Data Goes on a Diet: What does the Post-Cookie World Look Like?
The amount of information Google, Facebook, and digital marketing and advertising teams on the internet have about us is truly immense. Some reporters have downloaded millions of files in just their Google profile (I was too scared actually to do this myself). Through third-party cookies and fingerprinting, advertisers can get a relatively specific picture of every user and visitor to websites and SaaS products.
Take a look at your Google Ad Settings, and you can get a peek at what they know about you. I used a coworker as a guinea pig. I learned the following things about them: their favorite holiday is Halloween, they listen to Folk & Traditional music, are probably looking at buying combat sports equipment, drive a Tesla, play tabletop games, and might have lived in South Dakota. I know this coworker pretty well, and not all of this is entirely accurate, but it’s still a scary look into their personal life (thanks for sharing your nitty-gritty for “research purposes”).
Regulators have started noticing this, and you’re probably bothered by banners on every corporate website asking you if you accept cookies. GDPR, the CCPA, and multiple other state regulations have started to buckle down on this third-party data collection to help assuage concerns in a more privacy-conscious world. Google and Apple followed this lead and made announcements to keep up with new regulations. Google came forward and said it would be phasing out third-party cookies in 202— however, the timeline has been pushed back two years to 2024. Apple has already implemented changes in app tracking on iOS devices by automatically opting users out of data tracking and asking permission before sharing data with third parties.
Impacts as third-party cookies fade away amidst privacy concerns
With third-party cookies going by the wayside, new techniques will be needed to monetize consumer data and target customers:
Find new ways to identify customers
Without the ubiquitous cookie, online advertisers and data collectors will need to find new ways to identify customers that use their products. Fingerprinting may be an alternative to this. Fingerprinting works by identifying unique attributes about the devices and browser settings used to identify users instead of tracking interests and behaviors. Want to see your fingerprint? Visit AmIUnique.org to see what kind of data this includes.
Identify what data is actually important
With more data comes more corporate risk. Companies will need to clearly identify which data types are important for their target audience and hone on collection methods with the most value. A mountain biking company doesn’t care if you have a webcam, but they probably find great value in knowing if you live near mountains and your disposable income. By focusing on techniques that narrowly focus on areas of interest, this company can save money and collect only what is valuable.
Reliance on opt-in processes
This shift is already happening; most websites now allow you to block certain marketing cookies when you visit a site, and the post-cookie world will be filled with opt-in-based tracking. Free content is no longer enough to entice users to share information. What can you offer of value in exchange for their precious data?
A combined marketing strategy
A recent eMarketer report found that 60% of US marketers think they’ll need multiple identity solutions to keep up without cookies. The new frontier of data will require marrying numerous new techniques together to replace the power of third-party cookies—and will alter current business models and marketing spend.
How digital marketing strategies will need to evolve
Speaking of blending techniques, let’s look at some of the new ways companies will be mining customer data after Chrome kills the cookie. Successful companies that move away from cookies will unify a mix of these techniques to continue serving relevant content to consumers.
This is an old technique finding a resurgence thanks to Apple’s new privacy rules. Think back to old-school AdWords- you’re selling mountain bikes, so you buy ads on blogs talking about mountain biking. You’re not trying to serve your ad on a newspaper website based on the browsing history of the reader; you know from the context of the blog that people reading about mountain biking will probably be interested in your cool new bike. The premise is based on the site’s content instead of historical behavioral data about the user.
Google Privacy Sandbox
Google has created a problem, and now they’re seeking to provide a solution. Google Privacy Sandbox has launched a couple of experimental APIs to help with non-cookie web tracking. TURTLEDOVE and FLoC are leading solutions offered at the time of writing, and both seek to anonymize users while preserving behavioral analysis. Both create groups of people (interest groups for TURTLEDOVE and cohorts for FLoC) based on their likely interests and potential buying behavior, allowing advertisers to buy particular groups' attention. Some criticism has been raised with FLoC as the cohorts are simply numbered and not descriptive. My mountain bike company may be extremely popular with Cohort 30573, but I can’t see that this group consists of single millennials living in landlocked states that also buy kombucha.
Universal ID solutions
Cookies lack standardization requiring additional software to unify cookie data across digital platforms. Universal IDs seek to change this by creating a unique ID for each user that is shared across all participants. Three types of IDs have emerged: first-party-based IDs, proprietary IDs, and industry IDs. First-party solutions use unique identifiers already used by a company, such as CRM data or email addresses, to track users. No data is integrated that hasn’t been directly collected by the advertiser. Proprietary solutions make cookie syncing easier, and the leader is TradeDesk’s Unified ID. The fallback of this solution is that it still relies on cookie data and may not survive a cookie apocalypse. Industry IDs also rely on some cookie data, and DigiTrust ID seeks to create a unified system without being an invested party, as opposed to TradeDesk.
Most companies already have first-party data in their systems for tracking customers, typically in a CRM. Everything from email addresses to customer IDs can provide the backbone of new tracking systems. Building on the universal ID approach, this may be a promising new solution as some forms of Universal ID fall by the wayside when cookies disappear. This may also be the most promising solution, and the first-party data is typically more accurate and robust than information gleaned from cookie data collected all over the web. Additionally, first-party data generally is opt-in and relatively unobtrusive. Most customers are willing to give you an email address in exchange for an account on your system. Push notifications are also opt-in and a good way to grab attention instead of ending up in the spam folder.