Google's announcement to yet again delay the blocking of third-party tracking cookies in Chrome (this time until some point in late 2024) wasn't a huge surprise for those of us who have been tracking the issue closely.
Marketers have two critical questions to consider: What industry solutions are likely to emerge between now and the new deadline, and how can we make the most of the extra time?
The main reason the news wasn't a huge surprise is that the output of Google's Privacy Sandbox—the company's attempt to collaborate with other players on a new, privacy-forward initiative focused on essentially developing an alternative to the third-party cookie—has been uneven and slower than expected.
- First, there was the unqualified failure of FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) that sought to aggregate behavioral data to meet privacy concerns. That solution had scale, but it was met with immediate resistance from privacy advocates: Most observers predicted that it wouldn't pass muster with the requirements of GDPR in the EU.
- Then Google rolled out the Topics API, which has utility but lacks the precise targeting options that made cookies so useful.
- The latest initiative is FLEDGE (First Locally Executed Decision Over Groups Experiment), which seeks to build on Topics and uses on-device auctions to ostensibly protect user privacy.
So, it would seem the answer to the question "what industry solutions will emerge within the new time period?" is "a whole bunch."
The decision to push the deadline off just underscores that no one technology or approach is going to replace the third-party cookie, and that is ultimately a good thing.
Cookies served as a shortcut that allowed brands and marketers to rent short-term data and build their own data assets, all while avoiding participating in transparent value exchanges with audiences. The solutions that are emerging now, although disparate, have one clear theme: Brands will need to actively participate in creating their own data and targeting solutions to be successful.
That's a great segue into the second question: What should brands and marketers do with the additional time we've all been given?
The answer is that we should all be creating our own version of Google's Privacy Sandbox with the goal of reaching audiences in ways that offer value rather than merely seeking to extract it. That will largely mean investing in first-party data assets that invite people into conversation.
Here are a few ways to get started.
1. Conduct a thorough first-party data audit
Take a look at what data you already have in-house. How is it collected? What are the terms and conditions under which you collect it?
Odds are, you have data that you can already use to fill at least some of the gaps that the third-party cookie's departure will create. That could be CRM data, data that's sitting in your customer data platform, or point-of-sale data that you haven't tapped into.
Interactions with customers and prospects always produce data. It's likely that there is a treasure trove of such data somewhere in your organization that you just haven't unlocked yet.
2. Ask not what your customers can do for you...
It's usually pretty clear what you want from your customers, but why would they want to give it to you?
So much marketing is still focused on transactional outcomes that don't provide any discernible value to consumers. That's one of the big reasons privacy concerns have become paramount: Consumers feel exploited, and for good reason.
Focus on flipping that script. How can you solve consumer needs? How can you provide an experience that makes them eager to share their attention and data with you? Do you have valuable content that meets one or more critical audience needs? If not, how can you use this time to build content strategy and create assets that will facilitate transparent value exchanges to build consent-fueled first-party data?
Answers to those questions will almost certainly lead to solutions that help you move beyond reliance on the third-party cookie.
3. Explore new partnership opportunities
Finding new and progressive ways to reach audiences will take radical collaboration. Some of it will be straightforward, such as working with publisher partners to bring data into clean room environments. Some of it will take a little more creativity.
Are there complementary brands with which you could share data in a transparent, privacy-safe way that adds value to your audiences? Are there other second-party data opportunities to explore?
It's clear that the data privacy problem can be solved only by more industry parties' working together. Google's delayed deadline gives all of us more time to explore our part in that.
* * *
Although the march toward the deprecation of the third-party cookie has felt long and has been fraught with twists and turns, the news is ultimately good. The deadline change has raised questions that get to the heart of what we should be doing as marketers. Answers to those questions will serve to build trust and goodwill between brands and the people who buy from them.
Brands and marketers who use this time to ask the right questions and focus on forging authentic relationships with audiences will emerge with stronger marketing strategies than the third-party cookie ever offered.
More Resources on Third-Party Cookies
Third-Party Cookies in Chrome Will Soon Be Gone. Are You Ready to Act?
The End of Third-Party Cookies Is a New Beginning for Digital Advertisers: Arsen Avakian on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]
Chin up, Marketers: The Demise of Third-Party Cookies Isn't All Bad
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