I’m excited to discuss one of my favorite topics ever …Cookies! While I would love to sit here and debate chocolate chunk vs. old fashioned oatmeal raisin, the cookies we are discussing are wreaking havoc on more than just the Cookie Monster. Today’s widespread devastation is being caused by the coined “Cookie-pocalypse.”

Goodbye, Cookies

Google Chrome has announced they will be phasing out third party cookies over the next 2 years. User data will be centralized and will only be accessible when Chrome determines that the user does not want to be anonymous. This decision renders digital ads less effective and completely changes the landscape for digital media companies and all digital marketing. Safari and Firefox have already had similar changes, so why is this announcement so significant? According to W3C, in 2019 Chrome was the most used browser with over half of all web traffic.

Why would Google choose to remove delicious cookies? There has been an industry wide shift taking place over the past 5 years to allow users more privacy protection. Our society as a whole values the protection of our personal data and knowledge of who is allowed access to view our digital presence.

Cookies are bite-sized pieces of data that are stored for each user, enabling companies access to user behavior, characteristics, and interactions based on tracking across multiple sites. Google’s proactive decision to protect users comes a year after Europe enacted the GDPR “Global Data Protection Regulation.” This set of rules aims to give European users control over their personal data.

Likewise, the CCPA “California Consumer Privacy Act” (also passed in 2018) intends to give California users the knowledge of who is accessing their data, what data they are accessing, and the power to say “No”. This privacy trend is just the beginning of the wave of regulations, state legislation, and browser restrictions.

Who Will Be Hit the Hardest?

We look for this change to mainly affect publishers that host ads on their site for revenue, and brands that target consumers based on cookie data. This ultimately will affect all businesses, possibly depriving them of the economic “dough” they desperately need to be successful in digital advertising. A world without cookies will make it more difficult for digital advertisers to target users based on their behavior.

So the challenge is, how do we continue to target and communicate to key audiences without third party data? Some predict an increase in sign-in requirements to view websites (similar to the trend in Europe) to attain user data. Could there be an equally delicious alternative to the cookie developed (a brownie perhaps)?

Play Nice with Your Audience’s Data

Google’s solution is called “Privacy Sandbox,” and while it sounds like an opportunity to play at the playground (a somewhat sufficient cookie substitution), it’s the centralized user data tool allowing advertisers and publishers access to users without violating their privacy rights. Will this environment allow businesses the critical crumbs they need? At the moment, there is no clear solution moving into the cookie-less future.

Before you run out and snatch up every cookie you see, let us save you from the pandemonium and calorie binge. These changes won’t actually take place until 2022. We have two years to adapt and find solutions that possibly haven’t even been cooked up yet (even by Google). If your business does a large amount of paid and programmatic advertising with third-party platforms or relies heavily on digital advertising to gain new business, we suggest starting down the road of exploring new options.

Know (and Own) Your Audience

Our biggest recommendation to you is to move toward owning your own audience, (known as establishing first-party data). If you don’t already have a CRM and/or AMS and use it consistently, you need to!

A CRM will play a monumental role in helping to own and grow your own audience. It gives you the ability to know and track your audience and market products, publish content, and send messaging to appropriate targets. It also gives you the ability to track users in different stages of their buyer’s journey and identifies opportunities for timely and relevant messaging. When customers are given the ability to build their own data by providing you with their own communication preferences and points of interest, and appropriate follow-up messaging occurs, they feel your business is paying attention and working with them as a team.

A centralized system provides accuracy and notes every touchpoint, building trust and fostering long-term customer relationships. We also recommend establishing a strong presence on social media platforms and reallocating a percentage of your budget to paid social. Consider investing in organic traffic through content creation and SEO to help your business continue to be successful when cookies are gone.

I’ll close in the words of Bruce Almighty, “And THAT’s the way the cookie crumbles.”