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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.

The cookies are crumbling. Now what for marketers?

What may look like a precipice today is really a staging area for the marketing breakthroughs that are about to happen.

The cookies are crumbling. Now what for marketers?
[oatawa/AdobeStock]

Marketers are peering over the edge of a precipice. The much-discussed phasing out of third-party cookies will be a reality within the year. Browsers including Safari and Firefox already block the use of these little trackers, and Google announced it will do the same for Chrome by the end of 2023. Even Android introduced a privacy sandbox, which will effectively put in place the same controls. The golden age of mass tracking and (arguably far-less-than-accurate) targeting is coming to a close.

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Despite the angst that accompanies this change, it actually puts marketers back in the driver’s seat. Yes, in the past it was easy to rely on the algorithms provided by ad exchanges to reach consumers. But as someone generating demand and stewarding the image of your brand, isn’t it better to control your destiny, or at least the destiny of your advertising?

Here are three things marketers should consider as they prepare for a cookie-free world.

CLEAN UP YOUR DATA

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Consider zero-party and first-party data. Both are valuable, but they aren’t created equal because they are collected differently. First-party data is information that brands collect from consumers with their permission. For example, a consumer may visit a website or sign up for emails, SMS messages, or loyalty programs.

In contrast, zero-party data is information about preferences that consumers willingly give brands. This could be through answering a quiz, taking a survey, or engaging in text messaging conversations. The advantage of zero-party data is that it is a far better indicator of intent, allowing brands to personalize offers to tee up a purchase.

Zero-party data must be treated with great care; in that respect, it’s about as far away from third-party data as you can get. Marketers must be crystal clear about what they plan to do with the information they are collecting, both today and especially in the future. Moreover, they must adhere to their commitments at all times and take measures to protect the privacy of each and every consumer.

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Managing data in the cookie-free world is going to require more effort, but there are huge potential payoffs.

FOCUS ON QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY

The big flaw of third-party, cookie-driven digital ads was that they measured only clicks, and therefore correlated poorly with consumer interest. Rather than going wide, use first-party—and preferably zero-party—data to go deeper than third-party ads ever could.

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Today’s consumers are constantly faced with high-quality content and aesthetically pleasing, data-driven digital experiences. Brands are going to need to spend more money on a per-ad basis, which means the targeting will have to be spot on and the creative amazing.

When done correctly, it means that ROAS (return on advertising spend) will steadily increase over time. And besides, isn’t this what we as marketers really should have been doing all along?

BUILD TRUST THROUGH PERSONAL CONNECTION

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Trust between brands and consumers remains a huge hurdle. According to BCG, nearly half of consumers are not comfortable sharing their personal data with a brand. Yet that very same study reveals that this attitude may shift if they feel they are getting something in return. Specifically, two-thirds of consumers want ads that are personalized to them and their interests, and they’re willing to give up some information if they truly believe the brand is going to use it to their benefit.

I believe that it’s our responsibility as marketers to act transparently and to safeguard data. Moreover, I think it’s critical that we meet consumers in the channels where they are, specifically, on their mobile devices. We are in a new world of hybrid shopping in the post-COVID era—the line between online and in-store has effectively faded as consumers have learned to rely on new conveniences like BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store).

The mobile device is the connective tissue that allows consumers to continue on their shopping journey regardless of where they are. That’s why SMS is a critical channel for marketers. My team and I recently conducted a survey of 5,000 people, in which we discovered that 63% of respondents who subscribe to a brand’s text messages made a purchase within the last three months. Text messaging is a simple way to create a conversation with a consumer and remove friction along the path to purchase.

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Moreover, these conversations can be tailored so that the shopper feels a connection to the brand and has a seamless, convenient experience with their transaction. This type of conversational approach is quickly becoming an expectation. Approximately 90% of consumers in our survey expect a fast response time, and over 74% expect a direct response from a real person. Combined with engaging content, SMS offers a winning technology recipe for ever-increasing consumer demands.

What may look like a precipice today is really a staging area for the marketing breakthroughs that are about to happen. In the coming months, we’ll see the good marketers separated from the great—now that the world of cookies is crumbling.


Sara Varni, Chief Marketing Officer, Attentive

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