Cookieless should lead us in the right direction – back to fundamentals

Adam Peck, UK Sales Director at Audience Store, offers advice to marketers on deadling with the imminent death of the cookie.

Barely a year ago, Google’s choice to turn its back on third-party cookies was scheduled to be the big panic of 2020/21 for digital marketers. That didn’t entirely pan out after another, far bigger panic arrived. All the same, 2021 remains the year in which the data-driven marketing business needs to finalise its post-cookie plans for targeting and attribution, before Google’s finger starts trembling over the cookie shut-off switch in Q1 2022.

Much is still being thrashed out at industry-wide and tech-giant war-room level, and ongoing developments are both generally reassuring and too involved to recap in detail. But for those who are worried about the total collapse of targeted marketing, it’s safe to assume that Google won’t remove the cornerstone of its digital advertising business until it has sturdy replacement pieces.

In the meantime, talk of the withdrawal of the third-party cookie should serve a couple of useful purposes for digital marketers. One is a reminder that marketing and advertising need to work for consumers if they are going to work for anyone else. The rampant popularity of ad-blockers indicates that it is a positive step to discard antiquated, privacy-infringing methods in search of solutions that are more innovative, more consensual and less intrusive.

Another is a gentle nudge towards a few sound fundamentals that may sometimes have been neglected amid the one-to-one practices that have proliferated in recent times. Here are three that come to mind:

1. Content alignment is vital
It is essential that brands get their online content right at all stages of the customer journey. The experiences of the pandemic are useful here, because they show that when audiences shift, so should our marketing certainties.

As shops have closed, for instance, some retailers have seen their web audience swing sharply from older to younger consumers. A brand that didn’t recognise that behavioural and demographic change might miss the opportunity – or, worse still, find itself at odds with consumers it didn’t quite understand.

So brands all need to be aligning content for a fragmented marketplace. At every digital touchpoint, we should be making sure our content is specific and tailored to the audience that sees it. That means creating bespoke formats for specific customer journeys and designing creative for each platform. These are the kind of details that make a big difference.

2. Leverage your first-party data
First-party data becomes vital in the post-cookie era. Without the ability to pull in identifying information from third-party sources, brands’ own interactions with their customers become more significant, and those who can foster rich, mutually beneficial relationships have far less to lose.

Immense amounts of insight are available to those who are willing and able to leverage their own first-party data through DMPs and CDPs. For instance, CRM data can legitimately be used to target display campaigns, working with premium publishers to activate their own data against publishers’ own first-party identifiers.

Identifiers that map to an individual across various devices are an important piece of the puzzle. These depend on a brand having a relationship with the customer and require user consent, but through companies such as The Trade Desk and LiveRamp, they are growing fast and becoming far more scalable, as well as being privacy-conscious.

3. Trust your gut instincts
While much will change in a cookieless world, our new digital environment offers great opportunities as well as challenges, and should serve as a memory-jogging reboot to draw us back to a few basic truths. Cookies are essentially just technology, which comes and goes, while the core principles of marketing remain the same: trust your instincts, know your customers, and speak to them in ways they appreciate.

A comparatively anonymised web requires different approaches, but it still leaves smart brands with plenty of options. Ultimately, they must endeavour to understand audiences at a broader level. The winners in the new landscape will be those who go about that task with the greatest diligence and imagination.