Thrive in the Post-Cookie World by Harnessing Your Own Data

By Michael Silberman, SVP of Strategy

Last week, Google announced its plan to start testing Privacy Sandbox, including some associated privacy controls, and FLoC, or “Federated Learning of Cohorts,” as a potential replacement for third-party cookies this spring. It’s as much as we’ve heard the tech giant publicly state since it announced the deprecation of third-party cookies a year ago. But, unsurprisingly, waiting around to hear what Google might do next has gotten neither the advertiser nor the publisher side very far. A survey of 450 marketers, advertisers, publishers and technology providers released by Aroscop and Brand Equity last December found that only 8% had deployed alternate solutions to prepare for a world without third-party cookies.

Earlier this year, I spoke on the topic of post-cookie identity to publisher members of Digital Connect Next as part of their DCN Next: Summit. I advised them to take control of their own strategies for how they will personalise experiences whenever the cookie crumbles. And there’s a big difference between saying you plan to use first-party data — which 67% of publishers say they’ll do in the next few months — as part of your strategy and, well, actually using it. Below are some of the tips I shared that can help you start to harness your own data as we move into a new era of personalisation.

1. Take inventory of your zero- and first-party data: There are two types of data that will become more valuable than ever as third-party cookies fade away: first-party data, the data you collect about a consumer via behavioural tracking as they browse your website, and zero-party data, the data a customer intentionally shares with you via registration forms, surveys, preference selections and other explicit data-capture tactics. The most basic question to ask first is how much zero- and first-party data you have at your disposal today. There are both technical and qualitative questions to answer. How are you currently collecting and storing that data? Can you easily create segments? Can you activate it for both onsite targeting and within the advertising ecosystem? What of that data is working for you now? 

2. Collect more of the right data with the right customer journey: Now that you’ve identified your gaps in data, how are you going to fill them? To collect more zero-party data, you should consider your strengths and weaknesses in content and site experience and how these things intersect with your most important users. Users need a reason, a value exchange, for parting with their precious information. Some smart examples we’ve seen include asking users to enter:

  • Postal codes for local news and weather
  • Birthdate to get a birthday greeting or coupon
  • Preferred content topics, collected to improve personalisation or receive email newsletters
  • Surveys or mini-polls about interests, future purchases or opinions

Consider the moments in the logical flow of a user’s journey where it makes sense to ask for data. Try not to ask for all of it at once — you can ask a user for two pieces of information when they first register for your site, and then give them another prompt that unlocks something else. No one wants to fill out a 12-question form to access a piece of content.

3. Use your data to refine targeting and find like users: Once you’ve determined your strategy for orchestrating the customer journey across users, you need to find technology that can help you collect zero- and first-party data, segment it and activate it to offer segments to advertisers, or target users for your own marketing initiatives. Lookalike modeling can help take a limited amount of data and expand it into a wider audience by looking at common traits and behaviours held by your current users and finding other users that share them for more precise segmentation. 

Whether companies flock to Google’s FLoC, or become partial to the various identity-based cookie replacements, publishers can’t afford to wait for the industry to make up its mind. A first-party relationship is critical for a world without the third-party cookie, and that starts with collecting zero- and first-party data from active, brand-loyal audiences that you cultivate. This strategy will not only prepare your business for the deprecation of a legacy technology, but also future-proof it against other industry changes to come.