Third-Party Cookies: 6 Marketing Alternatives.
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Third-Party Cookies: 6 Marketing Alternatives

Big changes are coming for digital cookies, the text files that track consumer behavior online, as Google Chrome phases them out by 2024. The good news for advertisers is the change only impacts third-party cookies, which are placed on a site via a third party — hence the name. First-party cookies, which are created and stored by the site a user visits — and help browsers remember user-specific data like passwords and the items shoppers leave in their carts — will remain.

The reason third-party cookies are “dying” is in part because they follow consumers to multiple sites and collect tons of data along the way, including age, gender, location, websites visited, subpages visited, and time spent on each.

While this intelligence is great for marketers seeking to reach the right consumer on the right device at the right moment, it isn’t necessarily great for consumer privacy. And, in recent years, with the rise of ad blockers, as well as regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), it’s safe to say third-party cookies have fallen out of favor.

While marketers who have depended on third-party cookies may be in a panic about what to do next, it’s important to remember these cookies aren’t actually as useful as they once were. In fact, a 2017 survey found 64% of cookies were blocked or deleted by browsers. That has likely only increased since.

As the countdown to third-party cookiegeddon is officially underway, let’s take a look at some viable alternatives for marketers:

1. Use More First-Party Data

A good place to start is with what you probably already have: first-party data, which you may very well have overlooked during the third-party cookie era.

If you think you don’t have enough first-party data, now’s the time to do something about it. But first, have you considered all the touchpoints at which consumers interact with your brand? When you pull in data from sources like call centers, social media, and POS systems, you may very well have more first-party data than you realize. And, of course, you can also invite customers to share additional data to help build out your customer profiles each time you interact.

The challenge is to then make sense of all the first-party data you have on your customers and to make the best use of it, which will likely require partnering with the right customer data platform (CDP).

2. Beef Up Your Third-Party Data

Yes, we did just talk about how third-party cookies are nearly dead — but that doesn’t mean third-party data is dead, too. To help round out your first-party data, you can partner with a vendor whose sole focus is collecting third-party data — make sure you pick a partner who is in compliance with all existing privacy regulations, or you’ll both end up in hot water.

3. Take Advantage of Contextual Targeting

An older but nevertheless still relevant strategy is contextual targeting, which scans site content and images in order to serve relevant ads, which in this case means both the ad and the site rank for similar keywords. Instead of third-party cookies, which fuel behavioral targeting, this tactic focuses on search terms and site content. It’s actually sort of like what media buying used to be when advertisers like Don Draper types would buy time during TV shows with audiences similar to a brand’s target demographic. Contextual targeting may even boost brand safety as marketers play a more active role in deciding where their ads will appear and what content is safe and unsafe.

Just note you will have to develop specific buyer personas and just the right tone in order to capitalize on contextual targeting — and you’ll need first-party data.

4. Seek Out New Walled Gardens

Another option is to consider walled gardens beyond Facebook, including platforms like Pinterest, Twitter, and TikTok. The right platform will, of course, depend on the audience your brand is trying to reach, but at this point, virtually all social media platforms offer robust advertising solutions to play around with.

The benefit to working with walled gardens beyond the Duopoly is access to even more first-party data as these platforms can track consumers across devices when they are logged in.

Brands and martech companies can also use these platforms to collect more first-party data of their own as they engage audiences there.

5. Consider Emerging Channels

Emerging channels like advanced TV (ATV), podcast advertising, and digital billboards are similar to walled gardens. They operate independently of third-party cookies and will therefore be immune to any cookie-related changes now or in the future.

ATV advertising, for example, includes connected TV (CTV) and over-the-top (OTT) channels. It targets viewers through their devices using an Identifier for Advertising (IFA), which is like a third-party cookie but tied to a device instead of a browser. It allows the device itself to collect user data, but advertisers don’t have access to any identifiable data, making it a better option for consumer privacy overall.

Meanwhile, many companies are trying to bring the intelligence programmatic advertising has benefited from for so long to these new channels to boost ad relevance and performance. So far, most early adopters have been big brands with big budgets, so this could help democratize the landscape for smaller players.

6. Look for CDPs and Platform Ecosystems

As we speak, Google is working on its Privacy Sandbox initiative to help marketers reach their target audiences by anonymously aggregating user data or keeping more user data on devices only. But it’s not alone. CDPs are also developing new ways to help brands better capitalize on first-party data.

Many companies are even building ecosystems by integrating with platforms that enrich their offerings. Today, the list includes Klaviyo, which has an ecosystem of 70+ API integrations; MailChimp, which has 250+ integrations; Hubspot, which has 500+ integrations; and Demandbase, which has 40+ integrations. This helps boost the profile of second-party cookies, or those that result from data partnerships between companies. Until now, second-party cookies haven’t really been in vogue  — with some marketing professionals questioning their very existence. But the disappearance of third-party cookies might change that.

Building these ecosystems allows marketers to better utilize first-party data for audience targeting, personalization, and orchestration and has become central to companies focused on marketing and marketing automation. It’s also worth noting that there’s a growing trend of interoperability, collaboration, and API integrations in the martech industry, so expect to see more in this space.

RIP, Third-Party Cookies

Ultimately, the death of third-party cookies should benefit both consumers and brands. The former will retain more data privacy online, while the latter will eventually be able to tap into newer, more effective alternatives.

It’s worth noting we still don’t know what’s to come from Google and CDPs, so advertisers would be wise to watch this space to see what emerges as time goes on. But, in the meantime, there are a number of solid alternatives brands can use to test and learn to figure out what works best. And if you’re looking for an experienced partner to help guide the way, AdRoll is ready to help.