How to personalise ads without cookies

As the shutters start to roll down on third-party data, marketers need to navigate the shift to first-party data, build good partnerships and find a balance between engagement and intrusiveness.

Ahead of the end of cookies in 2023, Rakhee Jogia, International Managing Director at Rakuten Advertising, assesses how performance marketers can engage customers with limited access to third-party data…

The loss of third-party data has been a hot topic for years, with the end of cookies in 2023 seen by many marketers as the final brick in the wall. While marketing strategies that rely on third-party data are gradually going extinct, there’s still ample opportunity for marketers to personalise their ads.

The first step to building personalisation in a post-cookie world is reviewing or implementing owned tracking technologies to prioritise enhancing customer experiences. Marketers with access to the resources required can collect and harness data to improve and tailor the customer journey.

First-party data is used to build 360-degree profiles that inform how, when, or where customers prefer to interact. By using it to improve customer experiences, marketers can present a clear value exchange, which may encourage consumers to opt-in to more advanced tracking and data sharing.

Building the right partnerships

Additionally, there are other ways that marketers can engage with customers without using data, including smaller brands and publishers without the resources to collect and scale data. Without cookies, marketers cannot show every person highly targeted adverts; but there are still ways brands can connect with new and existing customers through personalised experiences.

Affiliate partnerships are an increasingly popular way to reach new customers, for instance. Technologies such as post-transaction referral codes or live commerce can be used by marketers to personalise and target consumers. Brands can work with select publishers that share a similar audience profile to existing customers, leveraging the first-party data collected when they click affiliate links. For example, a sustainable fashion brand could partner with a publisher known for its environmentally conscious audience, encouraging visitors to explore products on its own website.

With the power resting with consumers more so than ever, marketers must also work with publishers – including social media influencers – to develop content that’s meaningful and engaging. Influencer marketing has boomed in the past few years due to the rising popularity of this decentralised media environment. Fashion and beauty brands are particularly focused on building revenue through social media. In fact, 57 percent of these brands now use influencers and 21 percent are set to add them to their marketing mix in 2022, according to analysts at Fashion and Beauty Monitor.

However, when engaging in ‘shoppable commerce’, brands should tread lightly and ensure that they select the right influencers to partner with. To build or maintain a brand that people trust, marketers should act with integrity and ensure they only partner with publishers that align with their values.

Balancing engagement with intrusiveness

This feeds into the main challenge presented by the end of cookies: how to align with the right person, at the right time, on the right platform, without being intrusive. It’s a question that any marketing department or agency must ask when building ad strategies for 2022 and beyond.

There are a number of tactics which could be useful, such as integrating server-side ad insertion [SSAI] into marketing strategies. This will enable marketers to continue delivering personalised ads in a non-disruptive way, while avoiding ad blockers. For instance, dynamic ad insertion can be seamlessly applied to Connected TV [CTV], stitching ads to the content people stream via Smart TVs.

Prioritising the experience of the activities that consumers are involved in (whether that’s streaming CTV content or browsing socials) enables brands to be present at any time. Building the right publisher partnerships will help brands take the next step – to be present at the right time. Even smaller publishers with no access to or not enough data to scale can apply contextual advertising to the benefit of partners. This type of advertising can take into consideration a number of metrics when placing ads – from keywords, content, image recognition, to the page’s environment.

With more platforms, formats and publishing end points, it’s becoming harder to know exactly when to reach out to consumers. But this also provides an unprecedented opportunity. A contextual approach to customer engagement will enable marketers to go beyond simple ‘clicks and visits’ metrics and feed into a brand’s purpose, values and identity. Ultimately, this will be achieved by prioritising experience within the marketing strategy – with the customer at the centre.

By Rakhee Jogia

Managing Director, International

Rakuten Advertising