Google has pressed pause on its deprecation of the third-party cookie, giving advertisers time to rethink their digital playbook before the curtain comes down on third-party targeting, but it won't last forever. What's the best way for marketers to spend the time between now and late 2023 when the search giant has promised to pull the plug for real? For many, the next 27 months should be spent preparing. Part of Google's reasoning for the delay is that the digital marketing ecosystem hasn't exactly risen to the challenge of finding post-cookie solutions, but this is likely the last extension we can expect.
To meet this challenge we've prepared a post-cookie action plan composed of 7 simple steps to prepare your brand, and your marketing plans, for the cookieless future.
Step 1: Know where you stand
Marketers use the third-party data supplied by cookies in many ways. You might be leveraging cookie data for ad retargeting, on-site personalization, or to build and segment audiences for your next campaign. Take stock of all your data sources and your entire marketing tech stack. Look for tools and tactics that are likely to be compromised by loss of cookie data and device IDs. You can't start preparing until you know what you need to replace and how big the impact on your results will be.
Step 2: Test and test again
Review your current campaigns and try to determine how much of the revenue you're currently generating depends on cookies so you can put an appropriate price on replacements. You may want to consider running test campaigns with and without third-party cookie data to get a sense of which KPIs are likely to suffer the most without them. This will help you to identify target areas such as personalization and audience targeting where you'll need to develop alternatives and find new tactics that can produce similar results.
Step 3: Double down on what works
Most marketers aren't relying on a single tactic to power all their results. Once you know which holes you need to fill to meet your KPIs look for opportunities to double down on other things that you already do well. If you can no longer rely on behavioral targeting can you make up some of the difference by expanding your email campaigns, or doubling the size of your contextual ad buys?
While cookies form a significant chunk of the digital advertising bedrock, there are other tactics that aren't cookie dependent. It may be more advantageous to shift some of your spend into tactics you're already executing effectively than to look for net-new solutions that will require you to purchase and integrate new tools.
Step 4: Review your budget
There's no easy way to say it, but seismic changes in the digital ecosystem might lead to new costs. Advertisers that try to keep budgets flat, or fail to account for the big changes coming when cookies finally crumble may not have the resources they need to adapt. Once you understand how the loss of cookies will impact your KPIs it's a good chance to start the conversation about adjusting budgets to match the new realities to come.
Step 5: Explore new solutions
While you may be able to close some of the gaps left by cookies simply by shifting resources to other tactics, it's likely you'll need to invest in new solutions as well. If your cookie-based strategy relies on on-site content personalization, the next 27 months would be well spent building out a first-party data strategy to learn more about consumers from their behavior on your site rather than tracking them across the open web. Gathering email addresses, device IDs, and on-site browsing habits can help to create custom experiences that mimic those that cookie's currently power. Likewise, if your business relies primarily on driving traffic and users from the web by aligning with their browsing history, contextual targeting may offer a solution. By targeting users with ads adjacent to content they're already consuming you can model the same types of audiences without surveilling them first.
Step 6: Implement and test
Most marketing teams have years of data to support their current strategies and decisions. New tactics will require similar testing and optimization to succeed. Don't get caught unawares by waiting until cookies are no longer an option to implement new tools. Starting early and shifting budget to new solutions now will leave your organization in a better position to transition successfully and seamlessly to the post-cookie era.
Step 7: Stay Alert
The road to a cookieless future has been more winding than some expected. The next two years are likely to be the same. For most, the best way to cope will be to stay focused on what you know works and explore new opportunities along the way. Some of the solutions that looked like they would dominate the post-cookie world, like Google's proposed FLoC framework, have changed dramatically over time while reliable formats like contextual targeting have remained more stable. Keeping an eye on the changing landscape ahead will leave you more prepared to deliver consistent results despite any major changes to come.