The future of third-party cookies: Prepare for Google’s ban
Facebook’s (now Meta) Cambridge Analytica scandal was not the inciting incident, so much as the spark that ignited years of increasing consumer hostility to online platforms and relentless consumer data collection. As early as 2016, two years before the scandal, trust in both Google and Facebook was extremely low, even in the minds of consumers that liked to use their products.
Consumer protection measures such as GDPR and CCPA have forced internet giants to deal with the growing backlash. One approach explored by Alphabet is looking at ways to switch up data collection. In one of the latest announcements, third-party cookies on Google’s Chrome browser will be blocked, although the deadline has been pushed back to 2023.
However, Google’s cookie ban raises interesting questions for marketers. Chrome, after all, represents a massive 63% share of total browser usage. With the future of third-party cookies for over half of internet users now inevitable, marketers that rely on them for data collection need to urgently rethink their strategies or permanently lose critical insights.
In this article, we’ll explore the impact of Google's third-party cookie ban from Chrome on marketers and identify general approaches you should take right now. The demise of cookies, coupled with the fact that Universal Analytics will stop receiving hits by 2023 means that time is running out and there is much work to be done.
What does the doomed future of third-party cookies mean for marketers?
There are direct and indirect impacts for marketers that should be understood to navigate the negative effects of the ban. In essence, the cookie ban has the potential to affect all digital marketing activity. The consequences of inaction will spread far beyond marketing campaigns.
- Current infrastructure: Marketing campaigns today are largely third-party based and use technologies like cookies and pixels.
- Tactical approaches: Marketing activities like retargeting which traditionally relied on cookies become less useful in the future.
- Campaign performance: Assessing campaign effectiveness will naturally become more challenging with decreasing visibility; the knock-on effect is that marketers' will find it harder to forecast and plan channel spend optimally.
- Purpose and mindset: Marketers will need to fundamentally rethink and be more purposeful with what they decide to collect and (crucially) why they are collecting data in the first place.
- Responsibility: Companies will need to be more responsible for the data they collect; there will be no third-party to blame if unethical practices are exposed.
- Conversions: Such a dramatic change to marketing processes, if unmanaged, may have an impact on the bottom line, especially if action isn’t taken quickly to mitigate consequences.
Despite the challenges of the declining future of third-party cookies, marketers should bear in mind that all is far from lost. There are reasons to be positive about the shift away from third-party cookies.
How can CMOs prepare for banned third-party cookies on Google?
1. Update your strategy
Migrate to a privacy-centric, first-party data collection strategy to offset the loss of data that will arise from the sunsetting of third party cookies. First-party data collection such as server-side methods allows marketers to retain their data collection capacity whilst adhering to user privacy requirements.
2. Audit activity
Audit your current marketing activity to determine which practices are server-side ready and begin planning for their migration.
3. Move what you can, now
At the moment, not all tags are server-side ready and therefore cannot be migrated to a first party system just yet. Phase the migration to give yourself time to get used to the new way of tracking and reporting ahead of the 2023 deadline.
4. Get consent
Moving to first-party data collection does not mean you can circumvent obtaining consent. With more control and visibility, comes more responsibility. The onus will become greater on marketers to ensure that data is collected responsibly and ethically with adequate processes for compliance and due diligence.
5. Keep up and keep informed
Stay up to date with industry innovations and regulatory updates. For example, Google recently announced their work on the new Topics API, which aims to provide businesses with tools to support privacy-safe advertising. Additionally, ask your agency partners what they are doing to help you make the smooth transition to a first party system.
6. Learn the unknown
Leverage data science to fill in knowledge gaps using analysis and modelling methods to estimate performance from less data or a smaller sample size.
7. Review compliance
Review compliance policies and update where necessary. Marketing processes may need adjusting and it’s likely your staff will need training to deal with new requirements and expectations.
The cookie apocalypse: A golden opportunity for CMOs?
It is not all doom and gloom. For a start, first party methods of data collection such as server-side collection can be implemented relatively quickly. With greater visibility and control via first party systems, accuracy could also improve. Research has shown that data from third party cookies can be inaccurate.
CMOs will need to ensure that their websites work hard to gain the trust of customers, so that they consent to marketing activities. It isn’t impossible, but it will require effort on the part of marketers. Content must be trustworthy, authoritative and meaningful. Customer service must be exemplary. Processes will need to be transparent, quick and robust.
Now is also as good a time as any to experiment and diversify your marketing mix. CMOs can consider investing in activities that prioritise human interaction over cold conversion stats. Social media and video channels are often neglected because creator-led content is more focused on quality engagement. However, they’re essential mediums for boosting consumer trust.
The cookie apocalypse isn’t the end of the world for CMOs
In the face of the challenge, CMOs must remain stubbornly optimistic. Beyond the initial shock to the system, the change will be far better for organisations in the long run. Companies that demonstrate care and consideration for their customers through ethical operations have much to gain.
More importantly, the change is likely to bring about an increase in data discipline, with organisations only tracking what they need. As a result, companies can focus on what matters most: performing better marketing and maybe (just maybe) earning back some much-needed goodwill from the public at large.
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