UPDATED 17:17 EST / MAY 19 2021

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Is there life without cookies? Experts consider the future of digital marketing

Google became marketing’s very own cookie monster when it announced that it would discontinue support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser as of January 2022. Google wasn’t the first to do this: Apple’s Safari and Netscape’s Firefox have long been cookie-less. But with 67.14% of the market share compared to Safari’s 10.11% and Firefox’s 7.95%, Chrome is digital marketing’s portal to the browsing data of the vast majority of internet users.

But maybe the disruption is exactly what the advertising and marketing industry needs?

“The cookies, as we all know, are a crutch,” said Chris Guenther (pictured, right), senior vice president and global head of programmatic at News Corp. “It’s a technology being used in a way it shouldn’t. So as we look at what’s going to happen presumably after Jan. 2022, then it’s a good way to fix some bad practices.”

Guenther was joined by Xiao Lin (pictured, left), managing director of solutions at Xaxis LLC., and Somer Simpson (pictured, center), vice president of product at Quantcast Corp., during The Cookie Conundrum: A Recipe for Success event. In a panel session led by John Furrier, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio, they discussed the impact of the demise of third-party cookies on their industries and for the future of digital marketing. (* Disclosure below.)

The importance of cookies

Cookies are essential to digital marketing. Not the dunk in milk kind, of course, but third-party cookies that allow advertisers to track users and create extremely accurate pictures of their wants and needs. With the rise of big data analytics, precision marketing has allowed companies to target potential customers precisely and created a new model for marketing in the digital era.

Regardless of their prevalence, cookies aren’t really ideal for the job they do. They were adopted by default, and users have been spooked by reported security problems. Despite this, they are by far the most common way for marketers to track user information. In late 2020, a survey found that 80% of internet advertisers in the U.S. used third-party cookies, with 38.6% admitting they were “very reliant” on the technology.

Privacy compliance is a core building block of preparing for the digital future, regardless of if Google chrome supports cookies or not, according to Guenther.

“In some ways, we’re not looking just to January 2022, but January 2023, where there’s going to be the majority of our audiences covered by regulation,” he said. He envisions a solution that is compliant and secure while data gathering and providing a consistent view of a user through an internal identifier.

“It’s really looking across all those components, across all our sites, and all in a privacy-compliant way,” he said.

Publishers look on the bright side, while marketers have misgivings

Publishers and marketers have reacted differently to Google’s announcement, according to Simpson’s experiences. Marketers have “real fear.”

“I’ve almost gone from being like a product manager to a therapist because there’s such an emotional response,” she said.

This panic is due to the marketer’s current reliance on cookies to do their job.

“It’s not just about delivering ads. It’s about how do I control frequency? How do I measure success?” Simpson said. “The technology has grown so much over the years to really give marketers the ability to deliver personalized advertising [and] good content to consumers and be able to monitor it and control it so that it’s not too intrusive.”

Publishers are the sites where that content or those advertisements are placed. And it’s the category in which Guenther and News Corp. fall. His more pragmatic view of the changes matches what Simpson sees from her publisher contacts.

“It’s more of a ‘Yes! We’re taking back control, and we’re going to stop the data leakage. We’re going to get the value back for our inventory,’” Simpson said.

Both responses are valid. But to be successful the two sides have to work toward a common vision, according to Simpson.

“If it’s not managed, it’s going to be like ships passing in the night,” she said. “The critical piece is that they have to come together. They have to get closer … so that they can talk to each other and understand what’s the value exchange happening between marketers and publishers.”

This reflects on the broader changes happening in the global economy as businesses adopt digital practices. Sharing valuable proprietary data seems antithetical to traditional practices. Yet, by pooling resources, companies can gain more accurate insights from technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Six steps for marketers to take right now

Practical advice comes from Xiao, who described six concrete ways in which marketers can prepare for the cookie-less future. Briefly, these steps are:

  1. Gather intel on current campaigns and analyze across a cookie-free environment.
  2. Look at geo-targeting strategies.
  3. Look at contextual, which by itself is already cookie-free.
  4. Work with publishers based on historical data to try to recreate past best strategies.
  5. Think about how to access and develop the first-party data.
  6. Inform prospecting by dedicating test budget to start gaining learnings about cookie-less.

An obvious, but overlooked, place to start is with Safari and Firefox, according to Xiao.

“They have been cookie-less for quite some time. So you can start here and begin testing here. Work with your data scientist team to understand the right mixes to target and start exploring other channels outside of just programmatic cookies,” he said.

There’s no right answer

“The one certain answer is there definitely is not just one solution,” Guenther said. “As we all know right now, there seem to be endless solutions … it’s enough to make everyone’s head spin.”

Other than their obvious goal of providing quality content, publishers need to ensure they are meeting the business needs of their clients so they meet their key performance indicators, according to Guenther. He gives three core pillars to do that: ease of access; scope of activation and targeting; and measurable results.

“It’s about publishers getting as close to the marketers as possible, working with the tech companies that enable them to do that, and doing so in a very privacy-centric way,” Simpson agreed.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of The Cookie Conundrum: A Recipe for Success event. (* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a paid media partner for The Cookie Conundrum: A Recipe for Success event. Neither Quantcast Corp., the sponsor for theCUBE’s event coverage nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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