3rd Party Tracking Cookies

In a previous blog post, Marketing Post COVID, we discussed marketing trends and how COVID has reshaped them, as well as what to account for when marketing in this “post-COVID” world. In this post we’ll be discussing an upcoming change within browser’s utilization of consumer metrics and measurements and how it will disrupt the digital marketing industry.

Tracking Cookies
Have you ever clicked “Accept All” or “Yes” on a pop-up box while trying to view a webpage’s information? If so, like many of us, you’ve agreed to “all tracking cookies” without considering exactly what you’ve agreed to. Before we get into the changes, let’s define “tracking cookies” for our purposes here, then detail what they do and what is changing.

In layman’s terms, a cookie is simply a small piece of data. They range in use, from storing your password to tracking your browsing history, but can be of upmost importance when it comes to identifying consumer behavior and targeting individual consumers.

For our purposes here, we’ll be focusing on 3rd party tracking cookies. Think of tracking cookies as a tool to target consumers based off of measurements and metrics. Tracking cookies provide critical data points used to aid in transposing your message (or content) to a specified individual or group of individuals who share the same demographics, geography, values, or ideologies.

Big Data means BIG Data
Did you know that nearly 70% of all web surfing is done through Google Chrome? Did you also know that an individual is exposed to as many as 100,000 ads per day? Owning 70% of the world’s internet browsing data is equivalent to owning approximately 3 billion unique user’s data. But what type of data are we referring to?

Realistically, this user data includes an individual’s: search queries, purchases, device information, location, when and where they saw previous advertisements, how many times they’ve seen an ad, and what links they’ve clicked on. Pair this data with any amount of social media information available or data obtained by an internet service provider and we can, at just a moment’s glance, see why tracking cookies are so valuable. They’re able to provide an unprecedented amount of data on the consumer from a distance. The consumer does not need to visit your website, because the 3rd party cookie is tracking the consumer for you! It’s no surprise that marketing teams have been utilizing tracking cookies since its creation, which was back in 1994 by the way.

What’s Changing and Why
Following both Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome is set to no longer utilize these tracking cookies by Q4 2023, although their original timeline suggested as early as Q1 2022.

Without 3rd party tracking cookie support on Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, users should feel more in control of their own data, meaning more internet privacy for the user as well as less targeted and intrusive advertisements. Measuring consumer metrics and identifying demographics will still be possible, but at a much broader viewpoint. We’ll see groups of user behaviors categorized by big-data companies, providing some measurements, but not the specifics per individual we are “used to”. Social media sites will still host millions, if not billions, of active users willing to share any and every detail about their consuming behavior, but we, as marketers, won’t be able to make use of this information as efficiently.

As to why, anecdotally, most people prefer not to give you their personal information or internet browsing data if you plan to use it to sell something to them, or to simply sell that data. We should mention that both the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as well as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are recent legislative decisions going against 3rd party tracking cookies. If you are unfamiliar with the CCPA, visit this Wikipedia link here for a quick summary.

What’s Next
The reason 3rd party tracking cookies are still around, and for Chrome’s delayed removal timeline, is due to big-data companies preparing for the next “phase” of tracking. Facebook, Google, and Apple are three big data companies that should actually gain ground in this new era of market segmentation and consumer targeting. Think of this new phase like a newspaper, where Google, the newspaper, is telling you, the marketer, “We talk about interior design in this section- post your advertisements on crown molding here.” There will be a considerable amount of technological improvements when compared to a newspaper, but the idea remains the same.

The significant change here is the “grouping” of consumers, which can also be viewed as the lack of segmentation within the specified industry. All of the interior design adverts will be located in this section, not just the crown molding posts. For example, you may see hardwood floor advertisements in this interior design section. On the marketing side, this means that we will be less able to segment “those interested in crown molding” from “those interested in hardwood floors” and you’ll instead have one larger group of “those interested in interior design”.

From this example, you can see that we will still be able to target cohorts and groups, but pinpointing a specific individual and analyzing their behaviors will prove much more difficult! It should be noted that it’s reasonable to estimate the cost of advertising to increase; Google will be using a bid-like payment method in this new era, with other big-data companies assumed to follow suit.

How to Prepare
Although your digital marketing strategies have yet a need to adapt to the loss of 3rd party tracking cookies, here are three strategies to keep in mind as we see changes over the next 18 months:

1st Party Tracking Cookies and Owning Your Audience

  • Your consumer segment should be consuming your media. They should “live” on the same platforms as you, spend time in the same circles as you, and consume the same media as you. Newsletters, blog posts, vlogs, podcasts, webinars, workshops and social media presence should be areas of high (or higher) priority.
  • When these 3rd party tracking cookies no longer have the means to monitor your market segment behaviors and actions, it is up to you to host the content for them to consume. This will allow businesses, especially small businesses, to connect with their consumer on the ground level. When the consumer visits your website, you create a 1st party cookie, allowing you to collect the valuable data while “meeting” the consumer.

Personalization and Branding

  • As tracking cookies depart, individual branding and personalization will pick up. Which brand will a consumer ultimately choose in a flooded market with no 3rd party cookie to track their data? A reasonable conclusion is the brand they can pick out of a crowd and identify most with…or the brand that can pick them out of a crowd.
  • Pair personalization and branding with owning your audience. Consumers compelled by your content are more likely to willingly opt in to giving you control of their browsing data (1st party cookies). As mentioned in our Marketing Post COVID blog post: Don’t underestimate the power of trust. Combine trust with owning your consumer’s data and you’re less likely to notice the loss of 3rd party tracking cookies.

Update Your Outdated Tech

  • As mentioned earlier, 3rd party tracking cookies have been around since 1994. The creator of this cookie recognized the privacy concerns and, in 1998, pressured local and federal government to interfere. 23 years later the 3rd party tracking cookie is on its way out. It’s safe to say this technology has been updated over the years, but it truly is an outdated system. Bring your marketing efforts up-to-speed by investing in platforms that provide agile transitions, keeping your team on the ground level at all times.
  • Device identifiers and IP addresses are sticking around for the long haul; don’t forget to make use of them. As these two methods are automatically anonymized, to protect user privacy, we can safely continue using these identifiers for a variety of data variables.

Digital marketing in 2023 will challenge marketing firm’s abilities to target audiences, forcing their strategies, and budgets, to adapt. Keep these suggestions in mind while developing your future campaign’s work plans, and, as always, reach out to Channel Communications to learn more about our work, services, and team.

Article by Tim Coury
Channel Communications Intern