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The Loss of Third-Party Cookies: How to Respond

We’ve been encouraging marketers to focus on developing a strategy to wean their media plans and martech stack off third-party (3P) cookies for some time (and we still are!)

But if your organization hasn’t yet made it a top priority, Google’s announcement to postpone its phase out of third-party cookies in Chrome until the second half of 2024 may be a very welcome chance for you to do exactly that.

Here’s a closer look at what the potential loss of third-party cookies really represents, and actionable steps marketers can take now to respond.

What are third-party cookies?

Let’s start with the basics. Third-party cookies are text files that store data about web experiences across different websites, and help inform companies about the people who visit their own websites.

In March 2021, Google announced that its ad tools would no longer support individual tracking of users across websites starting in 2023. Though Google’s plans to stop supporting third-party cookies has essentially been pushed out a year following its July 27th, 2022 announcement, these changes still have impact. In essence, both make it even more difficult for marketers to deliver the personalized experiences, relevant content, and trusted human connections that our customers want.

In the realm of omnichannel marketing, trust is a two-way street. Marketers need a verifiable view of customers, and in turn, customers want to know they’re dealing with a company that knows who they are and what they want, respects their privacy, and can deliver consistently great experiences with the least friction possible.

With the rise of GDPR and CCPA compliance, two major pieces of privacy legislation, marketers have become very skilled at balancing the seemingly opposing forces of personalization and privacy. However, this new world without third-party cookies is even more transformational. In fact, a recent Epsilon study of US marketers found that 69% of marketers across industries say the elimination of third-party cookies will have an even greater impact than GDPR and CCPA.

While we’ll certainly miss the heyday of third-party cookies and their wealth of behavioral data, we can use this tectonic shift as an opportunity to accelerate digital transformation through a blend of innovative and time-tested marketing strategies.

Here are four ways your team can respond to these changes, while continuing to offer meaningful customer interactions.

Understand your relationship with third-party cookies

About 80% of marketers in the Epsilon survey said they depend on third-party cookies, which are used for more than just serving ads. When they are gone, it could disrupt key components of your digital marketing ecosystem, including:

  1. Personalization: Behavioral and browsing data will be limited, making it harder for marketers who depend on third-party cookies to personalize ads
  2. Campaign Management: Basic capabilities like A/B testing and frequency capping could be more challenging for marketers who depend on third-party cookies
  3. Performance Marketing: Analytics and attribution based on third-party cookies could be much less effective

Questions to identify third-party cookie reliance:

  • Do you connect with people based on third-party cookies or device IDs?
  • If you have an identity solution, does it use multiple identifiers or just one?
  • Do you use third-party cookies to gather signals and data about people so you can serve them relevant ads?
  • Does your third-party data targeting use third-party cookies?
  • How will losing third-party cookies affect your attribution measurement?

Answering these questions might feel intimidating and that’s okay. As you work through the details you’ll be empowered with the insights you need to create a present-day—and future— roadmap for where to focus.

Make first-party data your top priority

Going forward, first-party data will be a common way to target and retarget advertising. Having the best possible historical data to work from can provide insights that form the backbone of your advertising strategy. Set yourself up for success by encouraging visitors to authenticate and give consent to first-party data collection. (Email is a perfect place to do this!) A trove of context-rich data will help your marketing team improve conversion rates on your owned channels and deliver a better customer experience. As part of this, you may want to invest in a Customer Data Platform (CDP), which makes it easier to aggregate a single view of your customers and take action on those insights in real time.

Prioritize time-tested marketing channels that deliver the highest ROI

Understanding the performance of all your marketing channels is critical to driving conversions, pipeline, growth, and customer engagement. Time-tested channels, like email marketing, deliver an ROI of $36:1, making it one of the most effective, high-performing marketing channels in your marketing toolbox today, and a proven customer engagement strategy that drives conversions. By opting into your communications, your email subscribers have invited you into their inboxes and given you explicit permission to connect on relevant content and offers. As you evaluate your omnichannel strategy, consider putting email first in your marketing mix to create personalized experiences, increase engagement with your campaigns, and improve performance of your overall marketing mix.

Google may have given marketers a little more time to respond to a future without third-party cookies, but it still demands a serious focus on re-evaluating how you personalize, and what you need to do to ensure you’ve got the data you need to move forward in a cookie-less world. Marketing leaders need to focus on driving performance over the next 12 months, while simultaneously building a long-term customer strategy that will carry their companies through the next five years.


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Originally published on April 6, 2021. Last updated on July 28, 2022.