D-Day: The Cookie is Crumbling

We all know that the cookie is tired. The cookie works hard but can never fully complete the job we’re tasked with: true 1:1 marketing at scale, across platforms. What is the next best options for marketers?

As cookie-based targeting and measurement shows signs of strain and reveals inherent limitations, today’s marketer is presented with the kind of option we could only imagine previously. I believe that proper audience targeting should be based on real people, not browsing behavior. I am not sure who decided that an effective targeting strategy is to say that someone looking at an auto article is, by definition, in market for an auto.

The good news is that we now have data systems and science that allow us to leverage multiple sources of data to gauge audience propensity, build robust audience models and target and market, across platforms.

What are the options and how does it all work? Where do the limitations still exist? It’s important to understand this as we embrace the new data driven opportunity.

What Is the Cookie, Really?

A cookie is a small bit of computer code that a website places on a person’s browser. Along with that code, information such as browsing behavior is typically stored. When that browser visits a website, the site reads the cookie and corresponding information. Usually, advertising cookies are designed to remember and tell a website some useful information about an anonymous visitor–something that could be useful for marketing purposes.

For example, if a person visits several barbeque grill websites, there is likely a third party advertiser cookie placed on that person’s browser gathering that browsing behavior. An online retailer for the GreenEgg BBQ Grill would like to reach that browser with that cookie with their ad. There are non-persistent (session) cookies that facilitate site navigation and persistent advertising cookies that live beyond a single consumer session and allow for ongoing marketing and experience customizations.

With persistent cookies or not, when relying only on this methodology, a marketer’s ability to market online is pegged solely on understanding browsing, shopping and social behavior in specific digital channels. Very little cross-referencing is possible, because the cookie does not work across platforms. No other attributes or data sources are factored in to predict and optimize an audience’s behavior. The cookie gets tired just thinking about all the work that it might do, but cannot.

The New Audience-Based Approach

The new approach uses systems to take a marketer’s customer data and/or prospect data files and match them to publisher data files. Database matching is not a new approach, but doing it at scale, across platforms, like we are able to do right now, is game changing.

Unlike cookies, true customer data is portable for targeting either online or through offline channels. We are extending what has proven successful offline in direct mail into online, mobile and social, with analytics and measurement across all campaigns. The cookie can’t keep up.

Richer Insights Through Audience Targeting

Today, when you target an online campaign using a third party data source, there are different possible levels of analytics and insights. Depending on who you are–publisher, agency, advertiser, or ad network–you receive different levels of insights and can optimize accordingly.

The new systems level-set expectations for all parties. For example, an advertiser can create a data segment for targeting that will combine first party data and third party data to target on both a mobile application and a display application. Once the campaign is running, ad server files can be uploaded and the campaign data can be analyzed at the segment level by multiple variables. Marketers are able to compare performance derived from the app or the screen. Budgets can be reallocated in real time, based on that performance feedback, or measurement instead can be attributed to offline sales.

The power here is the integration of all the data sources into one system; in aggregate, a much more potent data picture than what the cookie can deliver.

What Still Needs to be Resolved?

Of course, the new system still has issues to resolve, including frequency, for example.

You may know that the user is in multiple places, interacting across any number of platforms, but frequency of message must be managed to keep from expiring a potential customer’s interest. We still face this issue as an industry. The upside of the new standard of people-based targeting, even in the face of this issue, is more relevant marketing at every touch.
This is true 1:1 marketing at scale, thanks to a newfound freedom for modeling, targeting and optimizing audiences across platforms.

Title image courtesy of Shutterstock

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