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The demise of third-party tracking cookies: what this means for digital customer experience

The impending cessation of support for third-party tracking cookies in the Chrome browser has triggered considerable debate across the digital customer experience space. Positioned as anything from a “demise” to an “apocalypse” for third-party cookies, we’re still awaiting clarity surrounding the full impact on the 80% of  publishers and advertisers who currently rely on third-party data provided by tracking cookies. Where will they get the data from to power programmatic advertising? What are the deeper consequences for digital customer experience? In this post, we’re going to explore what we think marketing teams should be considering right now to best plan for the decline of third-party cookies.

Tracking cookies get a reprieve for now

The effective end of support for third-party tracking cookies in the Chrome browser was originally set to happen by 2022. However, earlier this year, Google announced that it was delaying the phasing out until late-2023, citing the need for more discussions with regulators and the web community about what will replace them. While Firefox and Safari have already introduced measures that reduce the influence of tracking cookies, over half of web browsing traffic is carried out by Chrome, so Google’s timetable will have a major impact on the industry.

An effective “replacement” for third-party cookies is still being sought. Google has launched its own “privacy sandbox” initiative that attempts to build standards which support privacy on the web while allowing advertisers to reach their audience. The Sandbox is essentially a series of APIs through which advertisers can receive anonymized information derived from browsing habits on Chrome. There are still a lot of dependencies and details to be added surrounding this timeline, and the 2023 target date could well change again.

Of course, there are other options, including moving to contextual advertising, using Universal ID and priortizing first party data collection, which we touch upon below. At this point, it’s also worth noting that this is not the end of all cookies. For example, the cookies that support personalization across a website visit or inform your analytics package aren’t going away.

Cookie apocalypse or opportunity?

The demise of tracking cookies will result in major changes to the way we advertise on the web, but it presents an opportunity to improve, refresh and even reset your approach to data privacy and analytics. It’s great news for customers who not only want to keep their browsing habits private, but also get tired of seeing online advertisements for a site they just visited a few moments before.

The extra delay provided by the Google announcement provides more time for digital marketers to get their ducks in a row and even plan a new strategy. Here’s our view of three areas to focus on in the coming months.

1.       Lead on data privacy

The demise of third-party cookies is a wider consequence of the movement of recent years to protect customers’ data privacy. Regulators have introduced legislation such as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) to ensure consumers have more control over their information. These developments have emerged due to widespread concern from consumers regarding data privacy. Surveys suggest that 96% of Americans believe companies should do more to protect customer privacy. Meanwhile, a survey of 30,000 consumers commissioned by the Conference Board suggests that 20% have abandoned a brand because of data privacy concerns, while 19% have selected a competitor for data privacy reasons.

This context provides an opportunity for organizations to differentiate themselves from their competitors in terms of data privacy, going beyond what is required from a compliance point of view and establishing protecting customer data as a brand attribute that builds trust and confidence. Ways to achieve this could include:

·       Phasing out third-party tracking cookies on your digital channels before Chrome’s support ends

·       Publishing a promise or declaration around customer privacy

·       Deploying good cookie management tools

·       Ensuring robust standards are met across your DXP and other systems

·       Having a clear and easy-to-use consent form.

2.       Move from a third-party to a first-party data strategy

With the demise of third-party tracking cookies, organizations need to shift their strategies accordingly to build data about their customers. Here, moving from a third- to a first-party approach with customer consent for data collection is unlikely to happen overnight, and will realistically require a range of different tactics and a certain level of investment, as well as considerable time and effort. The good news is that the measures which you introduce to gain first-party data will also generate a better understanding of your customers, strengthen relationships and drive a customer-first mindset across your team.

Registration-driven strategies

Registration-driven strategies are at the center of gaining first-party data. The kind of measures that can be introduced include driving more campaigns which include gated content, sign-ups and customer interaction with robust customer consent built into their processes. Some organizations go further, creating a subscription- or membership-based service that provides access to value-add content and experiences for your customers while also providing insights for you, again with clear consent processes established.

Joining the dots

Organizations tend to already have more first-party information about customers than they realize from a variety of sources, but these data points are seldom aggregated to provide a rich data set that can deliver subsequent insights. Is the data from your emailing list and subscriptions, your website, your contact form, your social media channels, your e-commerce engine, your customer satisfaction program and your contact center all joined up?

Aggregating this first-party data and making it meaningful and actionable may require an investment in a Customer Data Platform (CDP) or the unlocking of capabilities within your Digital Experience Platform (DXP) that you are currently not exploiting. It will also necessitate processes and related resources around standardization, data clean-up and possibly development, while also introducing the need to keep an eye on consent. To adopt a cliché, it’s a journey that takes time and investment.

Profiling and personalization

Profiling customer segments based on their customer behavior and building this up with richer insights is another way to gather data and gain a better understanding of your customers. In our view, it’s something you need to be doing anyway to drive personalization, but increasingly, DXPs are providing automated segmenting and profiling that will help spread this practice.

Getting closer

Some digital marketing teams choose to get even closer to their customers, setting up regular focus groups and communities to really understand them and leverage the data collected for general insights that can support a first-party data strategy.

3.       Keep an eye on developments

It’s not clear exactly what the alternative approaches will be to continue marrying data privacy with the ability to effectively target advertising to customers. It’s worth keeping an eye on developments and announcements from across Google, data platform providers and regulators to review your options.

Google’s own Privacy Sandbox initiative, as well as the Chromium blog and, offer up-to-date resources on progress. Data platforms may start to respond with their offerings based on Google’s next move, as well as ramping up analytics and reporting features that help marketers better understand their audience. Other non-cookie-based advertising methods such as contextual advertising based on the subject of content will also start to assume more importance in the coming months, increasingly influenced by the views of regulators.

Take a strategic approach

The demise of third-party tracking cookies presents an opportunity to rethink commitments to data privacy, data management and customer data usage. Here, a holistic strategy rooted in strong relationships is key. If you’d like to discuss your response to the demise of tracking cookies, then get in touch!

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