3 Stages of Transitioning for a Cookieless Future

First Party Data Strategy graphic

By Sameer Sondhi, Co-CEO at Verve Group

Going into 2022, there’s no shortage of discussion happening within digital media circles around the implications of a cookieless future. Collectively, the industry is coming to terms with the loss of third-party cookies as its default means of cross-channel audience identification.

However, if you’re a marketer trying to translate that inevitability into action, it’s understandable if you’re having trouble knowing where to start.

For marketers preparing for a cookieless world, consider this your ultimate planning guide. Here are the short-term, medium-term and long-term steps you should take to ensure addressability in a consumer-first future:

Immediate Action Items

Not all pivots can happen overnight but there are steps you can and should be taking today when it comes to preparing for the final deprecation of third-party cookies. Consider:

Evaluate ROI of Android vs iOS ID-Based Audiences. With the loss of cookies, marketers (especially CPG and QSR brands, for which first-party data is hard to come by) need to be seeking audience identity where they can still find it. Now that Apple has limited access to the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), targeting iOS users is more challenging than it’s ever been.

As such, advertisers should be revisiting their mobile strategies to ensure their dollars are being put to the greatest use possible. It might be time to recalibrate the breakdown of your Android vs iOS advertising efforts.

Evaluate Cohort-Based Behavioral Audiences. When it comes to the growing number of environments in which traditional identifiers have gone by the wayside, advertisers need to shift how they’re thinking about audiences. Cohort-based behavioral audiences represent a way to tap into valuable consumer segments in a privacy-compliant and future-proof way. 

Test Contextual Marketing Partners For Immediate Activation. Speaking of future-proof, contextual targeting represents another well-established means of ensuring your ads are relevant in the environments in which they appear—and no shifts to the identity landscape are going to change that. Now is the time to enhance your contextual targeting efforts and capabilities via new and expanded partnerships.

Medium-Term Moves

Looking a little further down the road, here are the initiatives you need to be lining up to execute over the coming year.

Increase Spending on Alternative Solutions Such as Cohorts and Context-Based Targeting. Building on your immediate actions, let’s talk budgeting. As you establish your media plan for the coming year, be sure your spend is being recalibrated according to the opportunities that can continue to deliver results, with an emphasis on cohort — and contextual-based targeting strategies.

Maximize Outcomes With Identity Resolution Solutions. That said, don’t abandon the quest for identity altogether. While there will be no single “replacement for the cookie,” there are alternative identifiers rolling out to the market that could manage to reclaim a portion of audience identity in a privacy-compliant way.

The key is to play in a way that’s ID-agnostic. Think “yes, and” rather than “either or” as you decide which identifiers to incorporate into your targeting strategy—and make sure you don’t become too reliant on any one alternative.

Bring Data Management In-House and Invest in First-Party Data. Depending on your industry, the difficulty of acquiring first-party data can vary greatly. But even in historically challenging realms like CPG and QSR, it’s still a worthy pursuit. Look for new venues in which you can connect directly to customers and ensure you’re putting in-house systems into place to deepen relationships once you’ve established them.

Long-Term Planning

Finally, let’s talk about the long haul. In the coming years, here’s where marketers need to be doubling down.

Build and Increase Reliance on First-Party Data Pools. First-party data is a journey, not a destination. Put a long-term roadmap into place and ensure you’re constantly reaching for a better first-party understanding of your customers and prospects. 

Build Second-Party Data Relationships. The right data partnerships, managed in a compliant fashion, can prove immensely valuable in enhancing your audience understanding. Look for complementary brands, publishers and partners you can work with to increase knowledge around your shared audiences.

Build AI Capabilities For Consumer Insights and Cultivate Your Own Audiences. The power of AI is represented by its ability to make connections that the human mind cannot. Ensure your long-term data strategy includes an AI engine that can make the most of your first-party data by using it to find new audiences and sales opportunities.

There are still some unknowns on the horizon when it comes to how a fully cookieless digital landscape will operate in practice but that doesn’t mean brands and agencies are directionless.

We know a lot about what a cookieless media landscape looks like because we’ve already seen third-party cookies deprecated in certain environments, not to mention the loss of other once-relied-upon identifiers in the mobile world. And with every shift, we’ve seen certain strategies and tactics prevail time and again.

For marketers looking to future-proof their brands, start with what you know, establish a plan to increase your data strength in the future—and be prepared to adapt and pivot along the way.


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