Not Cookie Cutter: What To Do With A Cookieless Marketing World

With cookieless advertising becoming an issue for marketer, what do you do?
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Written by Jon Searle

May 28, 2021

The announcement of Google Chrome eliminating third-party cookies as part of their privacy sandbox initiative might have been the second biggest disruptor to the digital landscape in recent memory (There are no prizes for guessing what was first…).

Our cookieless advertising eBook goes far deeper into actionable steps you should take
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Although the actual implementation won’t take place in full until 2023, the scramble to adjust is on and no marketing organization wants to be dead last – especially as other leading browsers such as Firefox and Safari have already made privacy-centric moves.

So, what do you need to know about cookieless advertising and, really, its impact on your entire marketing efforts? Let’s dive in, and special thanks to my colleague Caleb Rule for his insights added throughout this article.

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Let’s level-set: What this actually means

For marketers like us, unfortunately, it means losing the ability to easily record user preferences, retargeting ads, tracking and attributing leads, and more for a particularly wide swath of your site visitors and prospective customers.

It doesn’t mean, however, that the digital conversation is over. Smart marketers understand the opportunity this presents to leap ahead of the pack by embracing first-party data opportunities, and we want to make sure that you’re in that group as well.

Losing cookies mean we no longer have the ability to facilitate a number of marketing functions in the manner we’ve become accustomed to:

  • Retargeting ads and continuing the content conversation when someone who previously interacted comes back. Without third-party data, we risk restarting the conversation from the starting point every time a prospect engages with us. This will result in a stagnant customer journey that goes nowhere.
  • Keeping an item in an ecommerce shopping cart from a previous visit and retargeting to remind an anonymous user to provide information and complete a purchase.
  • Smart forms that auto-populate with information collected from elsewhere.
  • Understanding trends and gaining insights around top-of-funnel prospects who haven’t yet engaged deeply enough to be known to our marketing efforts.
  • Accessing demographic data such as age, location, or web history to better target web-based ads. We’ll still have this option in places like Google Ads, but reliance on them could become trickier as the data becomes more suspect over time.

What To Do: Short-Term Wins

Knowing where to start with this issue is tricky, so here are four areas to jump on immediately before third-party data is gone for good:

#1: Audit first-party data to create an inventory

It’s likely that expertise about your first-party versus third-party data usage lies within the purview of a few individuals who have the specific details. However, usage of that data drives strategies far more widely across sales and marketing, so step one becomes an inventory and audit of what you’re collecting and how you’re currently
using it.

Here’s a quick start guide on how to do this and a graphic below for a template to get you started.

First party vs. third party data, a comparison

Identify tools that use data, either first party or third party (overlap between the two is expected). We jump start the list with common ones below but also consider any MarTech tools, especially those integrated with CRM or social media. Another place to look for third- party data users is any process that involves collecting data, like a web form.

In the second column, capture teams and team members that manage tools. For a typical organization, we expect to see a different name or team in each box. This becomes the list of people who need to cooperate on driving change.

In the third column, list others who rely on data for the tool. For example, often the owner of a CRM exists somewhere in the IT department; but the power users of data from a CRM are more likely to be grouped in sales and marketing.

In the last column, capture how data is being used. Some of the questions to answer here:

  • What types of interaction history and forms are we tracking?
  • What kind of KPI information are we tracking, like time spent on webpages?
  • Do we understand where conversions and interactions are happening on our site?

With this audit in-hand, you’ll be able to build the framework for a sustainable, repeatable process so nobody gets left behind internally.

With cookieless advertising and browsers ... how do you avoid losing ground? With proper fundamentals

#2: Map The Customer Journey

Personas, customer experience and buyers’ journeys … it’s the gnarly knot of processes that marketers perennially struggle to get their arms around. It’s a topic that sounds so simple, but its one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive processes to understand who your customer is – and what they want.

We’ve talked a lot about customer journeys, including an improved model in the past. But if you’re reading this now, here’s how to get the process right:

Step 1: Revisit personas or ideal customer profiles. If it’s been a while since you last updated yours, now is absolutely the time to make it happen.

Step 2: Check in on persona performance. You should have a map of what prospects are coming to your website for, where they are coming from, and where they go once they land in your digital backyard. Third-party data provides much more visibility on the efficacy of these processes, so it is worth investing the time now and
taking advantage of insights that will soon evaporate.

