Digital sampling

The cookiepocalypse: a blessing not a curse

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Toby Evans
Monday, February 26, 2024

We’ve been here before, but this time it’s actually happening: 2024 is the year that Google is finally deprecating third-party cookies. 

In terms of upheavals in the digital marketing world, this is huge – a fundamental change to how we advertise online.

Ever since Google’s initial announcement in 2020, and Apple’s ever-tightening restrictions on data sharing, massive amounts of time, effort and money have gone into finding new solutions to recognize and target relevant consumers online.

In an increasingly privacy-conscious world, that’s not easy – but now we’ve all had a few years to take a deep breath and calm down, this is one challenge that can be turned into an opportunity.

The problem with third-party data

Before we get into the issue of third-party data, let's lay out the differences between third-party data, first-party data and zero-party data: 

  • Third-party data is data used to target a consumer that has been collected elsewhere by intermediaries.
  • First-party data is data about your audience collected on your channels. 
  • Zero-party data is directly and knowingly shared with you by your consumers. 

For years now, brands wanting to get their marketing message in front of a specific target audience – and what brand doesn’t want to? – have relied heavily on third-party data for ad targeting. So losing access to this must be bad news, right? Well, not necessarily.

Third-party data, while its application within ad systems has become hugely sophisticated, is inherently flawed. It is primarily based on assumption, extrapolated from online behaviors such as types of content viewed.

In more technical terms, much of this data is ‘probabilistic’ – which is exactly as it sounds – it identifies audiences that are ‘probably’ the audience you want.

The main issue with third-party cookies, of course, is one of privacy and transparency: the consumer often doesn’t know or isn’t comfortable with how their data is being collected and used. For brands that value trust and authenticity, that’s also an issue. 

Understand your consumers’ concerns

As online businesses, we may be dismayed at the loss of a main data source; but as individuals and consumers ourselves, we may feel differently about how our personal data is used. It’s well documented that consumers are increasingly aware of, and concerned by, online privacy. 

With trust and understanding at the core of cookie deprecation, it stands to reason that the best way forward is to get to know our audiences better.

The smartest brands have been preparing for cookie deprecation by implementing first-party and zero-party data-acquisition strategies to better understand and directly communicate with their audience.

In particular, we need to understand how we can help consumers be more comfortable with sharing their details with us. 

The key to building a trusting relationship is putting a clear value exchange front and centre. If you want people to share their data with you, you need to be clear on what they get in return – and that needs to be something worth having.

"If you want people to share their data with you, you need to be clear on what they get in return – and that needs to be something worth having."

— Toby Evans, CMO at SoPost

Addressing the value exchange

So what are the most effective ways to incentivize data sharing? There are many different tactics available: retailers often use points-based loyalty schemes; for publishers, premium content can sit behind customer registration.

At SoPost, we help brands address the value exchange by giving them the ability to offer a free physical product sample via their preferred marketing channels – and the result of this can be seen in our benchmark-exceeding results and the level of data consumers are willing to share, including purchasing habits, physical characteristics and in-depth qualitative insights. 

The key to capturing valuable data, then, is to offer something relevant and valuable in return – which, of course, is also a great opportunity to build customer trust and loyalty. The most impactful value exchanges come from ensuring your marketing is truly consumer-centric.

Forget the habits encouraged by third-party data: don’t think about your customers as an aggregated demographic, but as the real people they are.

Whatever you’re offering in exchange for their data, maintain integrity and transparency throughout; show trust and respect and you’ll get it in return, along with truly meaningful, actionable audience data from people you can build an authentic relationship with – which in turn, will supercharge your digital marketing performance. 

A brighter, more honest future

One door closes, another opens: the demise of third-party cookies is both a threat and an opportunity. It forces us to contend with issues of online privacy, and in the process, points to a future where we can gain a deeper, truer understanding of our customers.

Focus on trust and transparency and the rewards for you – and for your customers – will be significant: if your customers love what you’re offering, they’ll be happy to share their data and will love spending time (and money!) with your brand.

 Toby Evans, CMO at SoPost

Want to discuss how SoPost can help you win at your first-party data strategy? Let’s chat.

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