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Advertising week yields universal truths for a future without cookies

Tara DeZao, Log in to subscribe to the Blog

It's that time of year again when marketers and advertisers converge to dissect trends and developments, emerging solutions, and to make predictions for the future of advertising and digital marketing. Yes, that's right - Advertising Week NYC. Four days and 500 speakers from across brands, publishers, and technology vendors gathered to unveil what will shape the industry. Of course, one of the main focuses of the entire conference is what's been on the tip of industry tongues across the AdTech and MarTech ecosystems: How do we navigate a cookie-less future?

Organizations shared their opinions based on which corner of the digital universe they came from, but there were several shared predictions by brands, publishers, and technology vendors.

First-party data remains king

First-party data collection, procurement, and activation are the most direct and accurate paths to creating and unifying customer experiences without cookies. Brands that are sitting on a wealth of first-party data are already well-positioned ahead of those who don't. And brands who aren't will need to procure it or unify data sets that sit in other parts of their organization to update data strategies in a space where the main connective tissue to relevant and personalized experiences across the web (the third-party cookie) will be gone by 2023 – the clock is ticking.

In a session on addressability and scale, Gerry Bavaro (Chief Strategy Office, Merkury at Merkle) echoed that exact sentiment in his predictions for the future of the space for brands:

"First-party data needs to be procured, so that's the crystal on top of the crystal ball... If you're not thinking about how to create a great direct experience with a customer or a prospect, you're just going to be in trouble, because there's going to be more restrictions, there's going to be more state-based privacy regulations." He continued, "Do a good job first-party data and identity and create great experiences and collect that data but then unify it.”

The outcome we're all reaching for is creating great customer experiences. But it's endangered by more than cookie deprecation. It's constantly changing its regulatory environment, operating system restrictions, Mobile ID changes, and consumer behavior and opt-outs.

Walled gardens will get a run for their money

In digital, when you say, “walled garden”, most people think of Facebook, Google, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Amazon, etc. But a handful of future-focused brands, publishers, and AdTech organizations are launching their own media networks and data marketplaces. These in-house capabilities sat beyond their walls before the inception of the data deprecation tornado.

I heard from some consumer packaged goods (CPGs) and retail giants – Kroger, Target, Walmart – that they’re building media networks where brands can target audiences using their first-party data and technology (a market that Amazon previously had the corner on). This is a media network with the ability to activate e-commerce at any moment and deliver metrics to the advertiser in a more transparent way than with existing walled gardens. I also heard that Spotify is partnering with Shopify to launch e-commerce merchandising for artists on the platform. We’ll see more and more platforms integrating media and e-commerce into their platforms, creating a supply of first-party data.

The most common refrain: Test and learn

The reality is that the end of cookies in Chrome is just the final step in a larger data deprecation effort. This is significant because of how much open web traffic directs through Chrome (60%), meaning that the other 40% is cookie-less. With competing browsers already deprecated (e.g. Apple deprecating IDFA and several channels like CTV that are already cookie-less), future-focused organizations have seen the writing on the wall and are testing out new strategies to get their messaging in front of consumers in contextually relevant and connected ways.

Google's delay of cookie deprecation represents a huge opportunity for marketers and advertisers to devise new strategies as they try new technologies and data types to prepare. I heard this while sitting in the audience from the panel after the panel: test and learn.

On a panel about digital marketing in a cookie-less world Jeff Rasp (Head of Media and Digital Marketing Operations, Bayer) told the audience where it relates to the upcoming deadline:

"Right now, we're struggling a little bit because there isn't enough volume to do what we want to do without cookies, but thankfully we're already on this journey (of test and learn). My advice is to begin to align against it early, you'll find trouble that you have to navigate, and having the runway to be able to do that is going to be pretty important to do as you lean in."

And while we know that there will be organizations who don't heed this advice, they're going to be left far behind. Chris Park (Sr. Program Manager, Data and Identity at Microsoft) issued this warning:

"I think the reality is that it's like a professor delaying the examination date, it's still going to happen, but you need to start prepping and the last thing you want to do is wait till the last minute."

The future of AdTech is here

Marketers have a long tradition of looking into crystal balls and making predictions, and often they are just that. But the unified shouts of the advertising community last week can't be denied:

  • Focus on solutions that prioritize first-party data in strategies to thrive beyond data deprecation.
  • Brands are taking matters into their own hands by diverting time, money, and energy away from legacy walled gardens.
  • Testing and learning early on is the only way that brands can navigate this new, even more, complex emerging environment.

AdTech is a notoriously complex universe with hundreds of technologies professing to create more transparency and better results, and the only way to truly figure out what will work and what won't in this new world is to test, test, and test again to learn what works for your brand and what doesn't.

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About the Author

Tara DeZao, Pega’s Product Marketing Director for AdTech and MarTech, helps some of the world’s largest brands make better decisions and get work done with real-time AI and intelligent automation.