Step 3: Focus on the remarketing stages. We know data in this critical area is going to dry up, so rather than risk getting overwhelmed by the entire customer experience process, focus on efforts to recapture attention and continue conversations. Focus on the efficacy of content and also the strategies that work to get attention, engage, tailor experiences and especially personalize them on your website.

Related: See why we deleted 1/2 our website because of a content audit

#3: Focus on the ability to collect first-party data With UTMs

I can’t say this loud enough: UTMs will be the new way to pixel.

Many companies are still elementary in their use of tools that will replace cookies. Now is the time to make the switch and develop the expertise to use the tools that are quickly becoming the new normal!

Teams that aren’t currently using these tools will need to adapt processes around the new ones, and that will take a significant shift. Adding these new elements will hobble the efforts of several teams as they struggle with both the basics, as well as a more sophisticated future.

Related: Get tips on how to better leverage utm parameters

#4: Stop over-segmenting your marketing and harmonize your KPIs

Marketing efforts are frequently disjointed across teams, something that might surface if you complete the Data Audit and Inventory suggested above. The result is that multiple people chase the same goals but do so in a way that is siloed. This has worked up to this point because we’ve been able to use third-party data to glue these activities together and provide a cohesive look at these disparate efforts. However, this will be problematic moving ahead.

Here’s an example:

Companies frequently deploy their specialists with individual goals, which means separating organic, paid, and email tactics. Different teams run with these efforts, and communication about what’s going on is often superficial or even reactive.

Third-party data has been like a giant light switch. When we turn it on, we suddenly see how we are talking to prospects across different channels.

These capabilities are going away, and it’s as if we are suddenly stuck in the dark. We’ll lose the story of what happens between first and last touch with a narrow lens of focus. We need to be working toward one goal. That means building out reporting capabilities to tell a story about our brand or product before the ability to leverage third-party data goes away for good.

Prepare For Long-Term Success

If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s that first-party data has always been the more robust and reliable way to speak with prospects and clients! The established best practices, like ideal customer profiles and high-quality content that speaks directly to their wants and needs, are the best way to grow your business whether you’re tracking with pixels, UTMs, or even whatever comes next.

But how can you stay ahead of the game… permanently? Read on.

It’s All About the Journey

We know it’s fundamental, but it’s worth focusing on because the single biggest threat to “no cookies” is that we risk replaying the same content to the same people, never progressing our prospects past the starting point.

As marketers, we rely heavily on pixels to show us when a prospect has visited before, and on subsequent visits to show the right “next step” of content on the journey. Without cookies, return visitors don’t pick up where they left off. Instead, they start over. It’s like traveling in a circle that always takes you back where you started.

Obviously, this is lethal; but luckily, it’s not permanent. There are two ways to fix this broken route.

First, marketers need to develop competency using UTMs. UTMs are attached to links and are supported by Google Analytics, which means you get solid tracking and intel that works with the valuable analytics data you’re already used to. UTMs are relatively simple as far as functionality goes, yet we’ve seen companies large and small waste tens of thousands of dollars through improper usage.

Without cookies, marketers risk keeping prospects stuck in early-stage offers
Learn more about The Loop here

For UTMs to work, the journey itself must speak directly to the pain and needs of the prospect. A consistent message that delivers the right message at the right time and in the right place is the kind of journey that converts.

So often, we find ourselves working with clients who have solid tools for serving up a customer journey, but the content falls flat.

What prospects are seeing doesn’t demonstrate enough understanding of their needs to convince them to move further along their journey with you.

Or, it talks more about the company than the people who need the product. It may not be customer-centric. A well-mapped journey built on top of a multichannel strategy is what turns a prospect into a lead.

Ensure leads get through your entire process!

Audience Discovery And Development

Another challenge is how to get the right customer on the right journey that speaks to their pain. It’s that old “if a tree falls in the forest and no one can hear it, did it make a sound?” question.

Long before digital reigned supreme, marketers put soap commercials on daytime television shows and candy bars at eye level with the kids who would want them. For marketers, the name of the game has always been (and will always be) getting the product in front of the right buyer. In digital, connecting audiences with journeys and mapping the most effective channels is another process made easier by cookies.

