The cookiepocalypse is nigh (again)!

The era of third-party online data is coming to an end… So what’s next for digital advertising – and how can you future-proof your business?

Felix Kruth, Product Director at Voyado, discusses the impending end of third-party cookies and how marketers can prepare for a post-cookie world.

As we approach the “cookiepocalypse” – the day when the world’s top browser, Google Chrome, finally removes third-party cookies – there’s serious uncertainty among marketers on how digital advertising will be impacted.

For a start, Google’s approach so far has hardly instilled confidence. The web giant originally announced that it would replace the time-tested cookie with a system called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) that placed people into interest-based “cohorts” while leaving them anonymous as individuals. However, earlier this year, FLoC was abandoned in favour of Topics within the larger Privacy Sandbox. This has pushed the cookiepocalypse back, and the current date is understood to be the end of 2024.

Everyone, marketers included, wants tech giants to respect their privacy, but the loss of this longstanding part of the marketing landscape will undoubtedly make their day jobs harder – at least for those that can’t adapt.

Why does the cookiepocalypse matter?

This date is so decisive both because of Google’s majority market share in browsers and search and because many competitors – including Safari and Firefox – have already shut down third-party cookies. In other words, this will finally close the book on third-party cookies following a long wind-down.

If that wasn’t enough, in a move to simplify web policy following the break from the EU, the UK government has announced early plans for browser-level opt-out for marketing trackers. This could reach beyond cookies, and discussion of this alone should be reason for clever marketers to start diversifying their approach.

Once the flow of third-party data is finally shut down, advertisers will have a far harder time tracking users between sites. The volume of total data on users will decrease accordingly, attribution will become more challenging, and costs will rise. Despite advance warning of this monumental change in online marketing, many marketers are still entirely dependent on third-party cookies and don’t yet have a plan for what comes next.

It’s not the end of the world 

While it marks a major change in online marketing, the upcoming end of third-party cookies is just another change for an extremely adaptable industry. This isn’t to suggest that preparation isn’t necessary, but rather that with appropriate preparation it’s entirely possible to weather the cookiepocalypse without encountering any issues.

To future-proof their businesses, marketers should begin adopting an alternative approach as soon as possible. This will be a significant task, and it needs to cover everything from data infrastructure and authentication to data collection and targeting. However, failure to act will result in a nasty surprise whenever Google finally pulls the plug.

Proper application of first-party data will go some way to filling the gap left by third-party cookies. On-site data cookies are still permitted and collecting them remains a great way for retailers to develop a better understanding of their customers. Investing in an in-house system for segmenting and analysing this data is also a worthwhile investment, as marketers will no longer be able to rely on marketing giants like Facebook for this. 

First-party cookies and personalisation

In terms of first-party cookies, people will still have the option to reject the nonessential ones, so it’s up to marketers to make a compelling case for why they should click “allow.” What do users get in exchange for their data?

The answer, for most sites, is personalisation, but they need to do it effectively and communicate how the data is used if they want users to hand over their data. Personalisation is legally recognised as a legitimate reason for gathering data, and because it necessarily involves profiling the customer, marketers can be confident using data obtained this way.

Building upon personalisation work, loyalty programmes are another excellent way to access customer data in a mutually beneficial way. To create a compelling loyalty case, brands can consider personalised discounts, carefully timed recommendations, and more. Rather than paying to attract users using ads, this approach involves investing money into a longer-term relationship with customers to create lasting value.

Looking beyond cookies 

From a market perspective, the biggest change will be that it suddenly stops being financially viable to place all of a business’s marketing efforts in ads. Instead, they will need to shift some of this spend to better use of first-party data, such as personalisation and loyalty, as well as a variety of organic approaches.

Some of the most cost-effective approaches are SEO, content marketing, social, and text and email marketing, although these each come with their own regulations and privacy considerations. Organic searches are one of – if not the – top source of site visits, so this is a natural place for brands to compete.

A fresh start for online marketing 

Ultimately, the eventual end of third-party cookies represents a change in the balance of power in online marketing. It’s rare that such a seismic shift in the landscape has a somewhat predictable timeline associated with it, and it’s an opportunity for the most nimble, forward-thinking brands to get ahead.

Marketers need to ensure that the brands they represent maintain a focus on the rights of their customers and focus on delivering a positive interaction at each touch point, not wringing every drop of data out of them. These things don’t need to be at odds, and the process works best when customers are voluntarily handing over their data in exchange for a great experience.

Felix Kruth

Product Director