By Rachel Feddema
Safari and Firefox no longer support third-party cookies and Google is planning to discontinue their use in Chrome by 2022. Why is this important? Phasing out third-party cookies will change digital marketing strategies drastically, alter how ads and digital content are experienced online, and potentially hinder our ability to understand and target key audiences.
Firstly, what are cookies?
Cookies are small text files that are stored in your browser when you visit a website. There are several different kinds of cookies and most contribute to improving user experience on the site. Third-party cookies are different as they originate from a different website domain, typically an ad exchange platform, such as Facebook. When they are placed in your browser they communicate information back to the ad exchange about actions you have taken on the website and other online activity.
Third-party cookies have been used in online marketing for over twenty-five years. They have made it possible to deliver content to the people who are most likely to engage with it, creating a relevant and personalized ad experience. Third-party cookies also allow for insight into the customer journey making it possible to understand which touch points are most impactful in driving intended outcomes.
Why are third-party cookies being removed?
Data privacy is the new priority. Concerns about the amount of personal information collected by third-party cookies have pushed Google to make these changes.
Why is this important for communication professionals?
Understanding your target audience is a key step in creating an effective communications strategy. Third-party cookie data can be used to build a better understanding of your audience, whether they be customers, potential clients, supporters, subscribers, or app users. It can also be used to enhance first-party data, such as expanding a customer profile within customer relationship management (CRM) software with details that provide a more holistic picture of the customer base without needing to survey individuals.
What can be done to prepare for these changes?
1. Prioritize collecting first-party data
Data that is owned by your organization is the most reliable for understanding your audience. Find strategic ways to have your audience provide their data to you directly. There are many techniques for this, even for businesses that do not sell to customers directly. Access to promotions, newsletters, better pricing, exclusive content, contests, or networking opportunities are all ways to offer something in exchange for personal information.
2. Identify existing first-party data sources and reinforce them
Review customer databases, email lists, and website traffic metrics, and consider how much insight can be gleaned from this information. Is it sorted and labelled accurately? Could any collection methods be updated to improve the quality of the data?
3. Use every touchpoint to improve data
Utilize CRM software and other sales management tools to document all touchpoints and collect data that will enrich your understanding of your audience. For example, email communication, website chat transcripts and call tracking can all be documented to help build audience profiles.
4. Make use of third-party data now while it is still available
Third-party cookie data has eroded over time, but Google’s decision will cause a dramatic decline as Chrome has over 60% of browser market share. If your organization is interested in utilizing audience matching to gain insights from third-party data, now is the time to learn what you can.
Over the next few years, we will likely see new ways of collecting data without third-party cookies emerge and offer solutions to replace some of the data insights that are being lost, but keeping a strong first-party data strategy will remain the most valuable investment in understanding your audience.