Over the past few years, marketers have been talking about Google’s plans to phase out third-party cookies and what that means for their digital marketing efforts. As a quick refresher, cookies are very small text files with data that send information from sites you visit to your browser. They can help you stay logged in to websites, remember form-fill information, save shopping carts, and generally make using the internet a little bit easier.
While they’re serving up useful, relevant information to you, like related products or content you might be interested in, they’re also sharing information that lets marketers track online behavior and target ads to you using third-party data.
As an everyday internet user, you’re probably pretty happy about stricter privacy protections online. But once you get to work and put your professional marketer hat on, it’s another story. Without all that great third-party data, how will you target your ads? How will you tailor your ad content to certain user types? Can you even be a digital marketer anymore?
You bet you can. Let’s talk about how.
Different paths to data collection
Third-party data can give you a broad view of audiences and their behaviors, but it’s not the only kind of useful data out there. There’s second-party data — like a purchased email list — and then there’s the holy grail: first-party data. (Did you just hear an angelic choir sing? We did.)
First-party data is information given to you by your consumers willingly and directly. You don’t need to purchase emails from a list. You don’t need to get demographic info from Google or Facebook or any other platform but your own. You can access it when you need it and use it to create content, web experiences, and other marketing pieces your users want.
HubSpot explains first-party data this way:
"With a first-party cookie, you can learn about what a user did while visiting your website, see how often they visit it, and gain other basic analytics that can help you develop or automate an effective marketing strategy around them. However, you can't see data related to your visitor's behavior on other websites that aren't affiliated with your domain."
There are lots of ways to collect first-party data:
• Email list opt-ins
• Form fills
• Survey answers
• Chatbot transcripts
• Subscription sign-ups
• Tracking behavior across your website or digital properties
• Contact forms
• Blog comments
• Comments on social posts
• Purchase history
Here’s one extremely simplified example of what using first-party data in your marketing could look like:
User opts-in to your email list → User clicks on an offer to see a demo → User purchases product or service → User now receives occasional emails related to their specific purchase in addition to your general marketing email → Everyone is happy!
Who needs cookies when you have egg baskets?
Marketing without third-party cookies as we’ve come to know them is definitely possible. As you’ve probably guessed by now, the thing that makes it possible to thrive without them is content (there’s that angelic choir again).
Good, SEO-optimized content can help get users to your site. Once there, relevant, smart, engaging content like blog posts, videos, quizzes, case studies, and so forth can keep them interested in your site and your offerings. Maybe it makes sense to offer members-only or subscribers-only content that requires creating an account or opting in to an email list.
One of our marketing idols, Robert Rose, often says “Don’t build your house on rented land.” With good content, you won’t need to rely as heavily on other platforms for information about your users. So, if third-party cookies truly do go away for good, or a social media platform you’ve been advertising with becomes unusable for some reason, you’ll be okay because you didn’t put all your eggs in one basket. You own a basket.
And that’s the key. We certainly aren’t advocates for ending your digital ad program because third-party cookies might actually be phased out. You’ll just need to adjust your approach if you’ve been heavily reliant on ads over other strategies. The loss of highly detailed third-party data creates an opportunity to put your content out front in your ads as well and have it seen by the right people.
In a bit of a paradox, creating ads or other content pieces that are highly specific even though your audience is more general can be very effective. For example, a lead generation campaign on LinkedIn or a native ad featuring content geared toward a niche audience could be just the thing to help your brand stand out and get a viewer’s attention. You may not be getting a high number of clicks, but you will be getting higher-quality clicks and some first-party data along with them. Creating an email newsletter for a niche audience will almost certainly start with a small list, but over time (if you consistently deliver valuable content), the list will grow and so will your first-party data.
Looking at your whole marketing ecosystem and being thoughtful about how it all works together to benefit your business is part of any good marketing strategy. Finding the right balance can only benefit you — especially when change inevitably comes.
Get help creating your marketing ecosystem from CID’s marketing & strategy team. Contact us now.