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How marketers can win in the post-cookie world

Sam Huston
Sam Huston
CSO of Growth, Americas
5 min read
31 March 2021

Google’s decision to move away from the use of third-party cookies within its technology and ad products has created major waves within the digital marketing industry. After years of relying on third-party cookies to target and track customers, marketers will now need to find new ways to attract new users to their brands and products.

And with Google being the largest player in the digital advertising space, holding ~30% of market share over Facebook (~23%) and Amazon (~9%), their decision was certainly big news. However, as businesses are increasingly turning to digital to operate and grow their reach, one thing is for certain: digital advertising isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the market is expected to grow to over $1T by 2027. And as the landscape becomes more competitive, brands that wish to remain relevant will need to take a proactive, real-time approach to their marketing strategies.

A better experience for all

Let’s face it – the current online experience isn’t as good as it could be, particularly when you’re thinking about matters of privacy. Governments around the world have started to take action and regulate the way that an individual’s data is used, and those efforts have manifested most notably in the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union and the California Consumer Privacy Act.

Google has recognized that these protections are unavoidable, and as more regulations are put in place, they — along with Apple and Facebook — are taking steps to get ahead now. We see this shift as positive, because by holding everyone accountable to a higher standard of privacy, brands can reduce the use of consumer data for nefarious purposes and improve consumers’ online journeys.

That said, this shift will require an additional effort on the part of media platforms, publishers, and marketers, and there may be some difficulty adapting at first. Brands will be more limited in the level of granularity they’ll be able to achieve in ad targeting. And since newer replacement solutions like Unified ID 2.0 and Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) haven’t been tested or proven yet, they likely won’t be as effective as what we’ve seen with third party cookies. However, we anticipate there still being an opportunity over time to serve up relevant ads while keeping consumers safe.

A path forward

One positive result from the loss of measurement granularity is that marketers will be forced to take a more holistic look at their broader campaign strategies across the full funnel, as opposed to putting too much of an emphasis on specific channel attributions. Done correctly, this will lead to more effective media investments and better business outcomes. This has the potential to be the final nail in the coffin for last-click attribution, or could give it new life. Either way, ad networks won’t leave their customers behind, and will still provide value to marketers who choose to invest in individual channels.

More sophisticated advertisers will rise to the challenge in search of growth levers, while embracing cookie-agnostic measurement methods such as Matched Market Testing and Media Mix Modeling. We also believe non-brand search will increase in usage from a prospecting perspective.

Additionally, there will be significant opportunity in digital environments where users are logged in – including Google and walled garden social media platforms, CTV, OTT, audio ad platforms, and more. Brands looking to find new customers will likely put more media spend in these channels, because they’ll still be able to create a personalized advertising experience while matching buyers to the dollars they invest.

Another critical initiative for marketers will be to begin (or increase) efforts to capture first party data and build a tech stack to appropriately structure that data and activate it across multiple marketing platforms. As these walls keep getting taller, first-party data is becoming more valuable and accessible. Brands should prioritize opportunities to build loyalty within their existing customer base to capture repeat business, while also working with the right technology partners to access that data behind those walled gardens.

In a more private world, there will also be a higher emphasis on contextual targeting. We’ve already seen this practice grow in popularity and we anticipate that to continue with the decline in third-party cookies. Consumers have made it clear they want relevant advertising, but also feel violated being tracked. Contextual targeting will help serve as a solution, as then the ads will only be delivered to the consumer when they’re searching for related content, products, or services.

Google’s decision on third-party cookies will present challenges at first. Brands will struggle to create the same level of performance in a more private world and will have to invest in rapidly testing new solutions and rolling those out at scale. However, we see this situation leading to a better online experience for everyone and creating a better consumer journey across the entire marketing funnel, increasing lifetime customer value, and creating a more equitable data exchange between brands and their customers.

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CSO of Growth, Americas

Sam Huston