We’ve been talking about the end of third-party cookies for quite some time. We knew this was coming but what we didn’t know was exactly when it would happen. In January, Google ended the suspense establishing that after 25 years utilising the benefits of the technology, we’d have less than two more to figure out exactly what happens next.
With about 50% market share in Australia and more than 60% globally, Google’s Chrome is the king of the browsers which is why the announcement was so important. Google’s Privacy Sandbox – the initiative it proposes to curtail improper tracking while continuing to allow ad targeting within the Chrome browser – will set the bar for everything that matters when it comes to cookies.
While we wait to find out what that will look like, many marketers and agencies are now wondering what happens to the personalisation strategies they have been hard at work refining. Some pundits say the so-called “cookiepocalypse” will never eventuate, that there will be a solution before Google pulls the plug. But for my money, I’d take this as a prompt to get off the drug of third-party data and start focusing on something far more valuable: first-party data.
A quick recap for the uninitiated on the difference between first, second and third-party data. Third-party data is the data you buy from outside sources. Generally, groups of aggregators buy chunks of data and categorise people demographically, psychographically and behaviorally. For example, vehicle intenders or holiday intenders. Sounds good but often this data isn’t accurate and with privacy concerns increasingly impinging on how it is collected – and the aforementioned nuking of third-party cookies – the days of third-party data are numbered. Next is second-party data. That is data you buy directly from the organisation that collected it. It’s slightly better than third party data because you know its provenance, how it is gathered and some of the terms associated with doing so. Often, though, it sits behind a marketing-proof fence because you probably don’t have the right to contact these people directly. Then there’s first-party data. This stuff is like gold because of its quality. You collected it so you know the source, you know how accurate it is and it’s yours to do with as you like.
Anyone that drives audiences to their websites – publishers and advertisers etc – will have first-party data to play with. The beauty of having this stuff for publishers is that the more you know about a visitor, the more money you will receive as advertisers rely on that knowledge and context to target customers.
Earlier this month, The New York Times announced that it was phasing out all third-party data and doubling down on first-party data. Senior Vice President of Ad Innovation at the Times, Allison Murphy said: “This can only work because we have 6 million subscribers and millions more registered users that we can identify and because we have a breadth of content.” Expect other publishers to follow suit.
For marketers without their own first-party data, or data at a similar scale, there’s the option to tap into the vast resources of publishers with big audiences. But better yet, start building up your own data.
To do this, you must start by establishing trust with your customers so they will willingly share their information. A good place to start is online reviews. The 2019 Retail Reputation Report shows most retailers ignore negative reviews. To build a reputation for transparency, acknowledging the issue and sharing your plans to correct the problem will go a long way.
Social media is another great channel for proving to customers that you’re authentic and genuine. It also provides the perfect platform for showing your business’s human side and allows you to engage in meaningful ways with consumers.
Finally, exceed their expectations in any customer service interactions. Once you are seen in the eyes of customers as someone they can trust, they will be open to handing over the information you need to grow your business.
Being able to collect bucketloads of data will then allow you to deliver on the promise of personalisation. We all got into cookies in the first place to provide a better user-focused experience. Personalisation at scale, powered by your very own data, has the power to supercharge this. It can also activate the business end of the purchase funnel by offering customers better, unique offers tailored to their individual interactions with your brand such as purchase history, cart abandons, product searches and category interests.
Whether the pundits are right and cookies will soon face total annihilation is yet to be seen but if you follow the lead of organisations like The New York Times and increase your focus on first-party data, it won’t really matter.