A quick start guide to… marketing without cookies

The world of advertising is fast-moving. We’re here to help clients and consumers navigate that change. At the moment, few shifts are as meteoric as the future of ‘cookies’. So, here’s the lowdown:

Cookies are little bundles of information sent to your browser by websites you visit. They contain info that makes it easier for the website — and advertisers — to tailor content to each user and improve their experience.

Years back, following the onset of GDPR, you’ll have noticed ‘cookie permission’ popups in increasing numbers, prompting you to opt in or out of tracking. Since, Apple and Google have further accelerated towards a ‘cookieless’ future, with data privacy concerns the principal driver for change.

Third-party data collection may have fuelled the bulk of our web experiences over the past decade, but ‘cookieless’ browsing is evidently becoming the future, and fast.

We’re here to answer the questions on every marketer’s mind:

  • What does the future of marketing look like without cookies?
  • What’s out there already?
  • How can I make sure I’m ready?

What does the future of marketing look like without cookies?
It’s safe to say that digital ad measurement will be more tricky in a cookieless world. With ad blockers, diminishing cookies and an increase in walled-gardens in paid advertising, the movement of data between platforms is more prohibited than ever before. Cookies have also been the backbone of the programmatic industry since their inception. Their loss will see dramatic changes to frequency capping, audience targeting, retargeting and measurement.

If businesses and agencies don’t act swiftly, there will be unprecedented data gaps in each of their target user’s browsing journey, making it more difficult to determine conversion paths and advertise effectively.

But — there are solutions!

What’s out there already?
Alas, the algorithms. Each website has its themes and distinctions. Each has keywords and broader metadata. Initially at least, cookieless advertising will largely rely on machine learning to determine which ads are best suited to the web environment. Users that visit the site will therefore see content that’s pertinent to their needs at that time.

Topics API. After announcing its phasing out of third-party cookies, Google announced that it “will not implement alternative user-level identifiers” to replace them. It has, however, introduced Google Topics API — a proposed privacy-friendly replacement for third-party cookies. This browser-based system assigns each visitor/user a set of interests according to the websites they’ve visited. It’s an on-device data tracking solution that powers personalisation — user data is never shared with the advertiser, publisher, or Google.

Server-side tracking. This solution means you don’t add third-party pixels to your website. Instead, you track and send users’ data direct to your own servers. It’s more costly, but it prevents some data being blocked by firewalls and browsers. Similarly, some businesses anonymise user identities through IDs or hashed email addresses.

How can I make sure I’m ready?
Explore, test and take a view on each of the solutions outlined above, and more!

In the immediate future, it’s key that companies leverage first-party data — that which is passively collected from web analytics, social, CRM, and email marketing, amongst other forms. There’s also zero-party data: information that your customers/users willingly and proactively provide you — be it their demographics, buying habits, pain points and contact info. You can get this through registration systems, questionnaires, surveys, social polls and more. Naturally, then, having a holistic view of your UX will aid in gaining this kind of data.

It’s always a good idea to analyse and model conversion data, but all the more so now that cookies are more sparse. This can help you fill in gaps in user journey and create a richer, more perrsonalised experience to your customer base. .

At a higher level, be ready to seriously review your media mix approach and reinventing cookie-related media spend. This is something we’re doing with our clients, leaning more on direct media buys as we explore the future of programmatic.

Finally — think holistically! Cookies aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of advertising. User experience is about much more. Take a look at your Google Core Web Vitals to see how your UX and site speed can be optimised.

One thing is evident: advertisers will need to explore a range of options to ensure they’re remaining effective post-cookies. At Hybrid, we have monthly meetings with Google, which means we stay ahead of the latest changes and trends in attribution modelling, and the end of third party cookies. We are mastering a mixed media modelling approach to post-cookie tracking and advertising. Lots of testing, lots of statistical modelling, and a holistic approach to this universal challenge.

Get in touch with us to find out more!