google, Apple, and Microsoft, amongst others, phasing out the use of third-party cookies (and targeted adverts fueled by them) on their browsers because the data gathered hasn’t been offered to the company voluntarily by the consumer. Instead, as of 2023, brand websites will have to implement and use their own cookies to track user behaviour.

Moving Forward 

This customer-first attitude involves prioritising zero-party data (where customers intentionally and proactively share data with a brand) and first-party cookies, where a consumer provides consent on request, which companies can collect from their own website or other sources, for example their CRM system or surveys. 

Crucially, this data should be used to enrich the customer experience, with brands ensuring consumers get visible and tangible benefits from sharing their data. Using contextual analytics, marketers can still infer consumer behaviour and intent by analysing signals and patterns within both zero-party and first-party data to fuel the personalised experience. This is where MarTech can help to connect the brand with the right audience by utilising the relevant data they do have. Rather than focusing on a specific marketing channel like email, brands now need to consider the holistic customer journey and the many channels on which they can connect with consumers.

When putting this into practice, it’s essential that brands are transparent about how they are handling customer data and ensuring they give customers the choice to opt out. Asking permission and giving clear indications of how customer data is being used, is an essential part of using data ethically – a crucial step forward for data privacy. Marketers must also remember that even though this data has been given, it’s still not owned by the brand and therefore should not be abused. 

Conclusion

While many within the industry may lament the demise of the third-party cookie, forward-thinking brands and marketers should be embracing the opportunity to develop a customer-first approach to marketing activities—programs that are focused on how to get a relevant and meaningful message to the right person, at the right time, without compromising data privacy. There are exciting developments as alternatives to using third-party data including approaches that utilise automation and artificial intelligence, for example.

By embracing other targeted approaches and by-passing third-party cookies, choosing instead to focus on voluntary data from customers, brands will be able to develop better and deeper relationships with their audience. Additionally, choosing the right MarTech solution can support this shift in mindset and will lead to more dedicated and loyal customers. For brands and marketers alike, the cookie apocalypse doesn’t have to mean the world will crumble. Through focusing on data privacy and putting the customer first, brands will be able to move forward with confidence in the ‘cookie-less’ state.

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