The Marketing Targeting Dilemma: How to Think About Changes in the Cookieless Future

By Kate Rogers  |  April 20, 2021

Person looking at computer with floating graphics around his head (cookies, profiles, like buttons)

As Google and other players plan an internet without cookies, web-based advertising is on the precipice of major changes. Regardless of how the cookie crumbles, MSPC vice president of digital strategy Kate Rogers explains why audience-focused content and targeted marketing campaigns aren’t going out of style.

Digital marketers are accustomed to assessing risk. It’s part of our job to monitor the ever-fluid digital landscape for the shifts, rifts and seismic changes that will affect our clients’ businesses. It’s also part of our job to discern sound from fury when marketers get riled up about what is and what is not a seismic shift. As a group, I submit, we marketers are often long on fury.

Much has been written about the future of privacy and advertising once Google disables third-party cookies on its Chrome browser in January 2022. This is a death knell for most cookie-based ad technologies, and it will absolutely influence the way we buy, serve and measure programmatic native, display and email advertising on the internet.

The Ad-Supported Internet Will Adapt for the Better

Jeff Green, CEO of The Trade Desk, explains that the cookie is an archaic technology that’s rightly nearing the end of its run as a browser tracking mechanism. They compromise a user’s privacy and are mechanically difficult. The ad tech industry is eager to provide an upgrade that will enhance, not diminish, performance marketing, and with it, the consumer’s privacy and overall experience. It’s important to remember that third-party cookies aren’t part of everything you do on the internet. Connected TV, mobile apps and audio are largely cookie-free, and thereby not affected by the cookieless future that we’re preparing for.

So, what will happen next? No one is entirely sure yet what will emerge as the most viable cookieless identifiers. The Trade Desk heavily advocates for an open-sourced solution called Unified ID 2.0, which is a secure, encrypted single sign-on identifier based on users’ anonymized email addresses. The idea is that it enables more transparency, consumer controls and privacy compliance while still protecting the internet’s most basic and central “quid pro quo,” as Green calls it, that users consume free content in exchange for viewing relevant advertising.

This is an elegant solution, though not one that Google is willing to embrace. Google, already in possession of billions of consumer logins, dismisses individual identifiers, preferring instead to play in a Privacy Sandbox of its own design and focus on the FLoC, or Federated Learning of Cohorts. The FLoC assigns browsers to a single cohort—roughly 1000 browsers will comprise a single FLoC—based on broad usage patterns. These FLoCs, which will be beta-tested throughout 2021, will be controlled by Google and then available to advertisers and publishers for targeting. The precision of the targeting is not yet known, which is cause for concern. No matter what unfolds, this is definitely an interesting moment in the evolution of internet commerce.

Push to Collect and Do More with Your First-Party Data

Now why, as content marketers, do we care about this? Plenty of reasons. We’re staunch advocates for helping our clients develop first-party data collection strategies and then use that data to market to and deepen relationships with prospects and clients. And we will continue to do so, perhaps even more aggressively as the third-party landscape around us continues to change. We believe smart marketing is about owning your addressable audience by making your content so good and so useful that they want to hear from you and will raise their hands to do so.

Ideally, your audience consumes your marketing content with the same interest and passion that they do their favorite media sources. Smart marketers are indeed publishers, but they are also advertisers. The truth is that it often takes a minute—or sometimes more—for brands to find their audience and vice versa. We work with many of our clients to develop advertising strategies based on awareness and conversion goals. Digital advertising is an essential component of any high-performing content marketing program.

To that end, we depend on our ability to target effectively and to deliver relevant inventory responsibly. While the “how” of programmatic advertising is changing, we don’t see the “what” of it changing at all. We’re resolute that the combination of audience-focused content and targeted marketing campaigns across multiple platforms will continue to deliver the business results we’re accustomed to, even as reporting and attribution will change. That said, this is a good moment to talk to your agency about prioritizing strategy and budget toward first-party data collection and customer acquisition. Owned data and building authentic relationships with your customers never succumbs to of-the-moment threats—and absolutely never goes out of style.

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