Everyone is losing their minds over the disappearance of third-party cookies.
The impending loss has been a hot topic in the marketing world, with many fearing the worst. But the truth is, marketers can still thrive without them.
I’m not going to lie; It will be more work, at least in the short term. But I believe that the shift away from third-party cookies could potentially provide marketers with even more valuable insights and expertise.
So, if you’re stressing about third-party cookies, I say congratulations—because you’re paying attention and trying to prepare. That’s smart because this shift is happening quickly—although the timeline keeps moving—and it’s time to take action.
First, I’ll walk through a couple of the big fears and then I’ll tell you how to create a plan of attack:
Your digital behavioral tracking will become ineffective.
Don’t panic! First-party cookies are still around. That means you have access to any data point that your company has collected directly from your audience via site visits, forms, social media, etc. In other words, it's more than just website metrics.
If you’re using a content management system (CMS), first-party cookies tend to be built into the systems, tools, or platforms. This means your CMS is still able to capture user behavior on your site, leveraging it to inform ad placement and other marketing strategies.
One of the biggest concerns with the loss of third-party cookies is the impact on data tracking, but this shouldn’t affect your first-party data. You won’t have as much data, but you’ll still have a lot of information about your customers and prospects.
Why you should relax: If you’re using a CRM, you won’t lose much of your digital behavioral tracking. One of the biggest concerns about the loss of third-party cookies is the impact on data tracking, but this shouldn’t affect your first-party data. While you won't be able to directly use that data to drive tactics like paid ad placement, you can still use it to inform the contexts in which you place those ads.
Web user behavior data is irreplaceable.
In reality, it’s not the end all, be all. Your website—and the behavior it tracks—is not the only source of user behavioral data. Users or prospects (whatever they are in your case) create data points at every part of your process. It’s up to you to ensure these are being adequately tracked.
However, it is true that automated targeting and personalization will become more difficult. Automation has involved a certain amount of “set it and forget it.” This means that it's going to be even more important for marketers to have a thorough understanding of their personas; they'll have to rely more on their insight and expertise to resonate with their audiences.
Why you should relax: Contextual marketing will likely be making a comeback. In fact, marketers' insight and expertise may be more valued after the sunsetting of the third-party cookie.
Steps you can take:
1. Calm the f*** down. You're going to be fine.
If you’re still freaking out, go re-read the two bullet points above.
If it helps, here’s a mini pep talk. Think of everything you’ve already learned about marketing! This is just one more thing, and while there’s a learning curve, you’re up for the challenge. Use the insight and expertise you've gathered to experiment and gain further insight and expertise.
If you don’t feel you have the knowledge to market effectively using first-party data, you can still take a class or two before this change happens.
2. Hail our Google overlords.
Seriously though, start using Google's Business products if you haven't. They're the biggest collector of first-party data, which means they have one of the most massive data sets ever gathered. Their ability to collect first-party data remains unmatched and I feel confident that their business products will reflect that.
Remember that skillset discussion from the bullet point above? Get on Google Analytics (GA4), Search Console, Tag Manager, Big Query, or whatever you can get your hands on. There are plenty of courses you can take to learn them and even more specialists looking for work.
3. If you’re not using a CMS (and, ideally, a CRM), start now.
A CMS gives you everything you need to manage and aggregate data from your website. It enables you to collect user data, whether via page visits, content viewed, form collection, or just general behavior.
These platforms also help with experimentation, which will be more important when cookies disappear. After all, the faster that you can get content up or down, the more experiments and cycles you can run. The result? Greater customer insight.
If you layer a CRM on top of a CMS, you now have an actionable database that allows you to orchestrate and execute a go-to-market strategy.
For example, HubSpot allows you to tie together multiple engagements across multiple engagements regardless of whether they happen on your website or not. There’s built-in aggregation because you're using it to manage email and other direct outreach.
Consumer data platforms are great, but if you don’t have one, don’t despair! The combination of a CMS and CRM can give you everything you need.
4. Make first-party data and its reporting as accessible as possible.
This means you need to ask yourself some questions: How are you using data currently? How can you manage the change and provide similar insight to what stakeholders currently receive?
Look into ways to connect the various repositories for your first-party data. As I said in my glowing review of Databox (linked here): “Good data visualization leads to good data utilization. After all, why would you use a report that doesn’t make sense to you?”
As I said, automated targeting and personalization meant most marketers didn’t have to think as much about their data. Now that you have to put in more thought, make it easy on yourself, your co-workers, and any other experts.
5. Exercise all of your data-generating muscles.
Get creative! Think of all of the data generated by users/prospects/customers throughout the many activities involved in your revenue-generating processes. Next, think about how you can use data points you might not have considered previously relevant.
Once you’ve exhausted all the data you already have, think of new ways you can get data from users who are in the audiences you're trying to reach. They’ll usually share it if you provide value in return.
Lastly, remember the value of qualitative data, as it can help you build your expertise and generate ideas for reaching your audiences and personas.
Losing third-party cookies is going to require some changes, but it's not the end of the world. By shifting to first-party data and exploring alternative tracking technologies, marketers can still excel. Focus on leveraging insights to build a deeper relationship with your customers. This could be your big chance to showcase your strategic value.