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How to adapt to a cookie-free future

The digital marketing landscape has witnessed substantial changes in recent years, with a global shift toward consent and privacy-first...

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6 min read

The digital marketing landscape has witnessed substantial changes in recent years, with a global shift toward consent and privacy-first policies. From GDPR to iOS14.5, the way businesses connect to customers continues to evolve as people expect more transparency and control over their data.

In what’s being called the largest paradigm shift since the PageRank algorithm, Google Chrome will stop supporting third-party cookies by 2023. With 2.6 billion Chrome users (functionally half of all internet traffic), it’s little wonder that advertisers have dubbed it the “Cookiepocalypse”.

But what does it mean for your agency? How can you prepare and adapt so that you continue to engage with potential clients? Let’s explore some marketing strategies that can not only help you survive, but thrive, in a post-cookie world.

Make first-party data work harder

First-party data is all the information you’ve collected from sign-up forms, purchases, your CRM, reviews, and surveys. This first-party data is far more intimate and detailed, giving you insight into who your clients are and what they’re looking for.

This isn’t hypothetical data — you have the demographics, location, buying habits, and budget spends of the kind of people who actually engage with your business.

However, unless you have more customers than Google, first-party data comes from a much smaller reference pool than third-party cookies. To successfully adapt to the loss of third-party cookies, advertisers will need to gather more first-party data and make it work harder for them. But how?

Borrow Big Data’s insights and make them your own

The loss of cookies won’t affect the kind of account-based tracking Big Data uses, so borrow their data-collecting tools to improve your own.

Popularized by Facebook, “account-based” tracking decouples user data from their devices or browser and uses an account people can log into across multiple platforms instead. Consider how you can log into most apps or websites using your Facebook or Google account and how Facebook and Google retain all that data even when you’re not active on their sites (or device).

Agencies simply don’t have the reach or resources to create such login accounts, but you don’t need to: Use Facebook’s own system to piggyback on their data.

Facebook ads can be highly targeted by region, age, gender, interests, device, and page engagement. By running a Facebook ad, you get access to its huge pool of data. Moreover, when the ad has run, Facebook’s “Audience Insights” feature allows you to see how it performed across those demographics. It’ll show you who saw the ad, who clicked through, who engaged with it, etc., helping you form a custom audience for your brand.

As you run ads on Facebook over time, you can export this data to augment the first-party data you’ve gathered to create a more accurate picture of your target audience.

You can also use LinkedIn ads, Google ads, and even Bing ads to the same effect.

Collect insights through email and social campaigns

Email and social media marketing are still great ways to gather data without cookies, and there are plenty of tools to help you do it.

Stockpile emails by incentivizing sign-up. The more emails you snag, the stronger the email marketing campaign you have, and the more information you can gather about clickthrough rates and engagement. Which, in turn, gives you more first-party data.

Get more emails with a few simple tactics and use them consistently:

  1. Include an engaging call-to-action to sign up for your newsletter at the end of all blogs, ebooks, and other content marketing.

  2. Embed email sign-up right into your content (where applicable) instead of linking to a page.

  3. Consider ways to make your social media and ad content funny, engaging, friendly, or interesting.

  4. Make contests, giveaways, and surprise deals contingent on email sign up.

Never stop gathering emails. All these tactics should be an ongoing part of your marketing strategy going forward if you want to make up for the loss of third-party cookies. And, of course, measure and tweak your newsletter to match the engagement data you’re collecting.

Email is also still the number 1 source of conversion on Black Friday/Cyber Monday, so the more effort spent here, the better. Why not harvest data and make sales at the same time?

Incorporate social media analytics into your normal operations. Social media is the goldmine of consumer data, so grab your pickaxe. Social media advertising — as we discussed above — is the first step to regaining lost data sources. The second step is to use tools that make gathering data from your own social media content easier.

Hubspot, Sprout Social, BuzzSumo, Socialbakers, Google Analytics, and Bazaarvoice (formerly Curalate) are all excellent platforms for not only managing social media and influencer campaigns but also extracting every ounce of data for your marketing.

For Wix users, email marketing and social media marketing are built into the service and can help you collect more data and increase outreach with minimal effort.

Embrace marketing strategies from the past

The ability to track users anywhere they go on the Internet didn’t exist before third-party cookies, but marketing did. Some of the online marketing techniques you may have eschewed in the past are just as effective as they once were (and can be improved by modern tactics).

Combine contextual targeting with modern keyword tools

Contextual targeting is the practice of tying the ads displayed on a site to the site’s content. For example, a site that sells jet skis (a luxury item) might run ads for other high-income items or services. A popular movie blog would run ads for home sound systems, a site that books vacations may run ads for travel gear. With conceptual targeting, what a user is searching for or reading about will align with ads about that topic.

Contextual targeting fell out of favor when third-party cookies rose to prominence, but it still serves as an effective marketing technique and may be one of the many replacements for browser site tracking.

The most efficient method for creating contextual ads is to use a keyword tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush to find related topics and industries. Enter the keyword of your industry (“real estate”) and search for related keywords. Most keyword tools should provide you with a handy list of keywords associated with your topic.

In the case of “real estate,” you may get keywords like “home insurance,” “realtors,” “flyers,” “open house,” “home repair,” etc., all of which might make great related, contextual ads for a real estate site.

Ad platforms like Google Ads even have built-in tools to help generate and place contextual ads.

Pool resources with partners

Every company is gathering first-party data through normal operations and marketing. Consider pooling your data with a friendly but non-competitive partner to create the most effective marketing tools for all parties.

Just over 64% of surveyed companies in the US said they were currently partnering with other brands to share first-party data, according to the Collaborative Data Solutions report by the Winterberry Group. Meanwhile, 45.5% of UK companies said the same, and all but 11.9% (in the US) said they had in the past or would consider doing it in the future.

Find partners that aren’t competitors and share your data

Though brand partnerships are not new, brand collaboration was often a PR move used for special events and large product launches. In the future, as the cookies go stale, sharing first-party data should actively cultivate these symbiotic relationships.

Marketers need to find brands that seem like a good fit and begin establishing relationships with them now.

Finding companies with different products but similar customers takes imagination and a little legwork. You can take a few different paths to look for potential data-sharing partners:

  1. Check your client’s own supply chain for related industries.

  2. Survey existing clients about hobbies, interests, and other ways they spend their money.

  3. Engage with influencers in your industry and see what related services they market.

  4. Ask your client’s sales team for insight: They know their customers’ behavior better than anyone.

  5. Use keyword tools (as mentioned above) to find keywords that relate to your industry.

Lastly, take a look at your own CRM — what industries do you do business with? There’s a good chance you have at least a few customers in common to share data.

Think beyond the ‘Cookiepocalypse’

The death of Google’s cookies is only one of the shake-ups that will force marketing agencies to change; privacy laws across the globe are becoming more strict and consumer-forward by the day. Embracing new (and old) ways to market your agency is essential to surviving the rough waters ahead.

Though digital marketing must adapt, finding and helping your clients is still possible with innovation, imagination, and collaboration.


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