When Google announced the depreciation of third-party cookies in January 2020, the world of marketing heaved a collective sigh and a whole school of data collection strategy began to crumble. Cookies have long been a staple of marketers, informing key decisions that guide the crafting of customer journeys. Brands have relied on them to identify website visitors on their digital properties — including website, social media and beyond — to improve user experience and collect first party intent data.

Third-party cookies specifically help marketers “follow the trail of crumbs,” collecting third-party intent data, information collected from outside sources that provides a broader view of a buyer's intent to make a purchase.

And therein lies the creep factor. As the general public becomes more aware of how the internet works, they are more likely to be wary of being “stalked” across the web. 

Despite the public’s growing wariness around cookies, the ban has been pushed back multiple times since Google’s initial decree. As a stop gap, we currently find ourselves in a collective opt-in/opt-out pop up limbo that is cumbersome for consumers and a momentum-killing hurdle for marketers. 2024 is the next deadline Google set for itself, but in the meantime, how will marketers brace themselves for the eventuality of a time when third-party cookies will no longer exist?

Related Article: 5 Targeting Recommendations for a Post-Cookie World

Privacy > Personalization?

While marketers scramble to find alternatives, there is one overarching takeaway from the gradual demise of the third-party cookie. The people have spoken and they want privacy. But will that perceived privacy come at the cost of the personalization they have come to expect? If cookie-enabled convenience disappears overnight, users may feel a bit lost as they navigate their favorite websites.  

At the end of the day, buyers have come to expect a bespoke experience, and data is the only way to serve that level of personalization. Once that goes away, there will be a rude awakening not just for marketers, but for the buyers who have grown accustomed to the convenience cookies afford.

How to fill this cookie-sized hole? The elimination of third-party cookies means that brands will need to pivot to find new ways to connect with and earn the trust of their core audience while also improving brand engagement. Publishers will need to find different mechanisms to identify who their buyers are. They’ll need to plug the personalization gap with B2B first party data, voluntary visitor authentication and intent data derived from online behavior so they can serve welcomed customer experiences. 

Related Article: Google Gave Us a Reprieve on Cookies. My Advice? Don't Take It

The Age of the Self-Service Buyer Is Here

With cookie-enabled data collecting methods crumbling, marketers are reevaluating their approach to reaching buyers while also adapting to their shifting demographics. TrustRadius’ recently released TrustRadius 2022 Buying Disconnect report — a survey of 2,185 respondents that shows year-over-year trends in business technology buying and selling — confirmed what astute marketers had already suspected: the age of the self service buyer is here. According to the report, virtually 100% of buyers want to self-serve all or part of their buying journey, up 13% from last year.

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Up to 65% of buyers are Millennials and Gen Z who’ve grown up with reviews, social media, Google and the internet integrated into every facet of their lives, and they’re bringing their consumer behaviors into the workplace. 

Another factor that accelerated the migration to self-service buying behavior is COVID-19. The pandemic shifted people away from meeting in-person, whether at trade industry and sales events or at one-on-one sales presentations. By sheer necessity hastened by an era of unprecedented circumstances, buyers have become digitally native and more motivated to do research independently.

Lastly, the whole technology industry has been a catalyst in reinforcing self-service buyers’ journeys, by offering free trials, test runs and try-before-you-buy opportunities. Embracing the cultural shift toward autonomy is the only way to remain competitive and relevant to Millennials, Gen Z and even older generations who are also exhibiting the same buyer behavior.

Ushering in a New Generation of Intent Data Driven Marketing

Spurred by shifting demographics and behaviors reshaped by the pandemic, today’s buyers are self educating through trusted, third-party verified sources and independent review sites. While this has long been the case at the micro level, the practice has laddered up to the macro level — where enterprise and corporate technology buying decisions are made.

Brands who adapt successfully will take the two pronged approach of being present and visible where buyers are doing their research — google and third party forums — while also having a data strategy to identify those buyers if they’re not on their own digital property.

The best practice is to collect data from more than one source, delineating between third-, second- and first-party intent data. Once intent data is collected, marketers, buyers and those in charge of overall business strategy need to know how to leverage it to their advantage based on the type of intent data to really provide value to buyers.

While cookies may be going the way of the dodo bird, intent data driven targeting is just starting to take flight as the next-gen strategy to proactively get in front of in-market buyers and personalize the buyers’ self-service journey.

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