You Can. Here’s How:

Once again, Google is throwing a curveball to the ad/MarTech world. If the ever-changing search algorithms weren’t difficult enough to deal with, businesses and marketers now face life without cookies. The search engine giant announced earlier this year that beginning in May 2021, the use of third-party cookies on websites will no longer be allowed. What does this mean for businesses?

Official Release: Death of Third-Party Cookies Coming Soon

Google’s plan to gradually eliminate the use of third-party cookies and reduce the possibilities of primary cookies has earned the nickname “Cookie Apocalypse.”

The announcement that Chrome browsers will render all third-party cookies obsolete by 2022 has shaken the marketing world. Digital marketers saw it coming but hoped it wouldn’t become a reality for at least another five years. Much to their dismay, the countdown to the Cookie Apocalypse has begun, leaving them less than a year to adapt and rethink marketing strategies or risk vanishing into oblivion.

Safari and Firefox have already effectively done away with cookies, and for marketers and data analysts, this means over one-third of that data has already disappeared. This has made it more challenging to run ad campaigns and measure their effectiveness.

An apocalypse might sound melodramatic as a name for this event, but we’re talking about more than the “look-outside-and-see-an-orange-sky” type. Apocalypse comes from the Greek words apo (un-) and kaluptien (to cover). To put this into context: the loss of third-party cookies is a form of revelation. In this new era, we’ll “uncover” or find out what was wrong with marketing and see who will come out on top.

What We’ve Learned So Far

The evolution of online advertising in the mid-1990s and early 2000s was like the wild west days of marketing. The internet was vast and mostly untamed. For publishers and advertisers to get the right ads in front of the right people and in the right context, they needed more and more data. This need became increasingly overwhelming for advertisers and consumers alike as the right to privacy became muddled.

To overcome this problem, governing bodies enacted stricter privacy regulations to protect consumers. The two most notable examples are the EU General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act.

At their end, browsers like Chrome and Firefox and operating system producers like Apple’s iOS have used privacy policies to attract consumers fed up with the way their data was appropriated without their consent.

Tighter privacy laws combined with consumer preferences took us to the point where browsers started limiting advertisers’ access to third-party cookies. Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari started the move, and Google Chrome is now set to join them. For those in the advertising and ad tech business, this change threatens their very livelihood. But problems were already brewing.

The number of data points and sources grew exponentially over the years. This growth has made marketing more and more complex and has created many problems for marketers. Not only is it overwhelming to process that amount of data, but it is also an expensive strain on resources. The inability to properly manage all this information led to privacy issues. It even resulted in fines for some offenders.

Big data and the introduction of machine learning are a tremendous help to marketers, but the impending loss of third-party cookies reveals one major flaw in the recipe. The heavy reliance on third-party marketing strategies over the past few decades has resulted in companies losing touch with their customers and losing control over customer data.

Once Chrome puts an end to third-party cookies, online advertising will more resemble a blunt instrument than the finely honed scalpel it is now because companies won’t own the data. Yes, new third-party cookie alternatives will fill the gap as time goes on. However, marketers will need to try harder and work smarter to find target customers.

The ride will be challenging for a while. Still, the death of cookies allows marketing organizations to re-establish relationships with customers and create new strategies for handling consumer data.

Surviving the Cookie Apocalypse

Three entities emerge as the big winners after the crush of third-party cookies: large first-party data environments, the public, and companies with first-party data collection strategies.

1. Large First-Party Data Environments

The third-party cookie apocalypse puts those companies with the most first-party data in an enviable position. The largest environments—such as Apple, Google, and Facebook—already have so much information on their customers and consumers that they don’t need to rely on third-party data. People come to them.

Undoubtedly, these companies struggle continually to gain and keep consumers’ trust, but that doesn’t stop millions and millions of users from flocking to these products and services. Consumers have come to depend so heavily on these establishments that they consider the companies indispensable to their daily lives.

Without third-party cookies, the privileged position of these companies is even more valuable than before. Now is the time for smaller players to dig in their heels, maybe join forces and devise a more viable, sustainable future for themselves and their businesses.

In the meantime, advertisers will likely have to work closely with these Big Boys.

2. The Public

This one may be considered a double-edged sword. On the one hand, many consumers will like the idea of not being tracked anonymously across the internet—not having their browsing habits followed and stored in a database somewhere. On the other hand, disallowing cookies does not mean the end of data collection. Some form of tracking will happen, probably with consent.

And in the immediate aftermath of third-party cookie loss, online ads may be laughably inappropriate instead of uncannily specific, like they are now.

It will take a while to see how privacy issues shake out, especially considering the effects of stringent privacy regulations. Privacy is an area where consumers most certainly come out on top regarding their relationships with brands. The more companies struggle to gain control over their data, the more they will need to entice consumers to voluntarily provide the sensitive information brands desperately need to understand consumer buying trends.

Enticements could range from sign-up and sign-in (identifiers and authentications giving permissions) to incentives to opt-in to different forms of data sharing. No matter what method they choose, companies will need to try harder to get close to consumers.

3. Companies with First-Party Data Collection Strategies

The third winner in this new post-cookie world will be the companies that have invested in first-party data collection and activation. Too many companies have relied solely on third-party data collection to gain new customers. This strategy has put them right on the chopping block now that they have to pivot their advertising campaigns toward first-party data collection methods when hoping to create mirror audiences.

Time is running out, and 2022 is just months away. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for creating an entirely new data infrastructure. Marketers with well-managed first-party data collection and activation strategies will have an immense advantage over others for adapting to a third-party cookie-free world. They will be in the perfect position to respond quickly to ever-changing privacy regulations and learning the secrets to making Google work.

The companies that aren’t there yet better get a move on or face the consequences of entering the new era unprepared.

What can you do now to prepare for the loss of Third Party Cookies?

One excellent strategy is to begin collecting first-party data through your advertising campaigns on Google, Facebook, and Connected TV. The more data you are able to collect on who responds and buys your product or service the better. Don’t focus on just one advertising type or outlet. Each one has its strengths and weakness. Use an experienced advertising agency or media buyer to help you navigate each outlet and put strategies in place to make sure you are getting a good return on your investment while you are collecting first-party data.

Why is first-party data so important for your future advertising campaigns?

When you collect First-party data you then have the power to build a look-alike audience. So that data helps you market exponentially to customers who have the same wants, needs, buying habits, and media habits. Your first-party data becomes a secret weapon for reaching people just like your current customers. You don’t have to waste dollars and time hoping your advertising is hitting your target market. The data does that for you.

The death of cookies allows marketing organizations to re-establish relationships with customers and create new strategies for handling consumer data.

Now is the time to act for the future of your business

Surviving the cookie apocalypse means learning the secrets to making Google work for you, not against you. With the pandemic dominating the way people work, think and act, it’s understandable that advertisers haven’t given the demise of the cookie their full attention. However, more activities are happening online than ever before. It gives advertisers access to more people, but when the cookie crumbles, this extra internet activity won’t help.

With the shutdown of third-party cookies by the start of 2022, advertisers need to take action now. They need to take a proactive role in considering alternatives and deciding how to move forward. They need a solid plan on how to fill the massive gap that the death of the cookie will leave.

By collaborating with analytics, agencies, and ad tech providers, companies have the unique opportunity to control the planning and operating of digital advertising. They must take over the investment and measurement end of the business once and for all. In the end, this means better performance metrics, more transparency, and enhanced customer experience. It is a true win for all concerned.

Next year may mark the end of an era, but it’s the beginning of an even better way to market to consumers.