What does the end of third-party cookies mean for marketers?

Holly Locastro


June 1, 2023

It’s official: the third-party cookie is crumbling. The change has been in the works for a while. Now these trackers, hitch-hiking on our every click and page view, are finally staring down the barrel of extinction.

Safari and Firefox have already phased them out, while Google Chrome promises to do the same by mid-2024.

Did you know?

Third-party cookies track and store your browsing data. They enable brands to serve you ads related to products you’ve previously searched for, even when you’re on an unrelated website or an entirely different platform.

It’s a welcome change for consumers, no doubt – tired of brands constantly peering over their shoulder. And if it means avoiding death by 1000 clicks from having to customise our consent on every single website, then that’s cause for celebration.

But what does it mean for marketers? Third-party data has been the go-to for so long, raising a few key questions:

Third-party cookies track and store your browsing data. They enable brands to serve you ads related to products you’ve previously searched for, even when you’re on an unrelated website or an entirely different platform.

  • How can you get to know your audience?
  • Will targeted ads become less accurate?
  • How will this affect conversions?
  • What about personalisation and analytics?

Fun fact

The term cookie comes from ‘magic cookie’, the name programmers use for a packet of data that a program receives and sends back unchanged. This originates from the idea of a fortune cookie – a biscuit containing a brief message inside.

Third-party cookies were always flawed.

The truth is, many marketers have already lost their appetite for third-party biccies. They’re actually less effective than we’d like to admit. For every pro, there are also problems, resulting in:

You’ve probably seen this clumsiness first-hand – like being served an ad for a product you’ve already bought. We’re so accustomed to living under a panoptic digital marketing regime that this kind of glitch barely raises an eyebrow, but it still adds up to a frustrating user experience. If brands are going to stalk us, they should at least pay attention to our behaviour, right?

So if third-party data isn’t cutting it, what’s the alternative?

Google FLOC’d it.

In an attempt to wean us off third-party cookies, Google trialled FLOC — The Federated Learning of Cohorts, which worked similarly, but tracked groups of users instead of individuals for a ‘safety in numbers’ approach. However, it was red-flagged within the industry for still enabling advertisers to single out individuals through loopholes.

Enter Google’s TOPICs, an even broader data gathering service, which sorts users into topline interest categories – e.g. ‘here’s Stephanie, she likes sports and music’. While this offers users more anonymity, it doesn’t give marketers much to work with. Surely there’s a way to gain useful insights without being intrusive?

Introducing the first-party cookie.

We’re back in the cookie jar, but with a different recipe this time. The first-party cookie only tracks user behaviour on a brand’s own website. Whatever users do elsewhere is their business, but on your site, it can inform personalised, bespoke navigation. It’s a direct conversation between brand and buyer, with no hidden agenda or invasive data gathering, which means:

One of the big advantages of first-party cookies is personalisation that streamlines a user’s journey. You’re not tagging along and pestering someone while they look at other websites. But when a customer comes through the door of your site, you can provide a warm welcome like they’re a regular in your store—’Hey, we remember you. These items you looked at last time are still available if you’re interested.’

It’s more targeted and a lot less creepy. It’s the difference between assisting a shopper who’s browsing your shelves versus chasing them down the street with a brochure.

CDPs are gold.

If you really want to unearth rich data, a Customer Data Platform (CDP) is the gold standard in data aggregation. It’s a software system that gathers first-party data from online and offline sources, whether it’s through ad clicks or a phone conversation – all above-board and sourced through direct brand interactions. Advantages of a CDP include:

  • A holistic view of customer profiles
  • Powerful data that’s accurate and unified
  • True insights on behaviour
  • Segmentation and audience creation

One of the standout elements of a CDP is real-time data, which gives brands the ability to seize the moment with each customer. With dynamic personalisation, instant recommendations and triggered messaging, it can be a smoother path to conversion.

First-party data wins out.

All in all, the abolition of third-party cookies is an opportunity for brands to rethink the way they connect with customers and activate their first-party data strategy. 2024 will be less about reliance on third-party data sources and more about authentic interactions that are timely, meaningful, and give customers a sense of being seen without being stalked.

So, what does it all mean for your strategic approach?

  • Content remains key to attract customers
  • With remarketing gone, email is making a comeback
  • Pay close attention to your creative. What marketing offers actually make people convert?
  • With analytics, there are some challenges with attribution and how to evaluate performance accurately
  • Search remains unaffected

The bottom line is that the best customer journey is the one that aligns user intent with relevant, targeted cues in the right setting. Not a sustained bombardment until no one can stand the sight of your products, whether or not they need them.

Let’s talk!

Already know what you need? Or just want to kick things off with some advice? Schedule a free video consultation with TMP founder, Holly.
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