How To Prepare Your Business and Marketing Efforts To Survive in the Realities of a Cookieless Future

Cookies, the thought can make a child smile, and leave your marketing department cringing. The problem with both digital and the grocery store variety is both can burn and leave a bad taste in the mouth.

For 26 years marketing platforms have relied on the use of browser-based cookies to convey vital details about user statistics, intention, site usage, and in the case of your digital paid advertising if you made a purchase or submitted a lead form. With the inception of new and more robust digital privacy laws – the future of browser cookies and “a cookieless future” are drawing closer each day.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and its American counterpart the Califonia Consumer Protection act were created with a noble intent – protecting your personally identifiable information in an age where your digital fingerprints are left across every aspect of connected devices. While noble in their intentions, the technical aspects of privacy protection will and are changing the digital landscape in a way almost akin to how Covid-19 changed our lives. The future will not ever be the same and companies and advertising agencies are having to adapt.

Tending to the FLoc – Changes in a Cookieless Future Involve Deeper Data-Driven Thinking

Short for Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) and an alternate uniquely named “TURTLEDOVE” an acronym for “Two Uncorrelated Requests, Then Locally-Executed Decision On Victory” are amongst the proposed new signals proposed by Google engineers.

In the FLoC version, each browser captures data on its users’ behavior: websites she visited, the content of those websites, and her actions. That data is used to build a model whose parameters are shared with a master model on a trusted server. In this way, each browser can be put into a cluster (or “flock”) based on its user’s browsing behavior.

Questions on this model currently surround the naming conventions of the FLoC, how many FLoC’s will exist, and how well defined the customer audiences will be, but a good parallel in recent years would be Google’s expanding use of “in-market” and custom audiences. Assuming some version of the FLoC model becomes reality, FLoC bidding might be no different from audience buying today.

A possible downfall of the proposed FLoC system will surround the data sensitivity of users and the localized 1st party data an individual company possesses vs the shared data of a larger user base. The data-rich getting richer by herding larger FLoC’s.

Retargeting Replaced With First-Party Data

For now – first-party data, your sales systems, customer management platforms, email lists, and engaged users that have “opted-in” to engaging with your business are still viable targeting sources. “First-party data” will likely become one of the buzz words of 2021 and on. Until opting out, these are your customers, and they have chosen to share their contact information and purchasing choices with your business. This data will remain valuable in terms of remarketing, but the ownership and engagement level signals may force businesses into only remarketing to “purchasing” customers and limit “browsing” customer targeting.

Moving Away From Cookies to Persistent Identities (PIDs)

“TURTLEDOVE” and similar alternate concepts like Persistent Identities (PIDs) attempt to avoid complete removal of user-level targeting which can provide advertising value out of distinctly targeting the best user groups by persona and interest and personalizing what content to show or not show them.

With TURTLEDOVE or PID’s – the main goal is to define behavioral intent (what the user wants) and context (where the user is now) and utilize these signals inside the browser or device itself limiting the exposure of these signals.

The groundwork for this path to the cookieless future is already paved. Login platforms (a new twist on an old concept) would allow individual users to have independent preferences and login to multiple platforms through a single identity. This allows for mass user behavior data collection while keeping individual user behavior private. The future for this is already laid out with Google accounts and connected devices like Amazon’s Alexa.

Other options already in motion include IAB Technologies Project Rearc. Designed to fit the specific legalities of GDPR and CCPA, Project Rearc involves encryption of user data to create a unique digital identity or persona where personal data is secured and users become identifiable by one time use alphanumeric identities – today you could be user 5477 and tomorrow user 8J46. The benefits of this method still allow for some form of individual user level targeting to remain but by allowing anonymity. Similar methods have already been employed by Google in compliance with GDPR randomizing user data.

Portions of these methodologies, again, are already in infant stages with custom audiences and site-level targeting – instead of remarketing to users of your own site – we move to a system where ads are targeted to people who have shown interest in sites with similar content and interests. This is something Google has been great at for years with user search based queries, but now switching to more predictive and suggestive learning from direct user input. We may see a system more similar to video streaming. If you engaged with content, we will show you similar and look for the thumbs-up/ thumbs down feedback only your own unique experience can provide. Your personal unique experience then will influence the aggregate and the suggestions for larger persona and interest groups while maintaining your personal preferences and privacy.

The Future Is Aggregate, Not Individual

Survival in the post cookie digital age will involve greater use of internal first-party data, first-party data aggregators, contextual, persona, and interest-based targeting. The good news is that advertisers have already started walking down these roads and are seeing greater opportunity and return than ever before.

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Jeff Cline