Advertising without cookies: How to survive the cookiepocalypse
By the end of 2024, third-party cookies will be blocked by default on all major browsers, including Chrome. That’s a victory for consumer privacy, as privacy advocates have been pressing Google to phase out third-party cookies for years. But advertising without cookies will also force brands to pivot away from a key information source at a time when data-driven personalization is crucial.
To stay competitive in a cookieless world, brands must adopt an integrated strategy that relies on first-party data. The great news is that first-party data is more reliable, meaningful, and ethical than third-party data and is often more cost-effective.
This guide will help you understand the changes and create a winning cookieless ad strategy.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Google’s phase-out of third-party cookies: what you need to know
- 4 challenges of advertising without cookies
- 5 opportunities of advertising without cookies
Google’s phase-out of third-party cookies: what you need to know
Google is deprecating the use of third-party cookies—aka the data advertisers use to monitor online activities and display targeted advertisements—in its Chrome browser. This process has already begun, and Google will roll it out in stages throughout 2024, with the goal of completing the depreciation for all Chrome users by the end of the year.
While Safari and Firefox have already done away with third-party cookies, Chrome’s massive market share—63.56% as of August 2023 (source)—makes Google’s phase-out of third-party cookies a true cookiepocalypse for digital advertisers.
What cookieless marketing means for brands
Marketing without cookies will reshape the advertising landscape. Brands that rely heavily on third-party cookies must make major shifts in their strategy, particularly for targeting Google ads. Using customer-provided first-party data is the way forward.
What cookieless marketing means for customers
Phasing out cookies is the logical next step in protecting consumer privacy. People want to control how brands use their personal information, and ensuring advertisers can only use the data they’ve willingly consented to share puts customers in the driver’s seat. Marketing without third-party cookies is an opportunity for brands to rewrite their relationships with customers by focusing on transparency.
Advertising without cookies: 4 challenges to be aware of
Third-party cookies will no longer give brands a window into people’s behavior across the open web. That makes it much harder to deliver personalized ads and track conversions. Customer authentication, like Google sign in, might be a solution in some situations. But it’s unlikely to be a universal fix.
To successfully respond to the cookiepocalypse, brands must make the following changes:
- Challenge 1: Workflows. Marketing strategies must accommodate customers who can be individually identified through authentication—and those who cannot.
- Challenge 2: Budgeting. Brands must invest in first-party data, which may mean adding new tools to their tech stack.
- Challenge 3: Reporting. Brands must reevaluate which metrics to measure and how they’re calculated, including customer acquisition cost (CAC) and return on ad spend (ROAS).
- Challenge 4: Conversion tracking. Enhanced attribution modeling will become more critical without third-party cookies as a data source. Brands will rely more heavily on customer engagement platforms, like Customer.io, to attribute conversions.
Advertising without cookies: 5 opportunities to take advantage of
Cookieless marketing invites brands to lean into the key drivers of long-term, profitable customer relationships: trust and choice. By aligning with efforts to increase online privacy and investing in marketing strategies that leverage first-party data, brands can realize significant gains in every part of the customer lifecycle.
Opportunity #1: Make the most of your first-party data
With first-party data, you no longer need to rely on ad networks and third-party audiences to find your target audience. Instead, you can create more personalized and relevant advertising by using the data you’ve collected from your customers.
First-party data is superior to third-party data in almost every way:
- It’s the most reliable data because it results from real people interacting with your products and services.
- Because you choose what to collect, you get data that’s actually meaningful to your brand.
- You own your data with no ongoing fees (although you do have to invest in and maintain a system for collecting, analyzing, and using first-party data).
- Customers must consent to how you use their data, so there are no privacy concerns.
You can create a nuanced understanding of your ideal customers’ needs by delving into first-party data like website analytics, app usage, purchase histories, email engagement, and other customer behaviors. Then, you can use that data to build lookalike audiences within ad networks and serve up highly relevant, targeted ads without cookie data from a third-party source.
Opportunity #2: Tap into the power of a customer data platform (CDP)
Consider adding a customer data platform (CDP) to your tech stack to get the most out of your first-party data.
With a CDP, you can collect first-party data from all customer touchpoints with your brand, including your website, apps, social media, and customer support. This data can then be organized and used to craft personalized ads that resonate.
Example: Using a CDP for targeted advertising
Imagine a healthcare app called GlucoGuide that is dedicated to diabetes management and has a wealth of first-party data from user interactions. By analyzing health log data and customer preferences, GlucoGuide knows that meal planning, progress tracking, and professional support are three features customers love about their app. Most importantly, they can see that customers leverage each feature differently, depending on their unique health goals.
GlucoGuide can then customize its ads with this valuable information to appeal to lookalike audiences. For example, they might create an ad that reads:
Opportunity #3: Use an engagement platform that connects to ad networks
Once cookies are no longer available as a conversion tracking tool, brands must change how they track conversions. In particular, advertisers must learn how to set up conversion tracking in Google Ads (and other networks) under the new regime.
The great news is that best practices for conversion tracking using first-party data already exist. And in some cases, they’re more accurate and meaningful than traditional practices.
Customer.io pro tip:
Customer.io incorporates hyper-personalized tracking via first-party data, providing multiple tools at no extra cost:
- Ad Audience Sync within Journeys uses your segments to create ad audiences on Facebook and Google. Targeted ads automatically stay current because audiences are updated every 60 minutes as people move in and out of segments. You can use it for retargeting as well.
- You can use the Facebook Conversions API and Google Ad Conversions within Data Pipelines to measure, report on, and optimize conversion tracking without compromising privacy.
- You can use webhooks in Journeys and Data Pipelines to pass data to or return data from virtually any public API for conversion tracking.
Opportunity #4: Try alternative options for ad targeting without cookies
Remember to experiment when considering targeting Facebook and Google ads without cookies. You can use what you know about your customers to target ads in many ways, like:
- Using contextual targeting, in which you place ads where your customers already spend time, like buying ad space on a popular blog that you know your customers frequent
- Using dynamic creative optimization, which creates custom ads on the fly with lookalike audiences or using first-party data
- Shifting from a wide-net approach to precision targeting, where first-party data is far more effective than third-party
Opportunity #5: Rethink your performance metrics
In the absence of third-party cookies, many brands will have to recalibrate the way they measure success. Currently, it’s common to use cookie-based attribution for nearly every KPI.
Brands will need to develop new ways of tracking performance, such as:
- Cohort-based measurement. A type of analysis that groups users with similar characteristics or experiences within a defined period. This approach helps understand the behaviors and performance of specific segments over time rather than viewing all users as a homogeneous group.
- Incremental lift studies. This is done by comparing the behavior of a group exposed to an ad campaign against a control group that hasn’t. This approach helps measure the true impact of your ads by isolating and measuring only people they influenced.
- Correlative attribution for brand awareness. By looking at the relationship between changes in ad spend and brand awareness (or other top-of-funnel metrics), you’ll be better prepared to measure how your advertising efforts impact your overall brand health.
Custom acquisition cost (CAC) and retention costs are unlikely to change, and you should actually see an improved return on ad spend (ROAS) as you transition away from third-party audiences. That’s because the fidelity of those audiences will degrade as cookies deprecate.
Embrace advertising without cookies
The cookiepocalypse doesn’t have to spell disaster for your advertising strategy. In fact, cookieless marketing can lead to a better customer experience and even more relevant, targeted ads for prospects eager to engage with your brand.
Ready to begin your new advertising journey backed by first-party data? Start your free 14-day trial of Customer.io today!