One of the best cookies in this world is gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and it lives on the browser of our leads, prospects and customers. These cookies have helped marketers (and salespeople) understand the decision-making process a visitor of a website goes through before becoming a customer.
Mapping out customer journeys enables marketers to continuously improve on the purchasing process by identifying blockers or gaps that slow down or prevent visitors from finding what they need, when they need it, on a website.
However, as most of you will have heard, privacy laws and reviewing access to data means the world of cookies is changing. Let’s explore how these changes will affect you and what to keep an eye on to stay up to date.
1. Understanding cookies and how they work
What you’re agreeing to
Cookies (also called HTTP cookies, browser cookies, web cookies or internet cookies) are small files created to collect and store user data and activities on a website.
When you agree to accept a website’s cookie, you are essentially giving the website permission to remember you and your activity – including the pages you visited, links you clicked, products or services you checked out. With this data the cookie has collected, it will be able to identify you when you return to the site and begin to offer a more tailored experience.
This has worked extremely effectively in the e-commerce space. Cookies are the reason sites like Amazon recommend items curiously similar to what you’ve been searching for recently, rather than offering you products at random. It’s a handy trick – if a little spooky at times!
2. Assessing cookies and the presenting issues
Cookies aren’t inherently bad. There are many different types which offer different uses – we’ll carry on by taking a closer look at first-party and third-party cookies.
First-party cookies share your information to the website’s owner and are created by the webpage publisher. They are unique to the website and any analytical data they collect can only be accessed by the owner of the website. The user can request the website owner to delete all of their data at any time (as per GDPR guidelines).
For example; Amazon recognises you when you log in, saves items you added to cart for when you revisit, and recommends products to you based on your preferences.
Third-party cookies are created by anyone other than the website owner – most commonly, as tracking cookies by third-party advertisers. Once you give permission for a third-party cookie to track you, the ad company that created the cookie will be able to show you ads for products or services hoping you will buy something.
Third-party cookies are the ones that track you all over the internet showing you ads that seem to follow you around.
3. What does the future hold?
Apple’s Safari has been updating its Intelligent Tracking Prevention and included a full third-party cookie blocking in 2020. Firefox followed suit and introduced ‘Total Cookie Protection’ in 2021. If, or rather, when Google Chrome, currently with over 65% browser market share, blocks third-party cookies, it will be the end of third-party cookies.
If that is not making you shake, the recent news on several EU countries banning the use of Google Analytics for violating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), should. The adjustments required for the use of Google Analytics to be considered ‘legal’ mean users data is completely anonymised by GA and users will be able to choose whether to consent to Google Analytics reporting on their activities. If you want to look a bit further, read on about usage of Google Analytics is in compliance with the GDPR.
Now that we can no longer track users and their behaviours via third-party cookies, we need to visualise user journeys via first party cookies – meaning strategies may need to alter to incorporate the change. Advertisement retargeting could require a re-think, and we might lose precious insights on how users arrived at our websites.
These changes signal to advertisers and marketers an urgent need to develop new digital advertising tools that protect users’ privacy but also provide a pathway for advertisers to reach their audiences.
Google seemingly achieved this in 2021 when FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) was introduced. It was Google’s solution for ad targeting in replacement of third-party cookies, and it came with plans to transition all Chrome users to it by 2023.
But in less than a year Google scrapped FLoC and replaced it with Topics API, a privacy-safe and cookieless advert targeting solution. Topics API assigns generalised topics to users based on their browsing behaviour, instead of relying on all the data and preferences of an individual. Advertisers will be equipped with the tools to target audiences which match their topics.
4. What will the marketers do?
We can all understand the occurrence of these changes, if not from a marketing perspective, then from our own consumer lens. Who wants to be stalked all over the web? As well as data’s value just skyrocketing in today’s digital world. Privacy policies and legislation will continue to be amended to keep up with technology and the issues that may present – this will not change.
The challenges for marketers will be seen particularly around generating new leads and retargeting users. Those who are heavily reliant on digital advertising and/or those without a strong first party data strategy and usage will be the most affected.
Remember to keep an eye out for changes within these topics:
This has always been, and now more than ever, the most valuable data. Information collected in accordance with data privacy laws, both online and offline, from your website, in your marketing automation tool, CRM, collected from events and conferences, is the data you will continue to be permitted to use.
Take a look at how your organisation is using data. Are the different software platforms you use for CRM, Marketing automation, analytics etc. linked so that you are able to have a 360 degree view of your consumer base?
Without the correct software interaction, you leave yourself open to missing patterns, reporting, being in sync with other teams and so much more. Use your salestech and martech software to its full capabilities!
Without third-party cookies ‘learning’ about the types of ads that resonate best with our target audience, marketers will need to work on creating an engaging experience throughout our customers’ journey by listening to what first-party data is telling us. The move to personalised marketing is already under way – but that is a topic in itself for another day.
Google’s Privacy Sandbox
Keep a close eye on how Topics API is going. Google has begun testing its latest solution from the Privacy Sandbox and like everything new, there is mixed consensus on Topics API filling the shoes of third-party cookies and adhering to privacy laws at the same time. See what other marketers think about this here.
A plausible alternative to the end of Third-party cookies that is in the works is publisher cohorts-based advertising. Publishers are the owners, or “sellers” of digital ad space online. Since they own the ad space, they are the “first-party”, which means they have access to first-party data collected from these digital ad spaces. Development might be in its infancy as there is not a lot of information on its progress at the time of writing. The concept looks to be similar to what Google’s Topics API is trying to achieve, the difference is where the data sits; one is with Google, the other is with the publishers.
The future in the digital space may look challenging at the moment with third-party cookies phasing out – but between AdTech giants like Google developing privacy-oriented solutions, and the abundant creativity of marketers, there is a way forwards.
This is not the time to sit back. Change is happening in real time, so let’s be ready to unlearn old truths and prepare ourselves for new ways to reach our customers.
If you would like to discuss how we can help you navigate these changes, please contact us here.