Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The silver lining of a cookie-shaped cloud

When it comes to cookies, the marketing world seems to be split into two camps. Those marketers who are confident they can navigate the future, and those who are unequipped to deal with the change.

That was the finding of a 2021 AdAge survey which concluded that there was also a general ‘lack of concern’ over the demise of the cookie. Well, given the fact that just over half said they were confident and 70% said they were unequipped to deal with the change, there might be a lack of concern but there also appears to be an excess of confusion.

The hyperbole around the cookie’s inevitable demise isn’t helping. Death, darkness, the cookie crumbles – it’s not exactly cheering.

In Press Reset, the latest piece of research from M&C Saatchi Perfomance into the cookie confusion, we suggest that it is quite the opposite. That there is very much a silver lining to this cookie-shaped cloud. Indeed, it could well be the start of some positive change that is long overdue.

You could even argue that third-party cookies have been the reason why, over the last 20 years, marketers have got their targeting in something of a tangle. Consumers want personalised messaging, certainly, but they’re heartily sick of being tracked round the web by sneakers they bought (or discounted) three weeks ago. And for that, dear reader, the third-party cookie has been largely to blame.

By removing the reliance on third-party cookies, marketers now need to look to their own data and ways of enhancing it that help them reach out to the right audiences at the right time. “We live in a privacy-first world. It’s best to act now, stated Dhiyay Chohan, global head of programmatic at M&C Saatchi Perfomance.

For marketers, that means it’s time to clean house. Really delve down into the data they own, cleanse and organise for maximum trust and efficiency. And once they’ve got existing information neat and tidy, then it’s time to look to becoming much more intentional about data. It’s time to cut those third-party data apron strings and head out into the big, wide world of first and even zero-party data.

This will undoubtedly be challenging for some. In the paper, Dane Buchanan, global head of data for M&C Saatchi Performance notes that many companies simply aren’t set up to acquire and manage large volumes of first party data: “[they] possibly haven’t got a data warehouse to store information, or one that connects to systems like their Customer Relationship Management.” Without in-house capabilities, there is the temptation to look to others to supply that data, putting marketers back in dodgy targeting territory.

The answer? Well, a partnership is indeed one, but approach with caution. Instead, marketers should be looking at all the resources they have and ones they can readily access. For many, the answer is right under their noses.

Already, most companies are sitting on a goldmine of customer data, from user site behaviour to purchase records and customer service interactions. From there, it’s simply a question of modelling to find lookalike audiences and build deeper relationships.

Andy Platt, performance media consultant, says: “Most companies aren’t doing anything much with their first- or zero-party data because they are reliant on platforms like Facebook delivering lookalike audiences. Brands should be doing it internally. Identify your highest value customers and once you understand what they look like, start nurturing that relationship.”

Of course, relationships aren’t there to be plundered. There’s a definite sense of ‘what’s in it for me’ if customers are going to start parting with their valuable information, one on one. “Why should I as a consumer give you my data even if you’re specifically asking for it?” Chohan adds.

Rich experiences and value adds to standard loyalty schemes are just the start. For every demand the brand makes of its customer, it has to be prepared to answer the question ‘why?’. Does this mean that marketers are going to have to work harder to find, engage and keep customers in the absence of cookies? Undoubtedly so. Is this a bad thing? Altogether not.

Perhaps we should be thinking about 2023’s looming deadline less as the death of one thing, and more of the birth – renaissance, even – of customer-centric marketing. An opportunity to go back to first principles and to start getting it right.

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.