What Does a Future Without Cookies Look Like?

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What Does a Future Without Cookies Look Like?

For several years now, marketers around the world have been dreading the death of the cookie. However, that really isn’t accurate because only third-party cookies are at risk, and then, maybe not quite to the extent they are fearing. There are already a few viable options in place to help navigate the ultimate demise of what we now know as third-party cookies, several of which show great promise for marketers going forward. However, in order to answer that question, it depends on who you are asking. That really should be the greatest concern for a few very important reasons. Instead of looking at the process of eliminating cookies, the focus should be on why this has become such a huge topic of debate.

Privacy and the UX Should Be Paramount

Much of the controversy that set the stage for the ultimate demise of third-party cookies was consumer fear of exactly what information was being accessed by those cookies. Privacy has become a very real concern in recent years and consumers are within their rights to want to know what information is being accessed and how it will be shared and used. Unfortunately, the only way to alleviate their fears would be to require any, and all, users to take a short course on cookies before being allowed web access, and that would be like something out of George Orwell’s 1984. It would be counterproductive to enhancing the User Experience and something like stepping into a totalitarian regime.

With that in mind, the EU led the charge with the GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation, which was enacted way back in May 2016. Not only did the banning of third-party cookies go a long way to ease the minds of European consumers but it also literally forced marketers within EU jurisdiction to find alternative data tracking measures that were both compliant and effective.

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Getting Back to Basics

As a marketer, you are well aware of how these cookies are actually used and the benefits they offered to businesses large and small. There is no need to rehash what a third-party cookie is and how they are used because that is something you already understand and have been employing for years. At this point, it behooves you to see the advantages of all involved in getting back to basics. That would be the importance of understanding the role of consumers in all this.

While marketing is extremely important in the growth of any company, it is vital to understand that consumers are really the bottom line. It appears they have spoken and the ultimate decision across the board was to work toward eliminating the trigger point that had set them ablaze with anger. Even Google, the Champion of the UX has held out longer than browsers such as Safari and Firefox in trying to find a happy medium, an alternative to third-party cookies in defense of marketers and businesses. While both those browsers have already banned those cookies, Google opted for user acceptance while they perfected their alternatives. To many, this was a surprising move on their part because they have always led at the forefront of providing excellence in the User Experience.

Google’s Response Draws Heavily on First-Party Cookies

It is interesting to note one of the ways Google is approaching the issue. In what they are calling the Privacy Sandbox, Google’s Chrome browser is aiming to track groups of users, known as cohorts, rather than individuals. Labeled as the Federated Learning of Cohorts, FLoC, is a way to enable tracking interest-based browsing rather than personal information that had previously been open to third-party cookies. Instead of tracking the behavior of individuals, Google aims to build databases of “cohorts” as they are referred to without passing on any personal or private information. Instead, browsers would be enabled to collate common interests and browsing habits to be passed on to marketers.

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Working strongly as a liaison between marketers and consumers, Google has delayed its empirical ban on third-party cookies until somewhere between mid to late 2023. They had originally intended to roll out their ban this year, in 2022, but also recognizing that there is much work yet to be done, they have delayed their final response. Not only are they seeking to perfect FLoC, but they are also working with marketers and consumers in open discussions to seek alternatives that would be acceptable on both sides of the fence.

Will the Ban of Third-party Cookies Lead to the Death of Retargeting?

Above all, what seems to be at stake here is a concern over the death of retargeting marketing strategies. Perhaps FLoC, when in full force will ease the mind of marketers who now heavily employ retargeting strategies, in that they will still be able to accomplish this. Currently, consumers browsing a commercial site and bouncing off without being converted are tracked by those cookies now in question. A few minutes later, they will be on a totally unrelated page and all of a sudden, an ad pops up highlighting a product they were just viewing.

This will still be possible but from another vantage point. The browsing history and patterns of these cohorts can still lead to retargeting efforts, not by divulging individual information but rather by lumping them together as consumers with common interests. It is these commonalities that will enable marketers to retarget consumers without them being privy to any personal or private information. Of all the various alternatives to third-party cookies, this seems to be the most promising among marketers concerned for their future.

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The Long and Winding Road Ahead

To coopt the title of one of the Beatles’ biggest hits circa 1970, there is still a long and winding road ahead for marketers in seeking viable alternatives to third-party cookies. It will take a lot of research and renewed learning but what marketer is afraid of a little hard work? After all, data analysis is at the root of what they do, and that is no simple feat, even with the help of AI!

In the end, there is nothing to fear in the death of the cookie because there is plenty of sweet meat out there to fatten the coffers. It’s a matter of following the long and winding road that will ultimately replace third-party cookies with viable alternatives. In the meantime, be patient while new sweets are baked. It won’t be long now. (Isn’t that another Beatles recording? So, it is!)