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Prepare for Marketing Measurement in the Cookieless Future

As we come closer to the end of third-party cookies, marketers will have to adapt their activities.

For the past decades, marketers have been relying on cookies to measure the success of their marketing activities. In this way, they were able to calculate and enjoy a bigger Return On Investment.

While the digital marketing industry strives to deliver relevant ads and messages to consumers, global privacy organisations and the European Union work to safeguard personal data privacy. That creates a new reality for marketers all around the world. Read here everything your need to know to prepare your marketing strategy for the cookieless future. Or should we say, the cookieless present?

In this article, you will find:

  • The latest developments in data availability and accessibility
  • The role of cookies in effective marketing
  • How to prepare for the cookieless future

What does cookieless mean?

The term "cookieless" describes a digital world, where third-party cookies become unavailable to marketers and other industries of interest. This is the result of data privacy regulations imposed by several organisations and legislative bodies, such as the European Union.

Apparently, data privacy laws affect the way marketers work, especially, in the fields of digital marketing and marketing measurement. Thankfully, you (still) have some time to catch up with the developments. And learn how to prepare for the the new era of marketing.

3rd party Vs 1st party cookies

These two different types of cookies provide separate information and data on internet users. And it’s essential to comprehend what each of these consists of to understand their impact.

First-party cookies are created by the host domain – the exact domain the user is visiting. These types of cookies are created in order to generate a user-friendly experience in the browser.

Hence, they are not considered to invade users’ privacy. The browsers save information about your username, passwords, items you add to your shopping cart, and your language preferences. Even this info helps to improve users' experience on a website, it cannot be shared with other websites or advertising partners.

On the other hand, third-party cookies are primarily focused on user behaviour and they track users across sites and devices. They are created by domains that you are not visiting directly. And they provide sensitive and private details about your age, gender, and location.

What’s more, these cookies give detailed insights into your entire online journey. Advertisers gain info into your visited websites and subpages, time spent on every page and subpage you visited etc. This data is so important because it can be used for cross-site tracking, retargeting, ad-serving, or even live chats.

However, there is a great concern about users' data security in regards to the privacy of their personal information. And, especially, how this information is used in digital advertising. This triggered the establishment of several privacy laws, like the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) among others.

Consequently, the rise of data protection laws sees the deprecation of marketing tactics relying on third party data, which appear to invade users' privacy online. But how are third-party data connected to marketing measurement? Should everyone start preparing for this new reality before it’s too late?

Data privacy developments for online marketing

Stay on top of the developments! Read here the data management and privacy news!

With the cookieless future upon us, marketers are scrambling to find alternatives to maintain the strength of their marketing measurement.

Already in 2017 Safari introduced its first version of ITP as a solution to the block of third-party cookies. However, after the release of ITP 2.0, third-party cookies have been completely blocked. This mainly affected ad profile building, retargeting, and conversion tracking by ad networks.

Big players, like Google and Facebook, came up with alternatives to third-party tracking based on first-party cookies. The alternatives aimed to track users across different websites. Consequently, ad networks were still able to perform conversion tracking in Safari and fully measure the effectiveness of ad campaigns.

In 2020, Google decided to join Safari in blocking cookies on its Google Chrome browser. Their approach was divided into various phases with the ultimate goal of blocking third-party cookies within two years. For this purpose, Google proposed new technologies that do not shake the revenue engine of websites but are less invasive to the personal data of users.

Initially, Google announced plans to eliminate third-party cookies in Chrome by the end of 2023. However, this schedule has been revised. The new timeline indicates that Chrome began disabling third-party cookies for a small percentage (1%) of users starting in the first quarter of 2024. This initial phase was designed to facilitate testing and adjustments for both users and marketers. Subsequently, the plan was for the deprecation to ramp up, expanding to 100% of Chrome users by the third quarter of 2024.

In April 2024, the latest update from Chrome revealed that Google has recognised challenges in aligning feedback from various sectors, including industry, regulators, and developers. Consequently, Google will not finalize the third-party cookie deprecation in Q4 as previously planned. Instead, Google anticipates a possible agreement later this year, aiming to begin cookie deprecation early next year, pending final approvals.

This phased approach is a part of Google's Privacy Sandbox initiative, which aims to balance the need for user privacy with the requirements of digital advertisers. The delay in the phase-out schedule provides additional time for the industry to adapt to these significant changes. Marketers, in particular, must use this extended period to develop and implement new strategies that respect user privacy while still delivering effective marketing messages.

See below the time line with the latest developments.

A timeline of the cookieless future in marketing.

