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Greg Blackman
Reyhaneh Blackman

A Marketer’s Guide to Surviving a Cookieless Future

Rey Blackman
Greg Blackman
February 29, 2024 5:51 AM

If you rely on third-party cookies for your customer data, you’ve known you’re in trouble for a while now. Google first announced it was going to phase out third-party cookies in January 2020, and just extended the drop dead date to 2024. You can’t say we haven’t had some lead time, but are you really ready for the “cookiepocalypse?” 

Stay tuned, because in this chapter of MarTech Oversimplified, we’re going to tell you how to save yourself from the cookie apocalypse. But first, let’s take a step back, and make sure we have a few things straight. 

What’s a Cookie and Who Made Google the Boss of It?

A cookie, by itself, is harmless. It’s just a blank data container that your browser fires off to a company’s servers when you interact with their website. And like any empty vessel, a cookie has no purpose or personality without the data cargo that’s loaded onto it.  

Browsers, which are themselves containers of websites, create cookies. Without the browser, cookies wouldn’t exist. In fact, it was Netscape, the original nineties web browser, that invented cookies in the first place. 

The crucial role of the browser is what gives Google, who owns Chrome, the world’s most popular browser, all this cookie regulatory power. 

The Birth of the Session ID

Back in the early days of the internet, cookies were used for basic user identification. At the time, web browsing was anonymous, so companies just wanted to know who was visiting their site. To track who was logging in, browsers developed something that ended up being pivotal for digital advertisers and marketers, and that’s the idea of a session ID. 

Anytime you visit a site now, a unique session ID gets generated by your browser and sent– via a cookie – to the owner of that website’s database. From login to logout, this session ID tracks your keystrokes, clicks, and scrolls, and links them back to your user profile. This type of on-site tracking is generally considered fair-game, and referred to as “first-party data.” 

First-Party Data

The term first-party is used when the data is collected by the company that actually owns the website you’re on. First-party data is straightforward. You input your name and address into a checkout form on an eCommerce website, and it gets sent directly to that same company’s database. No funny business. 

Second-Party Data

Second-party data is a bit more advanced and introduces the powerful concept of two companies sharing their first-party data with each other. In practice, what this looks like is that Company A identifies Company B as one that has the customer data it wants. It then approaches that company directly and offers to buy its customer data. If Company B agrees to sell or trade its data, Company A not only doubles its data set but also gets its hands on new and different information it didn’t have access to before. 

This sounds great, but in reality, second-party data doesn’t really move the needle for most marketers. B2B data sales don’t happen often, because they’re manual, expensive, and, in many cases, not an option. Let’s face it, the most useful data comes from our competitors, and they’re not exactly willing to take our call, much less sell us their company secrets!

Third-Party Data  

Third-party data is a natural outgrowth of second-party data and a sign of data market maturity. Basically, once a market for buying and selling customer data was realized, information marketplaces cropped up. What these exchanges do is aggregate data from different websites, and sell them as a package. 

Third-party data was kind of a game-changer for marketers. Because of the volume of data, and the diversity of data sources, data exchanges can deliver a more holistic, 360 view of a customer than was ever possible using first-party data from a single site. By leveraging third-party data, you can see what a customer does not only on your own site but across the whole internet. 

What’s more, the third-party data industry has evolved to a level of complexity and sophistication that would have been unthinkable in 1994, when Netscape dropped that first cookie. Data exchanges profile you, based not only on what you actually do but also on what people like you are likely to do. They watch what you did, and also predict what you might do. They’re smart enough to anticipate your next click and, most importantly, your next purchase.

Enter: The Cookiepocalypse

So, what’s the problem? It turns out, a lot of people are creeped out by this level of exposure and consider it an invasion of their privacy. 

Knowing this, competing browsers, like Safari, Firefox, and Brave, have positioned themselves as privacy-first, blocked third-party cookies, and stolen some users away from Chrome. 

Add to that privacy scandals, like the Facebook Cambridge Analytica fiasco, and the tides have really turned against covert consumer data collection. Third-party cookies are now an even bigger PR risk for Big Tech companies, like Apple and Google. It’s no coincidence that they’ve both made a push to position themselves as privacy-conscious companies. And, as privacy-conscious companies, they can’t just let advertisers track users behind their backs! (But they still can, lol.)

The Solution: Zero Party Data

OK, so what are marketers to do, when our Big Tech overlords are going to hoard all the data for themselves? The answer is surprisingly simple and honest. Instead of following users across the internet, watching their every move, and building complicated customer graphs of their expected future behaviors…we could just… ask them what they like?? 

Zero Party Data advocates for this radical, consent-first approach. It proposes that companies put out surveys, quizzes, games, and other “fun” data collection forms to get the user to tell them what they want to see and what they want to buy. That means, instead of a marketer deducing that you’re likely to purchase a treadmill because the internet has tracked your weight loss struggles, the marketer will know you want to purchase a treadmill because you proactively and intentionally told the marketer that you want to exercise at home. 

Sure, Zero Party’s a marketing buzzword, but it does kind of make sense when you consider that the data is straight up and straight from the source!

Customer Data Sources

Schedule a Free Consultation 

We hope you learned a thing or two from this chapter of MarTech Oversimplified, a series we’re developing to demystify the complex and evolving world of Marketing Technology. Here at Product Pair, a MarTech and data solutions agency, we specialize in this sort of thing. We’re all about solving hard data problems to unlock marketing value, and empowering you to do the same. 

If you’re interested in learning more, hit us up! We’re offering free consultations and will hop on a call with you to see if any of our marketing technology experts can help arm you with the data you need to achieve your full marketing potential. 

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