A Cookie-less Future: How Marketers Can Prepare

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, April 27, 2021

Cookies play a fundamental role in the usability of the Internet. Although cookies currently serve many purposes, cookie-based tracking will continue to fade due to cookies’ inherent vulnerability to being blocked or exploited.

Some companies like Apple have begun sunsetting third-party pixels, with Safari already eliminating third-party pixels. Apple’s latest iOS14 update will give power back to the consumer to opt-in or opt-out of tracking on Facebook and other apps.

The most anticipated update is set to roll out in 2021 by Google. Making up 48% of the browser market, Google’s update will be the most detrimental to advertising strategies.

Marketers will need to develop a long-term strategy shifting from cookie-based ID regimes to building their own sources of customer data. At this time, there is no perfect solution that covers all the bases, but a few tactics to deploy ahead of 2021. Think of 2020 as the year of testing and setting KPIs.



Marketers can begin by investing in building their own lists. While third-party cookies will disappear, first-party cookies are here to stay.

This means marketers may not be able to rely on data from other companies, but can independently create or acquire their own sources of supporter data. All the data marketers collect via forms, call centers, giving history, site registration or login data can be used to develop audiences. A login is especially beneficial as it will enable an organization to build its own full view of the engaged supporter.

Using data from supporters who have actually shown interest in your company will typically drive higher conversion rates.

Before third-party cookies are completely eliminated, marketers should invest in brand awareness and lead-generation campaigns to acquire and grow their own file.

Once they have acquired their lead, they would continue to cultivate a relationship across email and social media, leverage retargeting to re-engage and convert those leads into a customer or donor.

Next, marketers should begin to look into key advertising partners that can help reach targeted audiences and establish new benchmarks for the future. Advertisers can partner with platforms or publishers that collect their own first-party data.

In addition to the big names like Facebook and Google, there are many others who have built out their own audience data sets that advertisers can tap into.

Advertising platforms will need to rely heavily on contextual and keyword targeting to reach specific audiences as cookie-based targeting goes away (advertising to people who are actively consuming content related to your brand or offering).

Lastly, marketers will need to evaluate their reporting capabilities and possibly even invest in a new solution. Without third-party cookies, attribution reporting likely won’t be the same. It will be more challenging to track view-thru conversions and multi-touch attribution reporting.

This could involve investing in a new tool or incorporating better tracking yourself by sending UTM strings to CRMs and integrating more event tracking using Google Analytics.

The goal here is to begin planning now and use the rest of 2021 to lay the foundation. My experience from working with nonprofits for the last 10 years, on lean budgets, establishing cost-effective advertising plans is more important than ever.

Marketers should use the next two quarters to grow their lists, test platforms, and establish KPIs. By Q4, these will be up and running for the holiday season, ironing out any additional testing before third-party cookies disappear in Q1.

Ultimately, the trend toward privacy will likely have far-reaching consequences, but large shifts such as these often have unexpected outcomes. No one can be certain where this will lead us. The conversation around pixels, privacy, and data is constantly evolving — and quickly.

Potential changes on the horizon include further browser changes, adaptive solutions, and new technology offerings to reach audiences or further changes in regulation.


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