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Your cookieless world can still be sweet: Thriving in a zero-party data reality

Team MessageFlow
15 min
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February 6, 2024

A new era in online marketing is upon us. We’re getting a taste of the cookieless future, as Google is testing Tracking Protection in the world’s most popular Chrome browser in order to limit cross-domain tracking. As third-party cookies become increasingly non-applicable, marketers will have to start relying way more on first- and zero-party data in their digital advertising campaigns and business communication efforts. There’s still time for you to adapt to this new reality but you need to start acting now. Here’s everything you need to know to prepare for a cookieless future.

Cookies - a marketing staple becoming obsolete

There are several types of cookie files containing data allowing you to identify the user and their device, which allows for better UX and user preferences optimization, as well as running retargeting campaigns involving personalized ads. These include: 

  • First-party cookies - used and owned by the specific site you visit. They provide insights into user preferences and behavioral data.

  • Second-party cookies - rarely used, mostly when working with a business partner for cross-referencing of data.

  • Third-party cookies - placed in the user’s browser by a third party, other than the site they’re on. In fact, browsers like Safari have been limiting the use of these cookies since 2017 and Firefox since 2019. 

In the light of changes gradually being rolled out, third-party cookies won’t be used or accepted by Google Chrome by default. Running digital campaigns will require you to rely on information of the first- and zero-party type collected via direct interactions with the customers.

The effects of terminating third-party data cookies

The changes Google is starting to officially bring in will first and foremost benefit the Internet user, which at the end of the day we’re all are. Overarching regulations like GDPR and a growing customers’ privacy concerns have led to changes in cookie policy.

What the third-party cookie cut-off means is:

  • greater user privacy for everyone

  • less precise ad targeting

  • analytics based on third-party cookies taking a hit

  • growing importance of first-party cookies

  • potential issues for smaller companies that don’t have a lot of own user data

  • growing importance of explicit user consent

No cookies, no problem - here’s how you can adapt to a world without them

Well, it’s been decided so it’s time for you to start designing a marketing data collection strategy that doesn’t include third-party cookies if you haven’t already. Frankly, the cookieless world doesn't intend to only benefit customers while working against businesses and their marketing and advertising strategies. It’s simply a new situation in which you can still expand your digital marketing efforts while perhaps using even more reliable data. Upon reading this article, you’ll be better prepared for a future without cookies and ready to take the next step.

1. Start building your own first-party data base 

First- and zero-party data is becoming your greatest ally, allowing you to precisely target and personalize the overall experience and communication. 

Own data is a massive asset, as exemplified by companies that have been collecting it for some time now. Regardless of the cookie policy changes, this is as great a moment as any to start gathering customer data using your own means. 

Utilize newsletters, registration and subscription forms, online events and webinars, partnerships, surveys, social media interactions, chatbots, loyalty programs, and other means like your website visits or app data to build customer profiles and create more efficient communication.

2. Google Privacy Sandbox as a solution in the cookieless future

Although still in development, Google’s Privacy Sandbox is an initiative that aims to allow for a more private web browsing experience while keeping room for advertising. The main goal is to be able to still show you relevant ads without peeking into the user identity or sharing it with third parties.

This cross-industry project involving a number of global brands aims to improve user privacy online and in Android apps. Its eventual full implementation depends on the approval by lawmakers and is supposed to serve as something of an alternative solution to the third-party cookies phase-out.

Three key technologies involved in this project are:

Topics API 

Its role is to allow you to reach users who show interest in particular topic areas. This API is  labeling the visited websites according to predefined categories and then passess on a number of the most popular of these topics/categories to the browser which shares them with websites a user visits to help businesses display more relevant ads. The browser will act as an aggregator here, while also allowing users to manage these categories

Protected Audience API 

This technology involves a user’s browser storing topics of interests defined by an ad publisher and then facilitates the display of various product categories. The goal is to attract the attention of users who haven’t previously converted or have abandoned the cart. There’s no collecting and sharing of user information to multiple third parties via cookies involved here - data privacy is kept as a priority.

Attribution Reporting API 

The goal here is to allow advertisers to measure the efficiency of their ads without tracking user activity in websites and apps. The information they’ll obtain will be along the lines of “a purchase was made” but the details of the browsing activity will be kept private. 

3. Use alternative user IDs 

Consider implementing user IDs not involving cookies. There are two major types of these:

Deterministic user IDs which are based on specific details provided by the user themself, allowing for their identification. This may include an Email address, for example, which is being encrypted to protect the privacy. Utilizing these IDs still requires user consent. Explore solutions like Unified ID 2.0, RampID, or SharedID if you’d like to go ahead with this.

Probabilistic user IDs which are based on user behavior, their device specifications, or the browser they use. These are built drawing on the digital footprint without explicit user consent, which isn’t ideal.

4. Turn to marketing automation and customer data platform

While its implementation in some form in 2024 is sort of a must, marketing automation will help you adapt to the new digital environment where personal data grows in importance. The advantages stemming from it include:

  • greater efficiency and personalization of communication

  • higher user engagement

  • streamlined marketing processes

  • campaign tracking and analysis 

Importantly, if you decide to use some sort of a customer data platform aggregating information coming in from various sources, it may be wise to consider adding a customer communication and engagement platform to your tech stack as well, that will be able to receive and process the raw data from CDP via an API connection.

5. Consider contextual advertising campaigns

In the face of retargeting being rendered largely impossible with the cessation of support for third-party cookies, contextual advertising will likely experience revival and grow in importance as it doesn’t rely on customer profiles or their previous behavior. 

This is so because you’re reaching potential buyers in an environment that already lies within their interests. Your ads are being displayed based on the content of the website a user is currently viewing. Thus, mastering contextual advertising may prove to be particularly important as we approach the end of third-party cookies. On the business side of this, it’ll be essential to devote time to understand what makes users tick, what types of content they consume, and what sites they visit.

Preparing for a cookieless world - planning your online marketing in 2024 and beyond

The issue of Google stopping support for third-party cookies holds a lot of weight moving forward and is a sign that a lot will change in the digital marketing landscape in 2024. The good news is it’s not too late for you to adjust but it’s best to get on top of things right away.

Your game plan for the foreseeable future that will help you thrive in this new cookie-less world should involve:

  • realizing the importance of own data and starting to collect it ASAP, you’ll need it down the line anyway

  • creating an ecosystem for steady and seamless collection of more first- and zero-party data that will work best for your organization  

  • considering using a combination of approaches discussed here, as diversification will increase the efficiency

  • looking into the Google Sandbox initiative and whether it may come in handy for your business in terms of targeting ads

One final takeaway is that data by itself, no matter how detailed, will not translate to business results on its own. It’s key that you have an effective marketing strategy as well for putting it to good use.

Learn How to efficiently use zero-party data in marketing communication, turn raw data into customer segments, and set up efficient campaigns aimed at them.

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