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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Say your final goodbyes to third-party cookies and say hello to first-party data

The “demise” of cookies means brands no longer have individual consumers’ data at their fingertips and they need new ways to collect and sort this valuable information.

Say your final goodbyes to third-party cookies and say hello to first-party data
[momius /AdobeStock]

There’s a common misconception that Google’s plan to eliminate third-party cookies from its Chrome browser heralds the “death of cookies.” In reality, major browsers like Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox have already abandoned third-party cookie tracking as a result of tightening privacy laws. That means a cookieless future is now.

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Brands often use cookies—blocks of data a web server generates when a user browses a site—to learn about their customer and (hopefully) improve their digital experience. Cookies can inform everyday functions like product recommendations and e-commerce shopping carts. Third-party cookies track an individual’s browsing data across any site, which has raised consumer privacy concerns in recent years.

The “demise” of cookies means brands no longer have individual consumers’ data at their fingertips and they need new ways to collect and sort this valuable information. So, as we continue operating in a privacy-centric space, brands need to rethink their strategies, mindsets, and digital tools.

How are brands really using customer data?

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Picture this: You add a sweater to your digital shopping cart but don’t complete the purchase. Later, you’re making a dinner reservation on OpenTable on the same device. A banner ad appears at the top of your screen for the sweater that’s sitting in your cart—a functionality made possible by third-party cookies. With third-party tracking, marketers can gather information about a user, such as their age, location, and even their online habits, to provide personalized ads.

The major issue with third-party data tracking is that most people aren’t aware their activity on one website can be monitored by another. They also don’t know how brands are using their personal information or how much data brands are collecting. Nearly 90% of respondents in a 2021 survey said they are growing increasingly concerned about data privacy, which makes sense considering third-party cookies can exploit how individuals’ personally identifiable information (PII) is used.

Government entities and large companies have taken action on the serious issue of how brands use PII, starting with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018. The GDPR establishes a framework for how companies can collect and process personal information. Additional regulations are on their way and noncompliance can result in costly fines and reputational damage.

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Without the ability to track a user’s online behavior across the web, brands need different digital tools and new methods of ad targeting and retargeting. Marketers need to speak with their vendors to discuss how their solutions use third-party cookies and how they are adapting to changes in privacy laws.

The bottom line? Big changes are happening as marketers can no longer rely on third-party data-tracking to gather customer information.

THREE CONSIDERATIONS AS WE PART WITH THIRD-PARTY DATA-TRACKING

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To succeed in a cookieless future, you need solutions and strategies that work for your business and your customers. Consumers want control over their data and you need their data to serve relevant content. So, it’s time to say goodbye to the days of targeting individual consumers with third-party cookies and say hello to first-party data.

As we continue transitioning toward a privacy-first world, here are a few things to consider:

• Change is here—embrace it. Google’s plan to remove cookies will have a significant impact on brand strategies considering Chrome represents more than half of global web traffic. But the decline of cookies isn’t new. Take a step back from your current strategy: You’re already collecting data, you just need to determine how to use it. Additionally, consumer privacy laws will continue to evolve so it’s important to embrace a privacy-centric approach, both to remain compliant and to build customer trust. Stay versed in industry trends and regulations as you navigate the new normal.

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• Invest in first-party data collection. Every brand collects data whether they realize it or not—customer data from a loyalty program, for example. Now it’s time to put this data to use. No single marketing strategy is a perfect substitute for third-party cookie tracking. However, investing time, money, and talent into your data collection strategy enables you to identify the right mix of tools and methods that supports your business objectives. Strategies like zero-party data and tools like Scuba Analytics enable marketing teams to turn data into actionable insights across the customer journey. And since you will likely need new technologies, it’s important to ensure your teams are set up for success with proper training.

• Prioritize transparency. Transparency around the collection of first-party data is no longer a nice-to-have—it’s a must. Communicate with consumers about the information you are collecting and how you intend to use it. You need a purpose behind each piece of data you collect, and the more transparent you are the better. Given that all brands must rely on customer data, transparency will become an increasingly important differentiator between you and your competitors. If a customer shops online for a new pair of shoes and finds that they are the same price on two different websites, they will feel better about purchasing from the brand that’s honest and open about data privacy.

Similar to compliance with accessibility standards, adjusting your strategies to meet privacy regulation compliance is an ongoing process. You can’t just check off the boxes and go on your way: Continue learning about new digital tools and first-party data collection strategies to keep pace with the competition. Regulations will continue to expand and consumer expectations for privacy will evolve—and your business must grow alongside them.

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Owen Frivold is EVP of Strategy and co-founder at Hero Digital

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