Many digital marketers have yet to come to grips with what advertising in a post-cookie world will look like. The entire programmatic ecosystem is undergoing a seismic shift as Google plans to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome by 2023 in response to growing privacy concerns. But Google isn’t alone. Apple has doubled down on its privacy efforts, blocking cookies in Safari and essentially handing Facebook advertisers their walking papers as it empowers users to opt out of ad tracking.
The demise of third-party cookies will be a blow to marketers who’ve come to rely on the technology’s ability to essentially follow users around the web reporting on their digital behavior. Apple, Google and Facebook will still have data on their billions of combined users, but without cookies, access to this data will be limited for digital markers.
Some digital marketers have argued that the cookie’s sunset is an opportunity, and I think they may be on to something. Cookies were imperfect from the jump and were notorious for wasted digital ad spend. But despite the cons, cookies became the advertising darling. Some companies are scrambling to create the next “cookie,” especially those whose primary business is cookie-based targeting.
But from what I’ve seen, all of the solutions looking to replace cookies are black boxes, meaning they are closed, opaque and largely unscalable in the way cookies are.
Survey Data As A Solution
A potential solution to the cookieless world for advertisers is a data source many are familiar with but rarely use outside of custom research, and that’s panel or sample data. Think of it as survey data. My company has been completing surveys on behalf of clients for the past 10 years. This has enabled us to gather valuable insights to enable our clients to make decisions on how best to proceed with their marketing objectives.
Panel data consists of surveying people who have agreed to take surveys regularly in exchange for incentives. While the type of tracking data that cookies provide is not replicable with panel data, the available data may be even more powerful, and here’s why: Cookies provide large amounts of data on what people are doing online — the websites they visit, the searches they conduct and the transactions they complete. What cookies do not provide is context. Digital marketers never know why a website was visited or why a purchase was made. Any conclusions drawn about those behaviors are, at best, assumptions. On the other hand, survey data allows us to get behind the what and ask why, which enables us to cultivate audiences more meaningfully based on deeper insights like psychographics and cultural drivers.
While consumers are looking to protect their privacy, culturally insensitive ads likely accelerated the cookie’s demise. One of the fastest-moving targets among consumers today is identity. As it continues to evolve, it’s becoming a central aspect of how marketers connect with consumers. So the timing of canceling cookies seems apropos. Cookies are blunt instruments. A consumer googles a pair of shoes, and shoe ads take over their browsing experience for the next several weeks, without considering that the user googled shoes for their partner or parents. Conversely, survey data can glean that the user lives in a multigenerational household, thus informing marketers of the need to serve ads to the consumer and their extended family. Cultural context matters.
Third-party cookies are going away. Don’t wait for a cookie alternative; instead, I recommend exploring how you can use survey data to get results in a post-cookie world.
Getting started with surveys and first-party data may seem like a daunting task, but there are many marketing research companies that can help you out. The first step is defining your audience. Is your client looking to reach people in California? Multicultural consumers? Gen Z? Defining the audience you’d like to research is critical in selecting your market research partner as market research companies generally focus on researching specific audiences.
Once you have selected your audience and research company, working closely with them to help them understand your marketing objectives is key. This will allow the market research company to craft a survey that will get the exact answers you need. Put in the time up front to make sure you are getting the questions right as this will determine the quality of your data.
As you gather more data, the process gets easier and the insights begin to grow. Lean on your findings to help your clients excel in a post-cookie world.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.