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Marketing Reset: How to Reach Customers Without Third-Party Cookies

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The era of third-party cookies is at an end. In January, Google Chrome restricted third-party cookies for 1% of users and plans to ramp up restrictions to 100% of users by 2025. Full-fledged fingerprinting around the internet is depreciating, and marketers and customers alike will soon notice, particularly in the retail and ecommerce space.

With today’s emphasis on privacy, third-party cookie deprecation will inevitably impact your brand, marketing strategy and customers. In order to prepare for (and mitigate) this seismic shift in personalized marketing, you will first need to gauge the real impact on your business.

1. Measure the Impact of Cookie Loss on Your Business

It may come as a surprise that most browsers have already sunsetted the use of third-party cookies, including Safari, Firefox, Edge and devices that run iOS and iPad OS. The bulk of third-party cookie loss will now primarily impact Chrome users. How much that will in turn impact your business depends on how many of your customers use Chrome to access your sites.

Fortunately, this is easy to quantify.

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First, look at your website analytics platform and run a report measuring the amount of traffic by browser. If, for example, 65% of your users are using Safari, Firefox, Edge, iPad OS or iOS devices, they’ve already experienced the third-party cookie phase-out. That means roughly 35% of your users will see an impact next year. The more users on Chrome, the larger the incremental impact cookie loss will have on your business through the remainder of this year and into next.

Next, inventory your marketing tactics. How much are you relying on remarketing or behavioral targeting? Are those tactics fueled by first-party data collection models or are they reliant on third-party cookies? Can you seamlessly switch to first-party data if you’re primarily using third-party data? This will paint a clear picture of how greatly your business will be impacted by third-party cookie loss this year – and how much work you may have to do to prepare.

2. Use Owned, First-Party Data

When moving forward without cookies, the most critical action you can take is building a marketing strategy using first-party data. First-party data is what your business owns, such as the data gathered through Google Analytics, account details and purchase histories, and utilizing it is privacy-centric.

The simplest way to activate the data you already own is to build out segments of users in your digital analytics platform, such as GA4, and then push those segmented audiences to ad platforms – of course, with proper consent. For example, you can look at people who have viewed a certain number of products on the website, have returned to the site multiple times and have an account, then target them with an ad. You can also engage in exclusion marketing by actively avoiding marketing to large swaths of the population, such as adding an exclusion of users who viewed only one page, made a purchase of a certain item category or are already account holders. 

The next level of first-party data marketing is using a customer data platform (CDP) or a marketing data warehouse to build audiences with data from different sources of tools and technology, such as a CRM, ERP, POS system and digital analytics, social media or email platforms. With all that data integrated into one spot, you can create more sophisticated audiences on a larger scale and activate them on an ad platform.

The most advanced iteration of the above examples is adding machine learning into the mix. For example, this includes solutions like Value-Based Bidding (VBB), which creates more intricate control over the data, and propensity modeling to measure the signals and identify if and when someone makes a purchase.

If your business doesn’t have a lot of first-party data right now, that’s okay. We have an opportunity to lean into more “old school” marketing tactics, those before hyper-personalized one-to-one marketing was the norm. Focusing on macro audiences allows us to create broader, less identity-focused segments that do not traditionally rely on cookies and can be naturally more privacy-centric.

3. Create Genuine Connections with Zero-Party Data

Zero-party data is a type of first-party data that a user proactively and voluntarily provides above and beyond identification or behavioral data. It is an opportunity for the user to share more information about their preferences, interests or intentions, and you can use this data to enhance customer experiences and create genuine touch points.

For example, we can look at an apparel company that prompts a customer to share their clothing sizes in their account details. The company can use this data to exclude the customer from marketing campaigns around items that don’t come in their size, but even better, it can directly target them with products they may like based on purchases from other customers of similar sizes.

Another example is from beauty companies. You’ve likely gone to a website and been asked, “What are your skincare concerns?” This allows customers to share those concerns, which the company can then use to provide a better personalized experience such as accurate product recommendations, or alternatively, excluding products that may not be a match.

Sharing this information brings value to the customer. They are not just offering this information for advertising purposes but with the expectation of a better user experience with more personalized messaging. This is a win-win for the customer and the retailer because the company receives more information for better marketing, and customers receive more relevant and targeted product suggestions.

4. Build Trust and Loyalty

Creating natural opportunities for customers to share zero-party data with companies ties to the core competencies of marketing: building trust and loyalty. And remember, there are a number of ways to reach your customers digitally to build this mutually beneficial relationship. Think about the larger experience you provide. Do you have a mobile app and are you using push notifications effectively? Are you maximizing email marketing or one-page checkouts? Assess where you’re connecting with your customers so you’re not piling on an oversaturation of ads trying to find something that sticks.

Alternatively, are you having an issue obtaining zero-party data from your customers even when prompted? Are you seeing high “unsubscribe” rates on your emails? That may indicate that you don’t have a strong loyalty base. This is a helpful signal to have — you know that you need to get back to basics and focus your brand strategy on building that loyalty.

Now is the time to assess what data you have, what you don’t and what you can do with it. All digital marketers are dealing with third-party cookie deprecation; take this time while the industry resets to test and learn. The future of digital marketing lies in a willingness to change and try new things. See what works for your business while you build a foundation of first-party data, and you won’t even notice when those cookies are gone for good.


Courtney Fenstermaker is Head of Industry at InfoTrust for its Direct-to-Consumer digital analytics team. Starting her career in digital marketing consulting, she brings a strategic, “big-picture” perspective on how InfoTrust clients can best leverage their data for marketing activation and insight generation. Since then, Fenstermaker has focused her career on first-party data strategies and privacy-centric digital analytics practices to help retail and ecommerce organizations build a genuine and trusting connection with their customers. Outside of InfoTrust, she is also passionate about involvement in privacy and ethics cohorts and mentoring others toward careers in digital analytics.

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