Cookies are crumbling: 4 alternatives to third-party cookies

May 28, 2021 Chuck Leddy

Marketers have recently witnessed big changes to tracking made by Google and Apple, as well as evolving data privacy regulations, that are quickly eliminating third-party cookies as a way to track customers across multiple domains (i.e., websites). What this means for B2B marketers is clear: less visibility into the entire customer journey and increased challenges around attribution, personalization and leveraging data, not to mention potentially large impacts on revenues. So if using third-party cookies was your Plan A, now is definitely the time to look for a Plan B. 

What should your plan for driving marketing without third-party cookies look like? The answer depends on a number of factors, as we’ll explain in this post. No matter how you’re marketing today, and no matter how dependent you might be on third-party cookies, it’s a good time to get creative and come up with alternatives to third-party cookies.

Fortunately, the best way forward for marketing in a cookie-less world is the old fashioned way: building quality relationships with your customers based on transparency, value exchange and mutual trust. 

Everything old is new again

First-party cookies (tracking customers within your own domain) have always been important, and are now becoming even more so as third-party cookies crumble. As Sav Khetan, vice president of product at Tealium, a provider of data, tag management, and marketing software, explains: “If you look back 10 to 15 years ago, people had their own logins for different websites and RSS feeds. Now companies [that haven’t already done so] will need to go back to creating relationships with customers. There will be a lot more requesting emails [and logins] when someone accesses a site.” 

Let’s describe 4 of the top alternatives to using third-party cookies:

1. Use first-party data

As a must-read Adobe report - Thinking Beyond the Third Party Cookie - explains it, collecting first-party data is now more important than ever, and the most straightforward way marketers can collect first-party data is “simply to ask for it. If you don’t already have an authentication strategy [authentication is the process of recognizing a user's identity] in place, you should consider creating one. Authentication could be signing up for a newsletter or signing into an account using an email address or phone number. From there, every action taken on a business’s web property is stored in that customer’s profile,” which provides value at both the individual customer and customer segment levels.

A greater reliance on first-party data means that brands need customer permission and have to offer customers real value in exchange for authentication. Customers should want to give you their email address and first-party data because you’re giving them consistent value in return. That means marketers should be focusing on the core mission of marketing: building strong and sustainable customer relationships that foster revenues. First-party data is often more accurate and reliable than third-party cookie data. 

2. Use predictive data solutions

Martech solutions that use artificial intelligence (AI) will be needed now more than ever to understand customer behavior and buying intent in a world without third-party cookies. But these predictive technologies are only as good as: (1) the quality of the customer data you put into these predictive tools and (2) the quality of your data management processes, which is the infrastructure that “houses” your customer data. The old saying about data remains true: “garbage in, garbage out.” 

Predictive tools can analyze key data points and provide actionable insights into customer behaviors and buying intent, helping brands anticipate a customer’s next move and optimize performance. But those predictive tools will only work if you have a unified view of your customer -- you simply can’t have relevant customer data stuck in silos. You also need systems and approaches for keeping the data you collect clean and updated, especially if you’re using data for predictive purposes. While these predictive tools are amazing, they’ll pump out “garbage” insights if you pump in “garbage” data.

3. Use data platforms

Another available option in a cookie-less world is using a data platform or CDP that offers your brand data in real-time so you can connect with customers looking for your offerings. Many of these data platforms will develop and offer you customer profiles and groupings based on customer interests and behaviors, so marketers can target and personalize messaging. 

Brands can obviously combine and mix external data from these platforms with their own first-party data to create better customer segments. Again, emerging technologies like AI can help automate this “data blending” process. Of course, your data management processes and the quality of the data you use (whether first-party data and/or data from platforms) remains critically important.

4. Use contextual targeting

In the absence of third-party cookies, everything old seems new again -- including contextual targeting. Contextual targeting is a way to target relevant customers using keywords and topics taken from the content around ad inventory, targeting that doesn’t require a cookie or another identifier. The content itself is relevant for the brand, such as when a prospect reads an article about tennis star Serena Williams and then gets targeted with an ad for tennis sneakers or apparel. Studies have shown that contextual targeting can be more effective than targeting using third-party cookies. 

Contextual targeting enables marketers to use Pay-Per-Click/PPC ads on websites that have similar keywords to your own. It doesn’t depend on third-party cookies to be effective and still gives you the power to get your message in front of customers with relevant interests and buying priorities that align with your marketing goals. As the Adobe report on third-party cookies suggests, “use contextual targeting to reach new and existing audiences and create brand awareness. Today’s contextual targeting is highly advanced, and the best partners process content from a huge number of web pages every day.”


The four alternatives to third-party cookies described above are by no means exhaustive, but are intended to start you thinking about where you might want to go next with your marketing approaches in a cookie-less world. 

To learn even more about how to market effectively in a world where cookies are crumbling, reach out to us here.

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