When Less is More: Making Cookie-Less Marketing Work

By Talia Arnold, Head of Strategy and Planning at Exverus Media

Cookies: they’re relics of a time—1994 to be exact—when the success of a regional direct marketing campaign was often based on the ability of a local teen to stuff postcards through a letterbox. Today, cookies are a digital marketer’s comfort food—fulfilling a need for better audience insights and more accessible pathways to consumer engagement and measurement.

Cookies may have led to the rise of digital media and performance marketing, but privacy advocates claimed they were cheap calories. And like a teenager filling up on Oreos and soda for an extra boost of energy—marketers know, deep down, that this is just not sustainable.

Consumer preferences for how and when we interact with media have changed, and so has our ability to process and employ data. We cannot hold on to the cookie for comfort anymore, so it’s time to talk about the brave new world before us. Which, if we manage it correctly, may be better than the one we are leaving behind.

But like any redemption story, we need to start with the gloom. Here are three ways the cookie’s demise will impact digital advertising:

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  1. It means the end of the aggregated third-party data tracking model. Trying to reach Men 18-34 who consume surfing and knitting content? User profiles aggregated by data companies to inform the content and advertising a user sees are going away. This affects nearly every digital advertiser.
  2. Retargeting will be kneecapped. First-party cookies that track consumers off of your website will now be severely limited. This handicaps one of a marketer’s most efficient tactics.
  3. Say goodbye to frequency capping as we know it. Frequency-capping across sites and channels will be blocked as third-party networks become unable to track users across other websites. You may have liked that State Farm ad the first six times, but by the sixtieth viewing, you could feel differently.
  4. Digital measurement will be a shell of itself. As we have already seen from Apple’s iOS changes, measuring and attributing sales events is opaque at best without cookies. In 2023, this will get significantly worse, requiring a host of new privacy-compliant measurement solutions.

What could replace the cookie? Fortunately, a set of solutions that you likely already have in hand.

Get Reacquainted with First-Party Data…For Creative

We know you hear endlessly about using first-party data for media targeting, but it can do so much more. Just like the data from cookies, your existing audience, given the right incentives, can provide valuable insights on how to craft a long-term marketing strategy. Whether it’s drawn from polls, homepage analytics or content engagement tracking, your brand’s first-party data provides the best, most intimate portrait of the messaging that your audience will respond to (or resist). Utilize that priceless data to build creative that speaks in the unique language of your audience.

Although third-party cookies are on their way out the door – that doesn’t mean that data-driven insights will also melt away. Consumers will continue to browse, shop, and post regardless of a cookie’s presence, and thankfully, that data does not have to go to waste. Instead, the right creative can leverage insights from current first-party data sets to build powerful messaging that resonates (and evolves) as your audience’s preferences and needs change.

Optimize Content for a Content-Weary World

Just like you hear about first-party data, you are also hearing about “context” right now. So let’s go a step further and consider the content we are providing consumers.

Your consumers, brand, and probably your marketing team are awash in content. Today’s marketing content must conform to a higher standard since you are not only competing with ads and interactive experiences, you’re also going up against the likes of on-demand goodies like Succession and everything on TikTok. Your digital ads and content must not only be brilliant, timely, and well-targeted, but they need to render demonstrable value almost instantly since everything these days is skippable, blockable, or easy to scroll past. Therefore, marketers should target ads and long-form content to an audience that is not only discerning but inundated with high-quality digital content and interactive experiences that are also appealing and data-driven.

Keep It Simple (and Substantive)

Every interaction is a choice—and choice is driven by motivation. What makes your audience “desire” to interact with an ad or a digital experience? Your data (and common sense) will tell you that interactions are driven by need – “I want to feel inspired” or “I need to learn how to solve my problem” is much more compelling than “That’s a clever ad – who made that?” Cookies may tell us that your consumer came from a specific website, but they won’t get them to stay on yours. Deliver powerful answers to your audiences’ needs by focusing on the user experience – what they want to take away from this experience – rather than a sales pitch. Not sure what that is? Amplify your brand’s place in your audience’s very human hierarchy of needs – what would your audience want to feel, learn, or be reassured of at any time? How can your brand fill the role of “the answer,” a desirable experience, or the catalyst of a new idea? Asserting your brand’s place in your targeted audiences’ lives means looking beyond cookie-based data to the evergreen relevance of your brand’s value to the consumer.

Communicating that value as actionable insight to your audience isn’t dependent on a cookie—it’s part of what we do – an expression of your expertise and creativity.

And what about measurement? Currently, several newer measurement and attribution tools for digital marketers are generating interest in the industry:

Authenticated Traffic Solution (ATS).

Okay, this is less measurement and more a partial cookie replacement. ATS is the next step beyond authenticated identifiers. This connects the user login (email address) with publishers and platforms to enable retargeting, audience building, insights, and attribution in a secure manner. Simple example? Your New York Times subscriber ID is used to target specific ads to you within the NYTimes digital advertising ecosystem.

The question you need to ask yourself in 2022 is Who am I partnering with to render ATS data actionable and prepare for 2023?

Modeled conversions.

Panel-based attribution and measurement use authenticated IDs as a sample for measuring overall campaign performance. For example, if my campaign reaches 100 people, but I only have access to 30 authenticated IDs, I will base my CPA and ROAS on those 30 IDs and extrapolate the rest. Ideal? No. But possibly game-changing? Yes.

Clean room attribution models.

Clean rooms are secure, data privacy regulation-compliant digital environments. They allow consumers to consume content, interact across multiple platforms, and automatically share online behavioral and search data. Think of it like an “escrow account” for data – the ‘funds’ in this case, are the customer data, and user information is held until all the necessary conditions are met (stripped of any non-compliant personally identifiable data).

Moving Forward

This may seem like a lot to take in, and it is. Thankfully, this is one of the rare cases where less can be more – the disappearance of the third-party cookie means powerful new uses for your first-party data and a new, starring role for creative and data-savvy marketers. With these addressed and new measurement and accountability in place, brands will continue to grow their digital marketing budgets this year, next year and well beyond. Are you ready?

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