We are rapidly approaching the end of the line for third-party cookies. In the not-too-distant future, people will be able to enjoy a much more private online experience, free from the fear that everything they do is being watched.

Google's Chrome browser—the market leader, used by just under half of Americans—will call time on third-party cookies in 2023, whereas Firefox and Safari have already put a stop to the tactic.

Truth be told, the value of third-party cookies has always been questionable, and to build customer profiles based on that data alone has always involved guesswork.

Soon, companies that have relied on third-party cookies to gain insights into user behavior will need to change their approach. That could prove to be a blessing in disguise: Marketers will be forced to adopt better tactics to stay connected to their target audience.

However, there is also a risk that brands won't take advantage of the opportunity.

Let's peer into the crystal ball and assess what the cookieless world of the future will look like, and which companies will be the winners and losers.

The cookieless future will reward companies that ask—and don't stalk

People don't like being followed around the Internet. In fact, 4 out of 10 Americans say they don't trust brands to use their data responsibly, whereas 86% cite data privacy as a topic that is becoming increasingly important to them, recent research from KPMG found.

Stalking the target audience won't be an option in the near future, forcing brands to take a more open and transparent approach.

It's crucial for marketers to open up new channels of communication that give customers full control of the data they share while also giving brands access to high-quality insights. Rather than observing—or, rather, snooping on—user behavior, the approach should be more conversational. By asking the right questions and giving customers the incentive to articulate the kind of products and services they want, marketers can really drill down into the desires of their target audience.

And because tastes and preferences change over time, those conversations must be ongoing, allowing marketers to see and forecast wider trends. By extracting the maximum value from customer interactions and conducting them on a continual basis, brands can reap the rewards.

Concept-testing will be the key to preventing brand blunders

Putting an end to the reliance on third-party cookies as a way to discern customer preferences should spur marketers into looking at ways of gathering first-party data instead. Concept-testing is one such method and will play a critical part in building strong relationships with customers in the future.

Concept-testing enables companies to find out what features customers really need in a product, as well as what messaging and channels will be most successful for selling products and services. Approaches to concept-testing are evolving all the time, and brands that want to make an impact in the future need to ensure they get with the program—or risk disaster.

Coming up with a new concept for a product is a process that needs to be informed by customer insights. An idea might seem great on paper, but it could prove to be a complete dud when it hits the market. Therefore, testing the concept with a target audience at every stage is vital to ensure the product has all of the features the audience wants and, crucially, that the product will sell at an acceptable price point.

In addition to avoiding clangers, concept-testing plays an important part in validating demand for new products. For example, online pension provider PensionBee heard from customers who wanted to exclude oil companies from their investments. Recognizing that there was a chance to develop a new product, the company needed to understand how deep ethical considerations ran within their customer base. Concept-testing confirmed that there was significant demand for a new fossil-fuel-free plan. PensionBee was able to launch the product quickly, and it soon had $60 million in commitments from people wanting to switch their plans to oil-free investments.

Introspective brands will make the biggest impact

The end of third-party cookies will have a positive impact on the way marketers gain insights about how customers interact with—and what they think of—the brand. Brand-tracking is one of the best ways for marketers to get first-party data about the health of their brand, gauging consumer sentiment, brand awareness, and purchase intent.

The trouble is, most companies don't carry out that process often enough. Marketers can't make informed decisions from a snapshot generated by a survey that's six months old, but running research projects can be expensive and takes up a lot of internal resources.

Using an external agency for brand-tracking ensures internal resources aren't overstretched, but it generally leads to extended project timelines. Also, the expense of using external agencies means most brands wouldn't be able to do brand-tracking more than a few times a year. Bringing the process in-house puts brands in a better position to increase the regularity of their tracking, helping marketers understand exactly what it is that's making a difference in their results.

When done consistently and regularly, brand-tracking can take the guesswork out of figuring out what's working and what isn't. By developing a strong template for brand-tracking and running the research again and again, marketers of the future will be able to make data-informed decisions at all times. The aim should be to make brand-tracking a continual process to extract the maximum value from the insights it generates.

* * *

Any company that truly values its customers should welcome the end of the third-party cookie and seize the opportunity to develop a deeper, more meaningful, and more fully a two-way relationship with them.

Listening and understanding are a must. Marketers should make sure not only that they are always talking to their customers but also that they are getting the maximum value from those conversations. It is vital that they ask the right questions, at the right time, and in the right way.

In a cookieless future, the brands that place the most value on gaining continual insights from their customers will be the ones that win.

More Resources on the End of Third-Party Cookies

Post-Cookie Digital Marketing Will Be Vibrant and Seamless

The Silver Lining to the Death of the Cookie: Better Measurement

Adapting Marketing Measurement to a Post-Cookie World [Infographic]

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image of Jeremy King

Jeremy King is the CEO and founder of Attest, a consumer research platform for the world's biggest and fastest growing brands. He spent nine years with McKinsey & Company, leading teams across almost every industry sector in 25+ countries.

LinkedIn: Jeremy King