What does cookieless mean for marketers?

In the last decades, digital marketing was greatly developed around user/customer behaviour. Tracking third-party cookies allowed marketers to deliver the most tailor-made messages to the right users. That means that the way of working of the everyday marketer depends on tactics and technology built around data availability. The limitations in the data accessibility can put a strain on marketers' activities and effectiveness.

Third-party cookies in marketing measurement

In a cookieless world, advertisers will lose the ability to track users across channels. This means they will no longer have access to the online behaviour of consumers, such as website visits, interests, and purchases.

When all major browsers stop supporting sensitive data collection, it will become impossible to set up audience targeting and frequency capping. And advertisers will not be able to use micro-target advertising. A benefit is that advertisers can save money by cutting out middlemen and investing more in actual media.

But the biggest complication regards marketing measurement in the cookieless era. Specifically, the ability of marketers to measure the impact of their marketing activities and the attribution models they use. With consumers opting out of personalised advertising and web browsers limiting tracking options, Multi-touch attribution (MTA) will decrease in accuracy over time.

One thought is that advertisers might need to go back to using traditional measurement models such as Marketing Mix Models, Cross-Channel attribution, or conversion tracking per platform. All these models definitely have their merits. However, the current digital landscape requires a model where all these aforementioned measurement models can be combined in one place. Also, the role of artificial intelligence and machine learning becomes more relevant than ever.

How to prepare for the cookieless marketing

One of the main challenges of the modern marketing is the marketing measurement in the cookieless world. Here are the 4 ways to prepare:

1. Orient your teams around the facts and follow the developments in the field.

No matter how complicated the developments are, you need to be on top of the developments. Make sure that you know all the possible solutions and their limitations. Assess every step you take and align your marketing teams to the developments one step at a time to avoid confusion. Remember that the sooner you begin changing your way of working the easier will be the (inevitable) transition.

Besides, this offers you a first-grade opportunity to step up your marketing game. Now it's the time for marketers to gain the competitive advantage they need. Those who manage to adapt technology to the new way of working will rip the benefits of being innovative. Investing in setting up new processes and tactics can help brands succeed over their competitors for the next decade.

2. Audit your technology and adapt your tech stack

Current marketing measurement tactics and technology might fall short in the new era of marketing. What you can do to anticipate the changes, is to audit your technology and make sure that it's future-proof.

If you use Multi-touch Attribution (MTA), you might need to consider how you use it. And what are its shortcomings regarding the use of consumer data.

More importantly, you need to understand how each tool works and how it processes user-level data. Think, how accurate is a tool if it cannot process consumer data? How relevant it is in the c`ookieless future? Even if a tool doesn't use user-level data, you need to consider how relevant it will be to a new way of working.

3. Make the most out of what you have

Thrid-party cookies become a thing of the past. But just not yet. Here's your opportunity to create a database for your brand and use it later as a reference.

What does that mean? Use Multi-touch Attribution (MTA) as much as possible, while you can. Design and run experiments, and see how your campaigns perform with different target groups and device settings.

Another way to compensate for the limited data availability is to use other kinds of data. Such data include factors of influence, like seasonality, prior business knowledge, events, and so on. Focusing on these parameters offers insights that help you optimise your marketing strategy and campaigns, without breaching data privacy laws.

To do so, you need to explore marketing attribution modelling that takes these factors into account. These techniques are the future of what experts call Next-gen MMM.

4. Hold your paid media accountable

Even though cross-device and -platform tracking becomes impossible, brands can substitute these insights with channel data for their users. Marketers can focus on how they perform per channel and compare the results of each channel to create a bigger picture.

To do so, they need to hold accountable their paid media. It often happens that a sale is claimed by more than one channels. That leaves you with a total of attributed sales that is higher than the number of your actual sales. So how can you accurately tell which channel offered you the most conversions?

One solution is to set a general measurement framework, which regulates and evaluates the insights coming from the subsequent channels. Instead of using different metrics and tools for every channels, which creates walled gardens, you can use one source of truth. Unified Marketing Measurement (UMM) is considered by many to be a versatile approach to marketing analytics that seems to solve the deprecation of third-party cookies.

Unified Marketing Measurement (UMM) combines different marketing attribution methodologies to create a single source of truth. Some of the methodologies include Marketing Mix Modelling (MMM), Multi-Touch Attribution (MTA), Experiments, and Direct Response Modelling. This framework provides a holistic overview of media performance while maintaining as much granularity as possible.

Are you ready for the change? Read below the answers to the top 5 questions on cookieless measurement!

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