Time to wake up: only 24 percent of marketers have a post-cookie plan

Many businesses are still at odds with laws on privacy and data collection and remain totally unprepared for a cookieless future, says a new survey.

There’s a significant gap between the intentions and the actions of businesses, when it comes to data collection laws. 

According to a YouGov survey of over 500 marketers, 75 percent of respondents claimed to understand UK laws for privacy and compliance with the data laws. Yet when asked whether their customers are able to opt in or out of communications using a consent management tool (CMP) for their company website, app and email tools, less than half of companies surveyed confirmed that they were. 

With only 45 percent stating they were observing current laws and regulations concerning data collection for digital communications, businesses would appear to be out of step with what is legally required of them.

Despite UK law now requiring all websites to provide users with the ability to manage their consent regarding website tracking and data usage, 38 percent of marketers said their customers weren’t able to opt in or out and 16 percent were unsure. This consent management is also a requirement of EU law under GDPR regulations, in place since May 2020. 

More trouble ahead

It won’t have escaped most marketers’ attention that Apple has already long-since moved away from third-party cookie tracking within Safari browsers and other tech giants like Google & Facebook are rolling out various non-cookie based measurement solutions. 

And yet as well as not staying on the right side of regulations now, the survey also reveals a worrying lack of urgency in adapting to the future ‘cookieless digital marketing environment’. Just 24 percent of businesses are developing alternative plans for targeting potential customers when third-party cookies are phased out

No wonder data company Fifty-Five, who conducted the research, describe the findings as a ‘wake up call’. 

“Our survey reveals a worrying inertia among marketers about adapting to a new more ‘privacy-focused’ internet,” says Richard Wheaton, MD of Fifty-Five. “It is a legal requirement to have a consent management tool in place and yet a majority of marketers either don’t have one or are confused about what this means.”


“First party data will be of increasing importance,” says Richard Wheaton, Managing Director, Fifty-Five

While less than a quarter of those surveyed said their company had a fully formed strategy or were in the process of developing one; 20 percent reported that their company had not yet started but were aware they needed one; and 33 percent stated that there was no intention to do so. 

One of the worst prepared business sectors was retail, with only 19 percent stating their company had a fully formed strategy or were in the process of developing one. This is despite marketers in the retail sector reporting the most ardent support from their CEO and senior leadership for digital. 

“It is imperative that marketers have a plan in place for how they can target customers in the future with the end of the cookie in sight,” continues Wheaton. “With only 1 in 4 currently doing anything about a strategy, this should be a ‘wake up call’ to marketers. In this new world, first-party data will be of increasing importance.”

Marketers' biggest fears

The survey also revealed senior marketers’ biggest concerns in developing their digital marketing strategies in the future. The number one concern was the team not having the skills in-house to develop and implement a robust digital strategy (17 percent), followed by whether the team's skills are now up to date and relevant for the data and AI driven future (15 percent). This was tied with not being able to accurately measure marketing website activity (also 15 percent.) 

Other worries were not being able to accurately target customers in the future (14 percent), being hampered by legacy systems (12 percent) and facing a fine from the ICO (12 percent). 

However, the solutions to many of these issues may already lie in the reach of most marketers, according to Wheaton: "The good news is that many brands have a treasure trove of this under-utilised data that can be used to understand audiences and achieve marketing objectives. It is vital to work with the right experts to unlock this, particularly given the concerns senior marketers have relating to the skills of the in-house teams.”