Cookieless Targeting 101

/ Thoughtspace - General, Programmatic, Strategy

An audience-first approach. 1:1 marketing is something brands often strive for. As a digital marketing partner it’s at the core of our mission. 

However, the ‘cookieless future’, the meanest curveball Google has thrown at the industry yet, is approaching. Even if its arrival has been further delayed. With cookieless targeting, being ‘audience-first’ takes on a new definition. 

Targeting will no longer be as simple as building an audience persona and pressing “go” on pre-made data sets. Instead, it’s about really diving into the ethos of who your core consumer is, and using that intel to guide your audience strategy.

We sat down with Coegi’s Account Strategy Director, Savannah Westbrock, to get her perspective and tips on how she’s helping clients prepare for cookieless targeting. The following article is an edited transcript of that interview.

It’s Time to Improve Your Audience Research

How should audience research change in light of the cookieless future?

There are three changes in audience research most marketers need to make to ensure the data tells an accurate story: 

  1. Understand the methodology: We rely on research every day to inform our media plans and decision making. However, we often don’t peel back the curtain to understand how that data was collected and consider potential biases. In the cookieless future, it will be even more important to think critically and be selective with our data sourcing. 
  2. Exit the platform: Don’t rely solely on demand side platform information and forecasting for your planning. This data will be most affected by cookie deprecation. Instead, combine platform insights with external research that never relied on cookies. 
  3. Diversify your data sources: It’s time to get creative. Platform data and syndicated research will still hold value. But, you’ll need to layer it with non-syndicated data and first party data. Combine these tools to see a full picture. Even consider non-media data, such as macro-environmental trends, which may impact your audience’s behaviors. 

What types of cookieless data should brands be gathering to understand their audiences?

Pixel-based retargeting is essentially out of the picture. The best pivot brands can make is owning their own first party data. But you don’t have to rely solely on your own data. Combine ‘hard’ data such as your website and platform analytics with ‘soft’ data such as social listening. Taking a more journalistic approach with these softer data sources can actually provide more meaningful insights and make your brand more authentic and trustworthy. 

Tip: Balance quantitative and qualitative data. Trust your instincts and use research to back up or refute as needed. 

How can marketers collect and expand their first party data? 

First, you need to have systems in place to generate leads. Then, it’s all about what you do with that customer data to maximize results and become more strategic. 

Lead generation campaigns: Keep first party data collection top of mind when planning campaigns. For example, promoting a useful downloadable with a lead form. This will help drive consideration and give you an opportunity to learn about your audience in exchange for shared value. 

Data enrichment: Once you collect and understand your first party data, you can upload it to enrichment tools, such as consumer survey platforms. This helps you learn more about your audience’s interests, media consumption and day-to-day behaviors. 

Cookieless Audience Targeting Alternatives

Is contextual targeting an effective cookieless targeting strategy? 

If your audience research is thorough, you will know the channels your audience frequents, their preferred devices, favorite shows, and where they are most engaged. Pair this insight with contextual placements that make sense for your ads. 

Contextual strategies fell by the wayside in the late 2010s. Many brands focused on only reaching the “perfect” addressable audience with cookie-based data. So some marketers may fear for impression waste by comparison. However, there are now many sophisticated contextual solutions that allow for hyper-customization and reach niche interest groups. 

For instance, Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithms are beginning to better understand the actual context of ad placements using artificial intelligence. This allows marketers to implement positive sentiment targeting and smarter keyword targeting. Smart contextual offerings can optimize to real-time content trends, going beyond standard display. 

Are new user ID solutions direct replacements for cookies? 

Cookieless solutions such as Unified ID 2.0 and Liveramp’s IdentityLink will help reach high-value segments without wasting media dollars on the wrong audiences. But, there will still be gaps. Pre-made audiences and 1:1 third party targeting will not be the same. As cookie-based information is no longer shared across the web, we’ll need to tap a few different buying strategies. I also expect walled gardens will center in on themselves more, protecting their high value audience data. 

To overcome these challenges, marketers use all the data at your disposal to understand customers better, from channel-based information, survey data, CRM analysis, Google Analytics, and more. 

Cookieless Targeting Tips

What’s your best advice to brands preparing for a cookieless future?

There’s a lot to consider, but the two simple things brands should prioritize are: 

  1. Invest in first party data collection
  2. Start testing now 

The most important thing you can do now is establish a baseline. Then you can conduct a true study comparing your performance with and without cookies. Cover these two bases and you will be ahead of many brands. From there, you can continue to refine and adjust your research, targeting and measurement strategies as the industry evolves. 

Our team at Coegi is actively testing cookieless solutions and brainstorming innovative cookieless media plans. For more strategic insights and tips, listen to our full podcast episode on cookieless targeting here. 

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