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The cookie’s final dunk into the teacup of history may have been pushed back a year or two. But Google’s recent decision to postpone the inevitable gives brands room to breathe and experiment with what their post-cookie customer data experience is going to look like. The future of digital advertising is going to fundamentally change.   

The web is going to become more privacy-centric, with relationships between users’ online identity and digital advertisers moving from one-to-one to one-to-many. This stems first from consumers having a greater understanding of how their data is exchanged online, the value it accrues, and what it means for them as individuals. And secondly, major players (such as Google and Apple) attempting to take more responsibility and instigating infrastructural change that accounts for data’s true value.  

In 2023, Google Chrome will block all third-party cookies. This presents problems for all online advertisers – particularly brands in the e-commerce space, who are often reliant on performance marketing to stay afloat and, when conditions allow, scale. 

Without third-party cookies, practices such as personalized dynamic remarketing will start to deteriorate due to the inability to showcase these ads across the open web. 

This isn’t just another apocalyptic prophecy in a world that has far too many. We’ve already seen Facebook’s marketing offering hindered through Apple’s introduction of iOS 14.5 earlier this year, causing headaches for many advertisers. 

But who said change, especially positive change, was going to be easy? Who is going to shed tears for these web giants if consumers end up in a better place?  
In truth, the established walled garden platforms including Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft will be least affected by this change due to the wealth of authenticated data they already possess.  

For the sake of consumer choice and diversity, that doesn’t mean advertising efforts (and budgets) should be consolidated into these platforms for e-commerce advertisers. Scaling to Amazon’s size may not be plausible for... well, anyone really. But that doesn’t mean you can’t mimic their strategy, becoming a walled garden yourself – even if yours is more like a window box in comparison.  

In the same manner, these companies are prospering from looking within their own ecosystem, and so should every advertiser.

No doubt you recently read an article about how first-party data will be central to success in a cookieless future, and it is very much true. As a brand, having a wealth of first-party data at your fingertips will improve your ability to measure impact, attribute value across marketing channels, target and ultimately survive. This sounds easy, but it means that every advertiser needs to learn how to create the levels of value exchange present in platforms such as Facebook (a free service funded by ads).  

The direct relationship

E-commerce has a direct relationship with the consumer. An exchange of information is therefore essential to the service they offer: they can’t send you stuff if they don’t know where you live. However, gaining consent to use what they know about you for marketing purposes – beyond where you live and the information that comes with this such as an email address – is a high hurdle. 

Especially in an environment where consumers are taking action by keeping their data to themselves – a halo effect attributed to decades of industry bad practice. Additionally, cookie policies are likely to change, suggesting opting out as standard, making capturing consented users even more difficult.  

In a privacy-first internet, e-commerce must both embrace transparency and be creative toward showcasing a clear value exchange that benefits both brands and customers alike, in order to maximize the volume of first-party data they ingest.

Brands must change their approach from ‘This is our policy, do you agree or not?’ to ‘This is how we benefit from this exchange, and here’s how you will too’.

Clarity is key for e-commerce. This shouldn’t only be done via a cookie policy – striving for more authenticated users should be an essential part of the strategy. Offer both your prospective and existing customers incentives such as exclusivity, early access and the chance to win prizes in exchange for actions such as setting up an account.  

Additionally, with the right infrastructure partners in place such as CRMs and CDPs, capturing more authenticated data will help connect the dots between multiple customer-interfacing platforms, including any brick and mortar stores and online, helping to achieve a single customer view. With a better understanding of your customer, this creates an opportunity to better personalize your advertising and, importantly, segment audiences.

Proper audience segmentation increases your ability to scale to new audiences in targeted ways through the use of mechanisms such as lookalike audiences across social and search, or project cohorts of anonymized users across the open web for programmatic display.  

Ned Jones, head of digital, Anything is Possible.

For more on the reinvention of retail, check out The Drum’s Retail hub, where we explore everything from livestreaming e-commerce to AR shopping and conscious consumerism.