Personalization in a Post-Cookie World
By Clint Burgess
Mar 12, 2021
12 min read
Personalization in a Post-Cookie World
Table of Contents
And for those just joining us, what is the “post-cookie world”?
TL: DR; third-party cookies are going away and will be gone from most browsers as early as January 2022. It will impact your marketing efforts because you'll have less access to data which will result in less ability to re-target, optimize campaigns, and personalize. It will impact you less if you start changing the way you gather information from your customers and be more intentional about the way you use that information. See ideas below.
There's a funny talk by marketing professor and consultant Mark Ritson about what works in marketing and what doesn't.
His main point is that “death rarely happens in media or marketing”. He shows a dozen headlines with “TV may die soon”, and Harvard Business Review calling the “Death of the CMO”. People use “[XYZ tactic] is dying” as a way to grab headlines.
The parody of marketers claiming that “everything is dead” is true. Most things don't die.
Except for third-party cookies. They will die soon. 🍪 ☠️
Safari has already rolled out a release that certain campaign cookies are now limited to a 24-hour life span.
This cookie death will affect your personalization strategy and your marketing efforts to some extent. We made this the subject of a roundtable at eTail Connect and the subject of a webinar with Facebook last month.
If you don't have time for the webinar, read this blog article like ordering an appetizer in place of a full meal (let's be honest, sometimes you just want the PF Changs Lettuce Wraps as your whole meal and that's all you want.)
What are first and third-party cookies?
First-party cookies are when you visit a website for the first time, let's say target.com . Target's web server will generate a cookie that stores information about you, as long as you click "OK" to accept cookies.
That first-party cookie will collect login information, cart content, previously visited products, previous searches, etc.
Third-party cookies are tracking mechanisms put on your site by a third party, say an advertiser like Criteo.com , for the purpose of tracking people on your site so that they can learn your behavior and then advertise to you elsewhere on the internet.
It's why you keep seeing the banner advertisement for swiss rolls long after you browsed them on the Albertsons website, even frustratingly as you continue onto the New York Times website.
What is happening to cookies?
Browsers are starting to prevent third-party cookies from being used to track data:
- Safari (Apple) and Firefox (Mozilla) are now blocking third-party cookies as the default. Safari also rolled out a release that certain campaign cookies are now limited to a 24-hour life span.
- In January 2020, Google also announced that it would phase out support for third-party cookies by the start of 2022. Google has since delayed this ban until 2023, but it is still likely coming.
What does that mean for marketers?
Not having third-party cookies means it will be harder for advertisers to collect data that marketers can use for retargeting or campaigns. The ads will be much less relevant. In our webinar with Facebook, they mention that your costs per conversion may go up as much as 150%.
It also means that measurement will be harder. If the cookie expires after a day, but the customer converts in 3 days, you will have a harder time making the claim that a certain conversion came from your marketing effort.
For businesses that rely heavily on performance marketing and don't have a big margin (or room for errors), this change will be an issue, because their marketing won't be as effective. And, of course, affiliate marketing will be affected.
Aren’t there workarounds? Why do we need to have this conversation? Isn’t someone smart working on this?
There are some tricks like trying to have your third-party cookies implemented as first-party cookies, but Apple is making sure those are eliminated as well. They use machine learning to find hidden trackers. It’s time to stop thinking about workarounds and develop a comprehensive plan for tracking.
Here are a few ideas to help prepare you for the post-cookie world. Big thanks to Peter Jakus for the practical examples.
Best Practice #1: Collect better data yourself rather than relying on others.
You’ll have less access to third-party data in the post-cookie world. That means you’ll need customers to share more information with you directly. You can’t just tell people to log in more often (please). You need better ways to give and take.
Being transparent about how you are using peoples’ data (zero-party data) can help you collect better data. Simple things such as “These items are here because you marked them as favorites” helps to build trust with your customers.
A few examples:
- Netflix says, “We’re recommending this show because you watched [other show].” They could also say, “This movie you just watched is outside your typical genre. Is this a new thing for you or did your SO forget to switch accounts?”
- Spotify gives you a fun history of all the songs you’ve viewed in the last year.
You can also leverage micro-opportunities to collect data. Many companies will do in-app surveys. After you finish a workout, the Nike Training app asks for some simple feedback, “Did you exercise outdoors or indoors today?”
Leveraging more offline data will be important as well. Bringing all your data into one place to build a single-customer-view is what we do at Bloomreach (so of course we recommend it).
You can also find creative ways to encourage more people to login. Loyalty programs are a start but think of the value and website features that you can make available to logged-in customers only.
Simple wish lists are easy to implement. I’ll go back to AirBnB rather than visit Kayak just so I don’t have to retype all my filters in. They save my “Trips” as I search.
Best practice #2: Develop the data muscle. Get better at managing, analyzing, and using the data you collect.
Having more data is great, but it means you’ll need to get better at working with it.
A few tips:
- Identify the key events to becoming a loyal customer with customer journey mapping.
- Remember that sample size matters. Make sure your segments are distinct enough and will be able to collect enough data to matter. If you build a personalization decision tree and your segments aren’t unique enough, the tree will all lead to the same outcome.
- Create a single source of truth (e.g. offline data, etc.).
Best Practice #3: Build your brand. Develop a relationship with the end customer.
Remember that marketplaces mean that you lose some control over how you sell. The vast majority (90% of product views on Amazon are driven by non-branded ads or merchandising.
A few Ideas:
- If you’re a manufacturer building a product for new parents, don’t just buy data about new parents or rely on other vendors for data about them. Build a relationship with them. Find ways to build content.
- Or if someone does come from a marketplace, make sure you find a way to quickly convince them to come back to your brand next time (e.g. loyalty programs, discount for coming directly back to the site, advertisement for a feature on their website).
One last note: are there some tech innovations around this?
- Yes, Facebook has developed a conversions API so that you can send customer data directly to Facebook via the server and the advertising will still be effective.
- CDPs is a growing category for this reason. It's in the "hype cycle" at the moment for a good reason.
- Keep an eye on Safari and Firefox for innovation. Chrome is working on their privacy sandbox.
Cookies are going away, but there's a silver lining in the opportunity it gives us to develop relationships with our customers. We hope the result will be a sustained effort by companies to collect quality information about their customers and use it for good.
Thanks for joining us at the eTail Roundtable! If you're interested in learning more about our cookieless world, data privacy, and security, Exponea Academy's Privacy Fundamentals course is the deep dive you need to master the topic and become an expert.