We think of the starting point as a digital watering hole: putting the satiating message where the thirst is the greatest. Cookies made it a little easier to see how prospects landed on our doorstep, but that’s a reactive process. We see a shift to make the creation of watering holes a proactive process. Across channels, we need to work smarter when it comes to targeting.

Over the long term, there are also tools that will become more important, and savvy marketers are investing in them now:

Intent data. We’ve been blown away by the sophistication of the tools that already rely heavily on first-party data to collect—and crunch—information about online behavior that shows high interest or high need in a specific area. Companies like 6Sense can overlay onto channels, like LinkedIn, and show us as marketers where our watering holes are, and who is taking a sip.

Audience insight tools. Once you’ve got the first-party data and information from UTMs streaming in, how do you make sense of it? Tools like Drift Audiences sit on top of this information and mine it for insights.

But others, such as SparkToro, make it quite convenient to understand what your audiences prefer engaging with now. It’s an off-site tool that pulls in millions of data points across websites, social platforms, etc. to allow for quick and easy audience segmentation based on factors ranging from job title, to what they’re reading, etc. (In short? Take your ideal customer profile and see what they like!)

It’s not so much about creating a new audience as it is about finding the value and places to invest in the people you’re already tracking.

Email marketing will be a more critical lever to pull once cookieless browsers and advertising are more widespread

Email’s Never Dead. Now It’s more alive.

Email is going to surge back because people have already identified themselves, and you’ve got an invite to meet a prospect on their terms. We’ve been so focused on inbound thus far, but this outbound component has some serious upsides:

  • Anyone who takes the time to give you their email is more likely to show interest in your message.
  • You’re in control, and with email, you’ve got the floor to make your case without competition from other content on the channel.
  • Everything in email is trackable. Create a compelling CTA, add a UTM, and watch the analytics roll in on how your message is being received.

A caution about email: more email means more static to cut through.

Compelling, well-targeted, and engaging content will win over this outbound tool. Personalization and highly bespoke content will be of the highest value when it comes to making it to the top of an inbox. Ten highly-focused emails that get the right message to the right prospect at the right time will be far more valuable than a blast to hundreds or thousands.

Related: Our email marketing guide

Content Is Always King.

The ability to tell your story is always going to be a differentiator; but through the lens of the cookieless world, content is important because Google rewards loyalty.

Click it, stay on it, and share it: there’s simply no substitute for content that solves pain and engages.

So be merciless. Customers need to see answers that solve a problem and learn something new. Whoever is telling the best story and driving engagement has an advantage because they’re simply providing a better customer experience through relevancy.

But it also has to rank

Great content that isn’t read is … what, exactly? A waste?

Sure, you can run paid advertising to promote it, but this far through reading, you’ve probably figured out that paid advertising is only becoming less effective. (Note that’s different than ineffective)

Investing in great content is only one part of getting to rank. For example, is your site super slow? Is Google Search Console telling you a ton of your site is actually on page two of Google? Does anybody actually link to what you write, or are you the only one promoting your company’s work?

Search engine optimization should be more than a line item in the budget – it needs a holistic strategy and dedicated headcount for larger organizations.

This also means culling your content to get rid of anything that doesn’t provide the ideal answers your target audience is looking for. For more on what that looks like, read this dive into why we deleted over half our website with positive results.

Video and Media Marketing Poised for Growth

What are your top three videos right now? Most of us can’t answer that!

But video is an immensely useful tool, especially when served up by YouTube. YouTube? Yes. It’s a Google property using first-party data, so analytics will reward engagement. Moreover, you can build audiences and net new contacts from video viewership and leverage analytics to see what messages are resonating.

YouTube isn’t just about video; in fact, it’s the third largest search platform behind Google and Google Images.

In addition, you can increase on-site engagement with the right video embedded (or podcast, etc.) into related website content. Give your reader more reasons to stay when they visit!

Video is an Achilles heel for so many of the clients we work with, because it gets a bad rep … not so much because it’s a bad tool but because it’s frequently not used well (just like email and chatbots). Engaging content is a must, and when used well, it’s a smart content marketing play.

Develop Your Lead Management Capabilities

Cookies affect all aspects of marketing, and lead management processes certainly face some challenges.

