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Quick background: a cookie is a small text file, saved locally on a user’s device, that stores information.

First-party cookies are generated and placed by the website you’re using. They’re used to remember things like your password and items in your shopping cart, for example.

And third-party cookies are, well, third-party. If you’re on Amazon—any Google or Facebook cookies would be considered third-party. They track user behavior across the website. Which allows marketers to do things like retargeting, ad frequency capping, and accurate audience segmentation.

When Chrome, with a 67 percent share of the desktop market, phases out support for third-party cookies, it’ll be in line with the other major companies and almost all browsers and experiences will block cookies by default. 

The cookie apocalypse will have finally arrived.

Improvise, adapt and overcome

But let’s not get ahead of things. People have been blocking cookies for a long time. Stats estimate 40 percent of web traffic comes from users who use extensions and settings to block cookies anyway. And cross-device activity (multiple family members using the same device) means third-party cookies haven’t been perfect.

“It’s not about combating these changes; it’s about adapting.” 

Most retailers understand cookies aren’t a perfect mechanism in the first place.

And today, you need to be more open about how you’re collecting data. This is an ongoing trend, so staying just a few steps ahead will pay off in the long run. Consumer demand and shifting mindsets on privacy are driving these changes. And that’s not about to stop anytime soon.

The key to adapting is all about shifting focus to first-party data. Companies that are pouring money into advertising while neglecting their own data architecture are going to see suboptimal results in the new marketing climate.

Brands need to create a better shopping and post-purchase experience, through proper use of first-party data. Companies need to ask themselves: 

  • What can we do with the data we have access to? 
  • And where should we invest our time and resources now?

At the end of the day, these changes are here to stay. They signal a growing shift in consumers’ mindsets when it comes to privacy. Brands need to rethink things from the ground up to prepare for this.

How does it impact attribution models?

While it’s the end for third-party cookies, it’s not the end of the world.

Businesses will shift from platform metrics like Google Analytics to relying on their own business records i.e. total sales, revenue, and lifetime customer values. Businesses will no longer be getting the full picture, but just something they have to accept.

It’s also going to challenge big platforms like Facebook.

So they’re now focused on bringing the buying experience to their platform—especially on Instagram. That does give 100% accurate attribution to brands using these platforms, but it sure gives Mark Zuckerberg a lot of control. So brands need to decide for themselves whether they want to invest in these channels.

What’s next in the war on cookies?

The experts say there’s no need to be concerned about losing access to first-party data. The chances of that happening are basically zero.

But looking forward, companies need to be more transparent about how they’re capturing and using customer data. Data collection, opt-in, and visibility will be changing in the near future—so companies need to prepare for it now.

Companies need to embrace these changes and be transparent. It has to be framed as an exchange of value. If you give us access to your data, we’ll recommend products you might like, or give you a discount, etc.

Let’s recap

  • Focus on data strategy and personalization
  • Invest in data infrastructure
  • Re-evaluate paid marketing measurement and attribution and break old habits of relying on cookie-based performance data.

Brands that encourage deeper engagement with your customers will come out on top. The value of first-party data is more important now than ever. Getting customers to sign-up, while respecting their privacy, is essential.

And there’s a way to get that balance right.

It just takes a more thoughtful approach. Brands need to think holistically about everything they’re doing across the board. They need to be proactive in the face of the cookie apocalypse, not reactive.

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