Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Channel your post-cookie success

By Morag Cuddeford-Jones

When was the last time you thought digital was ‘cheap’? Probably just before Facebook et al realised just how important their channels were to marketers and vowed to monetise the hell out of them.

But in some ways the cheap mindset has stuck, with online and mobile channels often thought of in terms of price first, engagement second. Given the fact that mobile is now one of the primary customer engagement channels, with the expectation that it will make up 10% of all US retail by 2025, it’s time we took a different view.

Product and content are where it’s at. Don’t think about mobile as a computer in their pocket, or an ad platform, or a bank or even, heaven forfend, an actual phone. Mobile is your brand in their pocket and the opportunities to turn that into a moment of high value engagement are almost limitless.

Livestreaming, a brand/entertainment mash-up phenomenon is taking on a life of its own, already responsible for 10% of all ecommerce. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding (or in this case the espresso) as cold-brew coffee brand sees sales leap 150% after every livestream session.

Putting a different spin on how consumers use channels and platforms is vital in a post-cookie world.

Take the uber-monetised Facebook for example. Some might feel that the death of the cookie is going to drive marketers reluctantly into the arms of the walled gardens. Forever doomed to pay money to the data gatekeepers, only to receive crumbs of loyalty in return.

But, like everything that suffers dramatic ups and downs on the seesaw of popular opinion, the walled gardens have their role to play – if taken in moderation.

“Advertisers should look to preserve, but not rely on relationships with walled-garden partners,” says Michael Hew, Media Supervisor, M&C Saatchi Performance. “These channels are not the entirety of users’ digital lives and though convenient, are not a substitute for a healthy channel mix.”

For brands used to the constant drip drip of insight from third-party cookies and performance data from walled gardens, letting go may be something of a challenge – but the end result could be well worth it. Many commenters agree that it’s going to be hard to let go of all the juicy numbers that appear to prove (to finance, at least) that spend out equals consumers reached and revenue in. But, we all know that wasn’t always the case.

“The challenge is going to be weaning marketers off the granular data drug over the next two to three years,” suggests Dane Buchanan, Global Head of Data, M&C Saatchi Performance. The suggestion being that there is space for greater rigour, better analysis and, ultimately, more solid marketing strategy if marketers are willing to accept there’s going to be some short-term pain to get there. “To change a culture takes time and it will hurt a bit, but this is good pain. We’ll end up with a much more customer-centric view. Creativity will become a central focus for marketing and each media channel will get the budget it deserves,” he adds.

Measurement is going to have to be a whole lot more intentional, with a move away (but not all the way) from attribution towards matched market testing and media mix modelling. Attribution will still be there but reduced, playing a role in optimising within channel budgets and adding detail to media mix modelling (MMM), a holistic approach that looks at media’s incremental impact. Then, testing. Test, experiment and test again. As they say, the only unsuccessful test is the one you don’t do. Testing can even help break down some of the more impenetrable impacts of those pesky walled gardens.

Of course, marketers could continue to rail against the death of the cookie (you could argue they’ve been successful thus far, with its expiry already much delayed) but it would be self-defeating. With the cookie, digital marketing has become lazy, happy to trot out numbers that look impressive at the expense of customer experience. Failing to account for the fact that, a year down the line, how few of those customers decided to come back again.

An ad model that relies on real insight, with moments that are genuinely engaging, not just skirting round spam by any other name, is more respectful of the consumer. That respect earns engagement, which delivers data, and properly used ultimately boosts those all-important revenues. If marketers fully embrace the challenge ahead of them, in a year’s time we won’t be talking about post-cookie. Instead, it’s going to be more like: ‘what cookie?’.

M&C Saatchi Performance has launched a white paper dedicated to helping marketers develop their strategies for a world without third-party cookies, Press Reset: Why a Cookieless Future Could Be The Fresh Start Digital Advertising Needs. The white paper can be downloaded for free below.