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PHOTO: Caroline Attwood | unsplash

Google’s announcement that it wouldn't support any form of third party ID will hopefully serve as a wake-up call for brands. It's time brands shift their thinking from how to replace third-party cookies with some other ID, to how to get what they want with something different — and potentially better. 

First (and second) party data is more promising than ever. Through the lens of “a third party cookie replacement,” some have cited first party data as lacking scale. But brands have experienced a record acceleration of consumer digital behavior this past year, from streaming media to online grocery shopping. This acceleration has driven two trends: an increase in first-party data for personalized marketing and commerce, and a change in consumer perception of their digital experience. An incredible 84.8% of respondents to the CMO survey noted that their customers are open to new digital offerings.

Together, these shifts have created an opportunity for agile marketers. Brands are able to deliver one-to-one omnichannel personalization, and introduce new engagement opportunities from mobile commerce to OTT. Now it’s time for their advertising counterparts to follow suit, building on marketing fundamentals rather than grasping for ways to replace the third-party cookies they’ve become accustomed to. 

A Mindset Shift: From Targeting to Relevance

Advertisers have often used different targeting and measurement approaches than their marketing counterparts. They’ve focused on scale and CPMs while marketers have focused on customer experience and relevance. They’ve preferred segments and retargeting while marketers have orchestrated personalized omnichannel customer journeys. In other words, while advertisers went for volume, marketers went for user experience. 

But here’s the issue — consumers don’t like targeting, though they do want relevant experiences. They do want personalization, but they also want to understand how their data is collected. In other words, advertisers will get further with targeted advertising if it feels more like an extension of the marketing-led experience, with transparent data practices and personalized communication in relevant channels. 

Marketers have assembled a variety of technology platforms to help in this regard, from CDPs that manage data in a compliant way across channels, to AI-driven personalization technologies that can be used to test and optimize messaging. All of these innovations provide a jumping-off-point for advertisers. And many brands sit on a trove of valuable data, and have begun to think about how to incorporate first party data into their media strategy. But, this is only the beginning of this new approach to data-driven advertising.

Related Article: The Demise of the Cookie and the Rise of First-Party Data

Stitching Together a Personalized Open Web

Google, Facebook and Amazon will continue to deliver effective targeting within their walled gardens — allowing advertisers to reach audiences, but not allowing them to own the data or insights. This provides reach, and likely performance, but dramatically reduces the ability to deliver a consistent personalized experience to audiences. The latest moves by these tech giants have reinforced the walls of what were already closed ecosystems .... Brands will need to look further afield to create a full digital media strategy that includes publishers outside of the walled gardens. 

Advertisers are interested in connecting to publishers that have thousands, or millions of logged-in subscribers and paying customers who are available for personalized messaging. Right now, advertisers will find true partnerships with independent publishers, as they, like marketers, are focused on creating premium experiences. The New York Times published a revealing article in December 2020 about its own venture into first-party data enabled advertising on its site, not only to deliver more value for brands in the future, but to also deliver data-safe targeting for its readers.

But advertisers don’t have to limit their search only to very large sites. Many independent publishers on the open internet are hoping to provide a completely different option to advertisers that would allow for rich personalization by bringing smaller quality sites together. Publishers and vendors are innovating to stitch their first-party data together with initiatives like Mediavine’s Grow.me, while aggregators like SHE Media and Vox have built up robust first party data offerings.

Related Article: That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

Get Ready to Experiment

While all of these different publisher offerings are valuable, brands will need a strategy to work with each of them on a level playing field, test their data quality, and measure results in an equitable way. As the industry grapples with the impact of Google’s latest announcement, one thing is clear — the future will not be one-size-fits all. Media buyers need to experiment to find the data mix that achieves their campaign objectives, just as their marketing counterparts approach their marketing mix. This will require a new layer of technology between the buy side and sell side, and we all need to work together to build it. 

To get it right, brands and publishers should be thinking not about what will be lost when third-party cookies go away, but what can be gained when consumer privacy and user experience are prioritized to deliver relevant advertising.