Are you ready? By Carat’s John Ekambi

Carat’s John Ekambi outlines easy steps you can take today to prepare for the cookieless era.

So here we are again: you thought you had mastered the latest trends of our lovely digital industry. You opened your crypto wallet, took the plunge and bought your very first NFT and attended mandatory workshops on quantum computing. But just when you felt you’d grasped all of this, the industry has decided to bring something new to the table that will change the place settings forever: the cookieless era.

While cookies are clearly not new – they have been the backbone of the open internet for decades and are now at the heart of most marketing conversations – their absence will be. I’m not a mind reader but I’m guessing that if you are reading this you have probably already been exposed to the sensationalist headlines announcing the ‘end of an era’. While I’m not denying that there are big changes at play, there are some simple steps you can take today to prepare yourself and your business for what is to come.

Here is what we know: Across the globe, 91 per cent of consumers are concerned about the amount of data companies can collect about them, and 42 per cent have taken steps to reduce the amount of data they share online.

In light of this desire for increased privacy, most technology platforms have recently implemented or announced restrictions around data collection and user tracking through their web browsers and operating systems.

You cannot ignore this. It will disrupt organisations across multiple dimensions: data management; user consent; brand engagement with online users; digital marketing tactics.

Thankfully, whether you are a solopreneur, an SME or work for a larger multinational organisation, there is a list of actions that you can take to start preparing yourself for the cookieless era.

1. First-party data audit: do you have first-party data? (Yes/no/it’s complicated)

Arguably this is the most valuable and reliable type of data, due to the collection method. Directly from consumers, it often sits across various departments inside organisations, which makes it rather difficult to have a single consistent view of a company’s first-party data.

That being said, it is a fantastic ally in the quest of being ready for the cookieless era. Indeed, understanding the path to purchase coupled with customer interaction and user preferences makes it possible to activate predictive modelling and facilitate personalised experiences from advertising to UX.

This is what you can do today: Ask what first-party data is available within your organisation and where it lives.

2. Tech audit: Do you have the right infrastructure in place?

When auditing and investing to grow the scale of your first-party data, it goes without saying that having the right infrastructure in place is paramount.

While reviewing the current state of your tech stack with your media and tech partners, you will want to focus on key points: Is your infrastructure compliant with privacy laws? Can your tech guarantee privacy protection? Will your stack seamlessly connect with adtech vendors without third-party cookies?

This is what you can do today: Ask your team and partners if the current tech stack is future proof.

3. Review your dependence on third-party cookies

Third-party cookies have been the go-to for marketers for many years. As they are starting to phase out, you want to clearly understand where they are currently being used across your various advertising activities.

It also makes sense to review all partners using third-party data, those exclusively using first-party and the ones who use a mix of various data sources.

Finally, review some of the tools that you and your team are using as they could be dependent on third-party cookies. Think of personalisation tools to customise content on-site or in emails.

This is what you can do today: Assess where third party cookies are used in your marketing.

4. Start to establish second-party data partnerships

While third-party cookies are phasing out, we are starting to observe the growth of second-party data partnerships between overlapping brands and organisations. Leveraging another company’s first-party data can be useful if the respective consumer base shares undeniable similarities.

When it comes to entering second-party data partnerships, choosing the right partner is essential. The recommendation is to evaluate the results of the tests conducted with second-party data and compare it with the cookie-based solution it will replace. This will facilitate the decision to move forward and scale or to drop and search for a different partner.

This is what you can do today: Start listing your potential second-party data partners.

5. Start testing now and get a head start

Although Google has recently decided to push back the phasing out of third-party cookies in Chrome to 2023, it is absolutely in your best interest to start having those cookieless conversations with the right stakeholders today.

Tech players such as Apple have privacy features being rolled out as part of iOS 15, which should be available to users in the autumn of 2021. They are moving forward with their own timelines and agendas on privacy.

It is important to work closely with your data, tech and agency partners to start rolling out tests and alternatives to third-party cookies. This will allow you to stay a step ahead and know what works and what doesn’t for your brand.

This is what you can do today: Have a third-party-data-cookieless exploratory session with your agency partners.

In this ever-evolving digital industry, embracing new models and having the right mindset to assess, test and develop your data strategies are vital to future success. The cookieless era will have implications on our ways of working, legal compliance, tech stacks and customer data strategies as well as business models.

Will it disrupt business operations?  Yes, of course it will. Can you afford to wait until 2023 to act? No, please don’t. Should you start testing alternatives to third party cookies? Yes, you should.

My advice: don’t panic. Take the small steps today to get your place settings in order. This will make all the difference when the tables are turned, and when the time comes you will be ready to serve a great meal at the new table.