Lead scoring algorithms will be less effective if someone isn’t cookied. You won’t see a prospect score up when they’ve visited repeatedly and consumed a lot of content. It will be necessary to revisit lead scoring models and look at ways to compensate so the marketing pipeline doesn’t suddenly begin to slow down.

Sales and marketing need to reconsider what to do with prospects who pony up their info as part of first-party data processes. When someone has taken the time raise their hand, they are a valuable prospect. You must, however, be hypersensitive to sales readiness. The lack of cookies will change the definitions when you lack information about the journey that brought your customer to your door.

Attribution has always been a challenge as well. If you can’t see the journey, you fall back into the trap of giving the credit to the last touch. UTMs can fill this gap, but they have to be fully implemented to keep the attribution process moving smoothly.

Related: Make sure you have a strong lead management process with this blog!

The Additive Case For Chatbots

If you’re not using automated tools to drive conversations with chatbots, you’re missing out. There is such untapped ability for platforms to customize and automate an experience through a customer-focused approach.

When done with intent, chatbots help people see value in engaging with a brand, in a personalized way. They are an additive to an otherwise robust user experience that’s focused on the user.

But a ton of companies get this wrong.

  • The wrong reason to use bots is to automate the process of mining for data, lessen the load when it comes to talking with a prospect, or try to streamline the process of getting leads.
  • The right reason is to add to the overall customer experience and connect on a more meaningful level.

When this happens, we’re seeing more and more people willing not to just interact, but provide that high value first-party data.

Another good reason for chatbots is immediacy multiplied by relevance.

This chatbot seeks to add value to the user's reading experience.

Chatbots should vary across different areas of your website, ready to serve up unique assets or experiences that extend the value of the content the user is viewing.

One tactic we love: instead of a gated web form, use the chatbot to deliver an asset right away by entering information and getting the link to the asset immediately (or at least acknowledge “it’s on the way” if you prefer to cookie them through your marketing automation platform).

Then, follow up that first asset with a choice of a few more, as well as offers of other relevant calls to continue the conversation.

Think about it: If a key contact from a target account grabs one of your assets, you can have logic in place to immediately offer them a chance to connect with Sales (in addition to other options). It reduces friction on their buying journey but prevents unqualified leads from taking up Sales’ valuable time.

You can also use your chatbot to highlight related content on content-heavy areas of your site, like a blog. For example, if you read our blog explaining what revenue marketing is, you’ll get a bot recommended related content … but it doesn’t fire immediately, ensuring it fires to people who are actually reading the article.

Related: We partner with Drift, a leader in the space!

Make sure to read Lorena Harris' dive into ABM and what to do / avoid!

Impact On Account-Based Marketing Strategies

Account-based marketing (ABM) strategies rely heavily on the ability to identify individuals who are part of the accounts getting deferential attention.

Doing this traditionally required cookies, and UTM parameters can only go so far in filling the gap. Many of us are asking: Can intent data platforms replace the role of cookies in account based marketing?

Well, sort of.

No one thing can fill all the gaps, but in so many ways more data can help if you know how to use it. The best uses center around:

  • Better informing advertising strategies, as well as customization and personalization.
  • Seeing the overall trends in market interests.
  • Enabling sales and streamline conversations at the account level.
  • Collecting first-party data to hone the overall plays in the ABM strategy.

Another critical aspect is eliminating the linear path of a typical customer journey and building a radial path. Don’t offer one single asset as a next step; offer many as a choice. This helps offset some of the issues with retargeting and the repetitiveness of content when you don’t have first-party data but still need to maximize every touchpoint.

Related: Our ABM executive’s guide dives into what to do (and avoid)

More Than Crumbs: Your Revenue Pipeline

Much will change with the elimination of cookies; but so much stays the same.

What we think will never change is the idea of customer focus. Cookies are, in the end, a tool that helps marketers … but does little for prospects!

When you build processes that are truly customer focused, you stick with the most powerful tools (like first-party data) that endure because, in the end, they’re the right thing to do. And as an extension of customer focus, what works no matter what is high value content that addresses pain points.

This is not about how we, as a company, get the data we need to market ourselves. Do that and you’ll miss the boat on speaking to what the customer really wants.

Cookies or not, it’s a relentless focus on your user that wins more closed-won deals.

Want help?

Learn more about how we’re different as a company and with our services, or see how we can help, from inbound to ABM, lead management to marketing operations!

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