Third-party cookies have been around for a good, long while. Since their introduction, they have been used to track specific data from website visitors. Digital marketers who use Google tools and ad-tracking in their strategies have found this particularly useful to make sure their ads are seen by their target audience.

Now, they are being phased out. But why? Well, this could be because of privacy issues, such as data tracking. Additionally, many companies are becoming more transparent when it comes to the protection of users’ data. However, in marketing, the main concern is that it might destroy online advertising. Or will it?

media update’s Maryna Steyn spoke to Ryan Sayer, MD at King James Digital, about the impact of a cookie-less web in marketing.

Here’s what marketers can expect with the disappearance of third-party cookies:

What changes can marketers expect in terms of how they interact with customers, now that third-party cookies are off the table?

Being able to contextually engage a previous visitor to your offering is going to change. Additionally, remarketing and retargeting in specific third-party environments will no longer be as effective.

There will be opportunities to engage users but how this is done is still being ironed out. For new audiences, third-party cookies used to allow for segmentation and targeting from brands to these specific individuals.

For example, you could target men, interested in SUV’s, living in JHB, owning an iPhone and who are also interested in outdoor activities.

However, this new “sandbox” approach of targeting will lead to much leaner segmentation and thus a strategy that may not accurately reach the correct audience.

How do you think that digital marketing will have to be adapted in order to meet the requirements of the POPI Act?

So this is a double-whammy. We are not able to use third-party data but need to also ensure we have correctly acquired, managed and engaged first-party data audiences. Brands are therefore going to need to quickly mature their first-party data acquisition strategy as well as their storage.

They’ll also need to mature their planned messaging and segmentation of these audiences to achieve the marketing objectives that they used to rely on. This is of course in reference to what broad cookie-based third-party marketing could achieve.

In your opinion, can we expect a substitute for third-party cookies in the near future?

There are many suggestions, ideas and plans on the table. Some are talking about blockchain in the future, which allows users to opt into marketing.

I have also heard of other methods that large players intend on developing, which will allow for connection with audiences in the third-party, cookie-less world. For now, I can’t say I have a strong sense of what will emerge as an industry-standard as there is so much up in the air.

What strategies would you recommend that SA marketers start considering in order to adapt to the changes in the landscape?
  1. Ensure you start developing a first-party data acquisition strategy.
  2. Ensure your current first-party tracking of owned media environments, such as your website, is set up to global best standards. And that you start to store and better understand this data. There is a lot to still be said for user experience analytics and the ability to enhance conversion with the customers and data you have on hand.
  3. Plan comms and channels for first-party data engagement such as email marketing and mobile marketing
What is Google’s sandbox technology all about? What does it mean for SA digital marketers?

To put it simply, Google is finding a way to create “cohorts” of audiences that will be segmented by less specific data, which potentially contravenes the POPI Act and GDPR, but still brings contextual and relevant media advertising to audiences.

These cohorts will be blended in ways that let the brand and marketer know they are talking to a potential client or audience. However, creating a client segment of behaviour and engagement to a detailed level of behaviour and tracking will not be possible.

Will the disappearance of third-party cookies be an advantage to South African brands trying to build relationships with their customers?

Absolutely. We have seen time and time again how the abuse of third-party cookie data has bordered on unethical. The usage of consumer data to commoditise a brand’s digital engagement and users’ browsing journey has needed to change for a long time, and this shift is needed.

It has also made marketers lazy in giving the algorithms the ability to “optimise” audience reach and even frequency. Marketers are going to have to understand their audience targeting and message segmentation better than ever before.

It will cause discomfort, and it will change the way digital agencies plan and execute campaigns for brand awareness, engagement and conversion. Having said this, customers will feel as if they have the choice of whether or not to engage with a brand. Marketers will therefore need to hone their message and the plans for that engagement, and we may very well be better off for it.

Are you concerned about the effects the loss of third-party cookies will have on your online marketing strategy? Let us know in the comments below.

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Now that your questions are answered about the effects of cancelling third-party cookies, check out A marketer's guide to growing sales through digital.