The giant Google announced the phase-out of third-party cookies starting with 2022. What does it mean for advertisers, and how can we plan ahead to meet the big change?

The CXM team spoke with Andy McNab, VP at Fanplayr, about the challenges coming with the death of third-party cookies. He is an award-winning digital leader that has led teams at Microsoft, AOL and Rocket Fuel and is now fully focused on developing Fanplayr across EMEA. As a behaviour data specialist, Andy shares tips for navigating the cookie apocalypse and introduces new tactics in optimizing the behaviour of web visitors.

Andy, as someone who helps brands navigate behavioural data, were you surprised with Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies?

Google’s decision to call time on third-party cookies was not a surprise, given the previous moves in the same direction by Apple and Mozilla and the context of increased concerns about privacy. This all follows the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the implementation of the California Consumer Privacy Act. The GDPR enforces cookie consent and individual data protection, but there was still a strong body of opinion that third-party cookies needed even more control.

For years, brands have been using third-party cookies to send ads to the right audiences. Could you tell us more about how brands utilize them for advertising?

Third-party cookie providers employ tags on pages to track an individual’s behaviour across the web and feed the data back to brands. They use it to create distinctive profiles from search habits, which indicate people’s preferences and spending potential.

In essence, brands will apply this data to address unique interests and target online ads on consumers who are most likely to become profitable customers. Some brands also combine third-party cookie data with information from other sources or data brokers about consumers’ spending patterns or insights from social media activity.

The Google announcement about phasing out the third-party cookies shook the ad-tech industry to the core. Why do you think this is big news for businesses?

Fairly simply because Google accounts for 60 per cent of the browser market. Chrome is the world’s most popular browser now. There are entire ecosystems of data providers who have depended on Google for their third-party cookies and the information they provide.

Suddenly, all this information is going to be choked off. Brands will have to adopt more advanced solutions that use first-party cookies and are far cleverer about segmenting customers and learning from their behaviour on a brand’s own website.

Otherwise, there is a danger that consumer behaviour will be lost in a fog of data. Such an outcome could take us back to the time before cookies when it was difficult to know who was on a website and identify their intentions and preferences.

A step forward for privacy still doesn’t mean Google will stop collecting user data. What does this change really entail?

Alphabet, Google’s parent, is developing machine learning solutions to track consumers using Chrome without third-party cookies. It’s easy to feel that at the end of all this, Alphabet will be even more dominant. Unless, of course, brands employ alternative technologies and the new artificial intelligence-based platforms that give them their own data and the ability to act on it profitably. That way, they will no longer depend on Alphabet to understand customers and their behaviour.

Following the third-party cookies phase-out, brands will need to reorganize and change strategies for collecting data. How can they prepare for the big change?

Brands certainly shouldn’t wait for the cookie apocalypse. They must act now and review old strategies. According to the research by the 500 largest Google Ad Manager publishers, sites that don’t use cookies are way behind on revenues. To avoid similar results, brands will need to prepare for the big change through the renewed focus on SEO and keyword optimisation to maximise traffic.

Alongside that, brands must seek out new audience segmentation solutions and platforms that transform first-party cookie data. It will enable them to understand each website visitor and their behaviour in real-time, without worrying about third-party cookie data or fear of privacy infringements.

Do you believe the end of third-party cookies to be the start of new tactics in optimizing the behaviour of web visitors?

The death of third-party cookies will see brands turn to solutions that address the whole customer journey on their websites. The new kind of behavioural optimisation will emerge and turn out to be more effective, more subtle, and more sustainable.

By turning back to the data from their own sites, brands will use advanced AI platforms to recognise consumers, track their behaviour and intervene in real-time with a persuasive offer or recommendation. All the given suggestions will be based on the user history on the site and the individual’s decision to put something in the basket or find the way out.

Fundamentally, this will put an end to crude pop-ups that bombard visitors with irritating messages or offers that don’t relate to individual preferences or current behaviour. Brands will achieve greater conversion rates and stop undermining profitability with unnecessary discounts.

There is another important advantage of a single integrated platform. Brands can use the data and analysis to personalise marketing content in SMS messages and emails sent to consumers (who consent), which deliver far better results through precise targeting. The single platform approach is also easier to implement than cobbling together solutions for different parts of the customer journey, such as reduction of basket abandonment or upsell tactics.

As a behavioural data specialist, what new technologies and practices would you suggest for brands who need to reconsider their advertising strategies?

The adoption of artificial intelligence-driven, single-platform solutions should allay many of the fears brands have about “cookiegeddon”.

Single platform AI solutions use first-party cookies to store the user ID without infringing privacy restrictions. This data drives personalisation and will be the rich new source for brands that wish to be free from total reliance on the browser operators and their affiliates.

Advertisers can combine this data with information about customer habits and preferences from across other touchpoints, including social media and other media-related ecosystems.  Targeted advertising is not going to end with the death of third-party cookies.

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