Unless you are the beloved Cookie Monster from Sesame Street, we all know that bingeing on cookies is a decidedly unhealthy habit. Delicious in the moment but destructive in the long run.
The same holds true for digital cookies. Marketers have been gorging on them for decades, addicted to the delicious data they provide. The ad industry’s unhealthy cookie addiction, however, is about to come to an uncomfortable end.
Baked v. Coded
As a digital marketer, you know where we’re going with this. But you’d be remiss to think that the two — baked and coded cookies — are entirely without similarities.
Take fortune cookies, for example. We can’t wait to crack them open to see what our future holds. The value of fortune cookies lies in the words of wisdom written on that piece of paper, not the shell of crispy wafer around it.
Digital cookies are just like that, except the information they carry tends to be far more concrete and substantive than a feel-good conjecture set forth by the fortune cookie fairy.
Types of Cookies
Cookies, in essence, are sweet baked treats. But the forms they can take — bar, drop, rolled, molded, pressed and so forth — are very much varied.
The same goes for their digital counterparts.
Cookies in the online world refer to text files that browsers and mobile apps generate to catalog user behavior. While not as diverse, they also come in different shapes:
- Session Cookies
Have you ever purchased multiple products from an online store? If so, you owe session cookies some gratitude. Because without them, you would’ve had to check out each item one by one.
All credits to session cookies, every change you make within the site is kept track of until the browser is closed, which allows for a seamless online shopping experience.
- First-Party Cookies
Weird. You’ve rebooted your laptop, but everything you’ve chucked into the cart is still there. How could this be?
Easy. You’re witnessing the magic of first-party cookies.
As opposed to session cookies, first-party cookies are stored on your device so that there isn’t a need to re-enter certain information even after you exit out of your tabs.
First-party cookies are what save you the hassle of having to go through the same ordeal — log in, pick a language and customize settings — time after time before you can start streaming on your favorite platform.
- Third-Party Cookies
The wonders of cookies have been leaning toward the side of consumers so far. Well, that’s because we haven’t gotten to third-party cookies yet.
Don’t get us wrong. Other kinds of cookies come with their own merits for marketers. First-party cookies, for one, provide analytics around users, sessions and page views. But these metrics are usually too generic to reveal anything substantive about what visitors do online.
That’s a problem in and of itself because it becomes impossible to tell which channels and touch points are driving conversions without such insights.
In that vein, third-party cookies are like a godsend.
These sneaky little snippets of code follow users around as they move from tab to tab and leave behind a trail of data crumbs, filled with jewels of user intelligence spanning from browsing history and demographics to spending habits and lifestyle choices.
For marketers seeking to better gauge and understand potential prospects and existing customers, there’s hardly any other instrument as valuable.
Thanks to rising privacy concerns that have now snowballed into a full-fledged clampdown on the use of customer data, marketers have been placed on a forced digital cookie diet.
Worse still, time’s not on their side. Google proposed plans to ditch third-party cookies before the end of next year, practically putting the long-reigning era of third-party cookies to bed.
This is to say marketers have less than a year and a half to develop and internalize viable alternative attribution strategies.
But there’s no need to panic. Because contrary to what most marketers seem to think, measuring the impact touch points have on conversions is perfectly tenable with the right methodologies.
- Server-Side Tracking
You, not some browser, should control your user data. Server-side tagging is at your disposal to help you do just that.
Done right, implementing server-side tagging will put data autonomy back in your hands and prevent ad blockers and other filtering extensions from rendering part of the dataset useless.
Here’s how it works: Instead of encrypting pixels to your website and having HTML tags send the data to ad networks, set up a custom web domain that can serve as an initial destination. Once the datasets have been received, rewrite them into a legible format your tag management system can read, then ship them out to third-party vendors.
- First-Party Data Activation
If the cost of setting up server-side tracking is out of your budget, your next best bet is to focus on making the most out of first-party data.
There are two things you need to do to bring that about. First, incentivize customers to willingly share their preferences. Try launching new loyalty programs, encouraging single sign-on or sending out surveys and polls. And of course, be sure to delineate how the collected information will be used to better serve their needs.
As your data set grows, you need to organize it under a single roof. This is non-negotiable unless you enjoy wasting hours, if not days, stitching together disparate datasets scattered across multiple silos just to get an incomplete outline of customer traits and behaviors.
The biggest catch here is that gathering enough scalable proprietary data is no cakewalk. That’s why it’s always a good idea to supplement first-party data strategy with contextual tactics.
- Contextual Advertising
Is contextual marketing the new black? There’s a good reason why contextually driven strategies have been gaining traction lately — and it’s not just because behavioral targeting is going away.
Traditionally, contextual advertising was pretty much synonymous with keyword targeting. But its definition has evolved to encompass innovative solutions that combine semantics, visual cues and enriched first-party data to provide seamless content experiences tailored to customers’ needs and preferences.
The bottom line is that there’s no point in letting the idea of third-party cookies going away get in your head. If anything, it might take a little while until you’re fully up to speed on new processes that drive cookieless attribution models.
Hopefully, this post has given you enough pointers to get the ball rolling on making that transition. And remember, the sooner you figure out how you want to analyze different touch points and measure campaign performance, the better off you’ll be on understanding and reaching your audience in the impending post-cookie landscape.
Sophie Eom is an inspirational serial entrepreneur, having launched two privately-held technology companies in the past eight years. She founded Solidware, an AI startup that provided machine learning-based predictive analysis solutions to large financial institutions. Eom led a successful exit of Solidware as it was acquired by Yello Financial Group (now DAYLI Financial Group). In 2018, Eom co-founded Adriel with Olivier Duchenne and currently leads as CEO, driving its rapid growth. Adriel is a next-generation centralized digital marketing platform that enables marketers and agencies to connect, manage and optimize an unlimited number of digital advertising accounts in a central workspace.