Marketing success in a cookieless future

In a digital marketing world where privacy matters more than ever before, personalization must be a top priority.

For marketers, the time has come to think beyond the cookie.

Third-party cookies have long been a digital marketing mainstay to help advertisers understand and track consumer behavior across websites and devices, allowing them to personalize advertising and measure effectiveness. It’s because of cookies that digital ads for shoes follow you everywhere online after you’ve viewed a pair of sneakers.

But now, in response to increasing privacy concerns and regulatory actions, reliance on cookies is crumbling.

In early 2020, tech pioneers Apple and Firefox began blocking third-party cookies on their web browsers. The following year, Apple started allowing users to opt out of app tracking and then allowed them to hide email activity, including open rates, while also anonymizing email addresses from websites. Industry titan Google’s plan to ban third-party cookies has been delayed, providing breathing room for organizations trying to adjust to an upended business model, but it is now scheduled to be deployed in late 2024.

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First-party cookies aren’t affected by these changes, so consumers can continue to have their usernames, passwords and other preferences automatically filled in on websites—which is great news for e-commerce sites. But third-party cookies, which are loaded from third-party servers for advertising and tracking purposes, are on borrowed time.

Consumers are gaining control: They can now opt out of sharing information. These data changes have fundamentally affected how marketers target audiences, identify and track customers, and track performance. In this reshaped landscape, personalization is key.

For many years, third-party cookies made marketing seem effortless. Now, it is imperative that companies quickly pivot in a world in which they have to ask for as much first-party information—including email, phone numbers, addresses, purchase history and consent to collect cookies—as quickly and succinctly as possible.

This has to be done delicately and with transparency. Nearly three-fourths of corporate leaders think their companies are consumer-centric, but only 30% of consumers agree. That perception gap is fueled by fractured data, technology silos and a fragmented customer experience.

Meanwhile, customers are fickle: One-third will switch from brands they love after just one negative experience. However, the potential is there for data collection—seven out of 10 customers say they will share personal data about themselves if they get something of value in return.

Getting first-party cookies right requires a cross-team effort to create a unified customer view, while consistently delivering personalized experiences that motivate customers. Companies have to know their audience, humanize experiences and optimize engagement.

Here are five tools for success:

  • A real-time customer data platform: Unified data and segmentation build a single source of truth to provide a unified customer view.
  • Engagement: Automated journeys and orchestration make it easy for marketers to build relevant data-driven experiences at scale.
  • Loyalty: Loyalty and promotions communicate value and build engagement in an intelligent and integrated ecosystem.
  • Personalization: Real-time personalization and experiences create moments that matter throughout the customer journey.
  • Analytics and intelligence: First- and third-party data should be aligned to amplify outcomes while putting data science on every desktop in the organization.

The world of digital marketing is undergoing dramatic change, but success is still possible. Now, when privacy matters more than ever, personalization must be a top priority.

Nathan Barling is vice president of product marketing and Lincoln Hull is director of product marketing, both at Salesforce.

Explore key topics you should be considering as you build your marketing plans for 2023 and beyond in the BAI Executive Report, “Marketing in 2023: Opportunities and challenges”