Why do we need cookies
Cookie files and other means of collecting and transmitting user data on the Internet are an integral part of the commercial infrastructure. The tiny cookie files are the reason why marketers can serve personalized ads and suggest the most suitable options for the users. Tracking files are activated when we interact with the specific elements of the digital environment: submit personal data, compare several products, subscribe, register, etc. The data is then collected, assessed, stored, and used when needed.
Now the big question: why is the whole world at war with these digital helpers? Moreover, as marketers, we know their true worth. Well, there are at least two types of cookie files: first-party (let’s call them type A) and third-party cookies (type B). Type A cookies belong to the exact website users interact with. The data they collect is used to enhance the user experience on this very website by loading it faster, remembering the login data and language preferences, etc. Type B cookies collect the user data on one website to use for the benefit of some other website. They are the reason people get haunted all over the Internet with ads of a jumper they clicked on a month ago. These cookies are “the evil” most companies are fighting against nowadays.
Let’s start off by saying that different ways of data collection have been around almost as long as the Internet itself. And for the same long number of years users have been voicing concerns about lack of safety online and about not knowing how their data is stored and what it is used for. And for about the last five years the social unrest about this has been growing exponentially. People demand to limit access to their data, especially the PII — personally identifiable information.
There is no universal online data protection law, but there has been a slew of legislative acts over the years. Their key idea is to stipulate the data that can be collected online, how it is stored and used. One of the most well-known documents is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) introduced by the EU in 2016. Many companies use GDPR as general guidelines for their internal privacy policies.
Aside from legislative bodies, corporations themselves move away from comprehensive data tracking. In 2020–2021 Apple announced and released iOS 14.5 with the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature enabling users to opt-out data collection. From now on every iOS app developer has to gain users’ trust in order to keep collecting personal data.
Big brands, social networks, and corporations are talking about serving personalized ads alongside upholding tight privacy policies. This almost seems impossible. There are ideas and big plans for the secure cookie-less world, yet there is still no viable solution in view. We all remember FLoC by Google, broadly advertised at first as a solution for interest-based ads and soon re-christened by users as FLoP due to ineffectiveness.
Possible solutions for marketers
Despite all this, the online environment is rapidly becoming a very challenging place for marketers who rely on user data. Third-party cookies have dominated the data space for years not because they are the best way of collecting data, but because they are the easiest. Marketers still have ways of retrieving user data, and maybe the cookie-less ways of doing it are even better for the marketer-user relationship.
Contextual ads may be the way to go. Relevant to the placement and the surrounding content, these are usually well-perceived by the audience. Behavioral analysis and contextual targeting are also great ways of reaching the customers based on the information they have provided willingly. Seeing that cookies are device and browser specific, they lack the ability to track users who switch the way of accessing the Internet. The new marketing approach is customer-specific or account-based, it involves tracking the user interactions and behavioral patterns via first-party brand data.
Another possible solution is call-center databases. The customers basically tell what they need and how they want it done. The challenge here is to convert the audio format into usable digital data. Here is where different AI and voice-recognition solutions come into view. The main idea is that you, once again, collect your own first-party data or use databases provided by the brand you work for.
One more idea is to leverage IP address and device ID tracking instead of gobbling up cookies from different websites. The data will be anonymized, but it still provides some variables to work with in your campaigns.
The general approach in this new situation must lie in coming to know your partners and your audience. Using first-party data and asking users for information directly open a new plane of trust-centered relationship between the marketer and other players on the field.