How to thrive in a cookie-free marketing landscape

Healthcare Marketing Cookieless Tracking Digital Marketing

It’s finally time to say goodbye to tracking cookies. In 2024, Google will officially phase out 3rd party tracking cookies. It all started  with the disabling of third-party cookies from 1% of users in Q1 which amounted to about 30 million people. The immediate impact on programmatic advertising will likely ruffle a few feathers, so there’s no time like the present to start preparing. 

How are third-party cookies currently used?

Cookies are small data files, stored on users’ browsers which track online behaviors and preferences, enabling targeted advertising. While first-party cookies are restricted to the domain that set them, third-party cookies can track your behavior across different websites. A third-party cookie can be accessed on any website that uses the same advertising or analytics service. The data collected by these cookies is aggregated over time to build a detailed profile of the users interests, preferences, and online behavior. 

For a long time, marketers and marketing use third-party cookie data to create highly targeted, highly effective advertising and remarketing campaigns, resulting in higher CTRs and conversion rates which deliver improved ROI to advertisers. Additionally, third-party cookies provide valuable insights into consumer behavior across a multitude of digital channels, taking the place of consumers insights reports. 

What’s changing and how does it impact marketers?

As you know, the world of third-party cookie tracking is changing due to increasing privacy concerns and new data-privacy legislation. Privacy has become a paramount concern for internet users and legislation, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, has set stringent guidelines for data collection and user consent. Since then, browsers like Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and Brave have implemented intelligent tracking protection mechanisms, effectively banning third-party cookies. Google disabling third-party cookies is a bit delayed.

Despite the clear shift towards a cookieless future, many advertisers are lagging in adapting to this change. According to a 33Across report, as late as the third quarter of 2023, cookies were still used in over 78% of programmatic ad buys across various industries. Interestingly, some advertisers are even increasing their spend on cookie-based ads, a move that seems contrary to the industry’s trajectory, and not advisable.

A cookieless world presents a bevy of opportunity

The move away from cookies is by no means the end of effective, targeted marketing but rather a shift towards more innovative and consumer-friendly practices. After all, effective marketing and advertising were happening long before cookies burst onto the scene. Consider this a great opportunity to revisit traditional marketing activities and get creative with new approaches. As cookies become obsolete, marketing teams will need access to data from different sources, starting from within the organization. The best way to accomplish this is by breakdowning siloed teams (hello, marketing and sales) and pooling data resources to generate a more comprehensive understanding of your audience. Not to mention a more aligned organization overall. This period of transition is also an ideal time for brands to re-establish direct connections with their customers, focusing on trust and transparency.

Five tips to thrive in a cookieless world

As the industry moves away from cookies, several strategies can help marketers stay ahead.

  1. Collect first-party data!Prioritizing the collection of first-party data—data given directly by customers—is crucial as it is reliable, complies with privacy regulations, and your organization owns it directly. First-party data can be anything from surveys and polls to newsletter email lists and direct mail. However, just because you’re loosing access to third-party cookies, doesn’t mean you should bombard your audience. Sprinkle more first-party data collection methods into your broader marketing strategy gradually.
  2. Employ AI tools for advertisingAI tools can analyze large sets of first-party data to uncover customer patterns and preferences without infringing on privacy. Additionally, AI-bidding gives you access to past data to determine optimal ad placement. Google’s Smart Bidding feature can help organizations improve performance and witness a better return on ads using machine learning. AI tools are unique in that, as they learn over time, the predictions and results should get better as the actions of your audience become more clear. 
  3. Reacquaint yourself with your audienceThe overall effectiveness of highly targeted marketing ads and the barrage of marketing data may have made us complacent. However, with third-party cookies going away, understanding your audience has never been more important. Now is the perfect time to reengage with them and learn their current preferences and needs.
  4. Test and innovate!The absence of cookies demands innovation. Testing new strategies and tactics will be vital to finding what resonates with your audience in this new landscape. Be sure to consider A/B testing, consumer feedback, client engagement, and conversion metrics. They are all helpful in understanding which messaging, design, and channels resonate the most with your audience. Also, the idea of applying more traditional marketing techniques, like print advertising, TV, and mail, from a new lens is exciting and makes it feel fresh. Overall, there really is no limit to what you can do with a little creativity.
  5. Context-based advertisingShifting towards context-based advertising, where ads are placed based on the content of a webpage, channel, or place, rather than user behavior, can be a powerful alternative to cookie-based targeting. For instance, placing sporting goods ads on a sports news website or outdoor podcast. This way, you can target a broad, yet specific audience and provide a more natural user experience, as opposed to remarketing where your ad would pop up on a site that might not have anything to do with the topic.

While the loss of third-party cookies might have a big impact on programmatic advertising, a cookieless world isn’t a complete upset for marketers. Choosing to look at it as a catalyst for building more sustainable, highly connected marketing funnels and strategies can help your organization set the right tone and excel no matter the circumstances. Welcome to the cookieless marketing world; at least we still have actual cookies to look forward to!