Forging a path to a cookieless future

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Primakov)

We live in the age of the conscious consumer. The notifications that pop up whenever we visit a website asking us to accept cookies or update our preferences don’t just serve to remind us that we are creating data, but that it has value to the brands and advertisers that we share it with. 


Matt Skinner is a product marketer for Adobe Audience Manager, Adobe’s DMP.

While, on the whole, we are happy to click “accept” in exchange for access to the content we came for, we also have an expectation that the companies we share our data with will use it to deliver relevant, personalised experiences and handle it with care. And that includes being transparent about how it is used and who it is shared with. 

That rise in awareness of how brands use consumers’ personal data has hammered a final nail in the coffin of one of the most used (and most flawed) tools in the marketers’ arsenal – the third-party cookie. 

Not only are cookies outdated, they’re also inaccurate. Initially used to help brands better target consumers online, publishers and advertisers now use third-party cookies in all sorts of ways – tracking unknown visitors across their websites and apps – some of which directly conflict with consumers’ expectations and best interests. It’s hardly surprising that, according to Nielsen, marketers say 35% of the demographic targeting they base on third-party cookies is inaccurate. For the most part, consumers are still presented with relentless advertisements for products they have already bought, which only annoys and turns them off.

That’s why both Apple and Mozilla have blocked third-party cookie tracking on their browsers, and why Google plans to do the same within the next year. With the window on third party cookies quickly closing, now is the time for brands to move to a new strategy. 

Balancing insight and privacy

It might seem like all these forces should drive brands away from customer analytics and personalisation, but nothing could be further from the truth. According to research from Epsilon, 80% of consumers say they are more likely to do business with a brand if it offers personalised experiences. As consumers, we expect brands to tailor our experiences to our personal preferences, while also being in control of the data we share. 

And it’s a vital balance to strike. In the digital economy, understanding your customers and delivering compelling experiences is central to growing your business, expanding your audience and then nurturing longer-term relationships with each individual.

So how can brands reconcile those two realities? How can they bridge the gap between the demand for unique experiences and the need to gather the insights to actually deliver those experiences? 

Beyond cookies: building trust with customers

First, you have to build trust with the customers, being more transparent with people about how their data is being collected, used, shared, as well as their rights around that data. Every piece of a brand’s data management approach needs to put consumers’ interests first. In the age of greater choice, that’s not just good ethics, it’s good business.

Next, we have to move away from third-party cookies and evolve to a world focused on permission-based first-party data, information that customers allow companies to collect as they interact with their properties, including websites, social media pages, CRM systems and surveys. 

Successful first-party data strategies that encourage authentication must be centred around delivering clear value for consumers – for example, brands can offer tailored engagement that saves time, introduce new relevant products, provide exclusive access to content, or promote a limited time offer.

At the centre of this new era in personalisation is a focus on high quality data and accurate profiles that truly reflect each customer’s needs. Brands will increasingly need to build these profiles based on a variety of first-party data sources across a growing range of channels, while ensuring they get and enforce preferences every step of the way. 

They also need to consolidate the information collected from all of these sources, no matter the format, and combine it into a single, accurate representation of each customer. Most importantly, brands will need to use this data to create experiences that are relevant, responsive and respectful, which will enhance trust and deepen their relationships with customers.   

This shift will require both a change in practices, and new technologies. At Adobe, we recently introduced the next generation of our Real-time Customer Data Platform (CDP) for first-party data-driven customer acquisition and engagement. It helps brands activate known and unknown customer data to manage their entire customer profile and journey seamlessly in one system, all without the need for third-party cookies.  

In this digital-first world, the lack of third-party cookies shouldn’t be a hinderance to creating great experiences for customers and producing the important business outcomes marketers are expected to deliver. Forging a path towards a cookieless future marks a major turning point in the relationship between brands and consumers and the way forward is more transparent, tailored and reciprocal. For those that get it right, that’s a winning recipe for both parties. 

Matt Skinner is a product marketer for Adobe Audience Manager, Adobe’s DMP. Prior to joining Adobe he spent 10 years in media buying and media strategy, both agency and client-side, with a focus on integrated digital marketing.