How to Prepare for the Post Third-Party Cookie Future

First of all, collect your own data.

Written by Joel Steel
Published on Jun. 03, 2024
How to Prepare for the Post Third-Party Cookie Future
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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The functional end of third-party cookies will change the way advertisers and marketers reach their audiences online. At first, it might be a little rocky. But it’s not all doom and gloom. 

3 Ways to Court Customers Without Third-Party Cookies

  1. Zero-party data: Data customers share intentionally, such as giving their email address to create an account on a website
  2. First-party data: Data collected via page visits, purchase history and other direct interactions with customers
  3. Contextual advertising: Ads that appear in a place relevant to the shopper, for instance gardening tools on a gardening-tips website

Effective alternatives to third-party cookies have existed for some time. While there might never be an exact replacement, these alternatives, and possible future tools and tactics yet to be developed, will help advertisers continue to reach their desired audiences with relevant messages. Here are some ways brands can prepare for a world without third-party cookies. 

Further Reading3 Steps for Creating a First-Party Data Strategy

Collect Your Own Data

Most brands likely already do this. Data collected from visitors to a brand’s owned digital properties (website or apps, for example) are known as zero- and first-party data. 

Zero-party data consists of information a customer intentionally shares with you. So, when someone uses their email address to create an account on a brand’s website or app or signs up to receive emails, that’s zero-party data. 

First-party data are things like page visits, purchase history and any other direct interaction a customer has with a brand. Put these two types of data together, and a brand can start building a profile of that customer. 

This is why brands often incentivize a signup with a nominal promotion or discount on the first purchase, say 10 percent, to help capture that basic zero-party data. Most consumers are willing to share information with a brand as long as they get something of value in return. Typically, the more personal the information, the more valuable the reward needs to be. That said, customers find value in plenty of things outside of promotions and discounts. 

Collect Your Own Data: Examples

For example, athletic brand Brooks’ website includes a Shoe Finder. To match a person with the right shoe, Shoe Finder collects information about how, where, when and why a person runs or walks, as well as some basic background information on health, physical conditions and experience. To receive their match, the person must provide Brooks with an email address. 

This means that in fewer than five minutes, a potential customer begins building a detailed profile of themselves that Brooks can use to send personalized, highly relevant promotional emails that are much more likely to lead to a purchase. Meanwhile, the customer now knows exactly which shoe is right for them without having to spend time sifting through products, reading descriptions and reviews and potentially purchasing the wrong pair. It’s a win-win.

Brooks did have to build that Shoe Finder widget, which required time and resources that not every brand has. There are companies that offer pre-built, fully customizable solutions that function in much the same way: a game, quiz, poll or survey that provides a fun, engaging experience and reward in exchange for some amount of personal information. Because these pieces of interactive content already exist and can often be integrated into a company’s existing CRM platform, a brand can deploy them in hours or days instead of months.  

Even better, brands without an e-commerce presence can use these types of interactive games to capture data. To introduce new flavors to customers on digital and social media, Australian chocolate biscuit brand TimTams matched customers with one of the new flavors based on the results of a personality quiz. Each quiz included market research questions to help collect additional insights about customers. More than 6,900 people took part in the quiz; a 92 percent completion rate helped TimTam collect accurate data about some of its most loyal customers while promoting new products.


Try Contextual Advertising

Contextual advertising is when the product or service being advertised is relevant to the place where it’s appearing. Think of an ad for headphones appearing on Pitchfork or a sporting goods store advertising on ESPN. The idea here is that if you’re interested in one of these things, you’re likely interested in the other. 

At first, it may not seem as precise as third-party cookies. But as McKinsey points out: “New contextual targeting tools that rely on natural language processing and image recognition allow algorithms to grasp the sentiment of pages and apps with unprecedented speed and reliability, enabling marketers to display ads in an environment that is both highly relevant for their potential customers and safe for their brands.”

Contextual advertising doesn’t have to stay online, either. Brands can combine those same interactive content pieces they use to collect valuable zero- and first-party data to create unique, location- or event-based experiences that are highly relevant to their audience. 

MKTG Australia did exactly that for Marvel Stadium. Tasked with improving fan engagement and building out Marvel Stadium’s first-party database, MKTG created a digital hub accessible via the web that included interactive games and content related to the events fans were watching live, as well as about the Marvel franchise. Fans at the stadium who interacted with the content received prizes and discounts redeemable that day. More than two-thirds of all attendees who visited the digital hub entered a competition that day, with an average engagement lasting more than three minutes. 

Related ReadingThe Cookie Is Crumbling. Is Your Business Ready?

Start Experimenting Now

The prepared will prosper when third-party cookies disappear. Plenty of solutions are out there, even beyond what I’ve written about here.

From data-sharing agreements with complementary companies to customer feedback surveys, the tools and tactics for building strong relationships with customers exist. Now is the time to experiment with them and develop a plan so that by the time the lights go out on tracking customers across the open web, the loss of third-party cookies won’t matter.

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