It’s Not a ‘What’ That Will Replace Cookies. It’s ‘Who’.

April 27, 2021

If you’re like me, and perhaps many in this industry, you’ve read what feels like hundreds of articles about the deprecation of third-party cookies and evolution into a privacy-focused world. Are your eyes glazing over yet?  

That’s certainly not to suggest the changes are dull or unimportant. Frankly we need to be more on our toes than ever – paying attention to Google, Apple, and all others leading the privacy push, as well as getting involved in the early-stage testing of FLoCs and even the UID 2.0 initiative. And above all, we need to help clients comply with all privacy regulations while taking ownership of their own data – with the goal of getting closer to their customers and building better brands that actually meet people’s needs.

Yes, it’s been a dramatic few years – from Cambridge Analytica, to GDPR and CCPA, to antitrust lawsuits. But perhaps we can agree that much of the coverage misses the point. We need to stop complaining and start applying our minds and energy towards the future.

Letting go

It would be untruthful to say these changes haven’t made our everyday jobs more challenging, particularly in performance marketing. Performance has gotten harder to come by, measurement has become more difficult, and the number of technology options to work with has shrunk. A lot. These challenges are now part of our reality, and yet many are still having difficulty letting go and embracing the fact that marketing cannot and should not be truly one-to-one. To make the most of the future, brands and marketers need to let go.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re right to be skeptical towards new solutions like FLoCs and UID. We need to continue asking the harder questions. But while the walled gardens like Google aren’t going to tell us as much as they used to, or ever talk to each other, this doesn’t necessarily mean knowing less. It means thinking more.

What planning and measurement could look like

Thinking more means building an ecosystem that makes the necessary insights possible, which primarily comes down to two things: Planning and Measurement.

In planning, we need to start by delving into first party data, vetting those insights against the media ecosystem, and then applying those combined takeaways into the final media activations. This process is important to follow because it connects all the way through; in other words, our media channels, partners and audiences are based on quantitative insights, before being refined by the media planner’s qualitative expertise.

In measurement, to some extent, we need to tap back into the idea of what’s old is new. One example of that would be market holdout testing, with another being simply accepting the models that the platforms offer. Facebook and Google, along with every other tech platform, will be eager to encourage spend by demonstrating as big of a media impact as possible. While not all the dots will directly connect, advertisers must take what’s given, use proxies where necessary and make the best judgment calls that we can.

The ball is in our court

The advertising of tomorrow is going to be based on people, not algorithms. Yes, it will be important that we continue to utilize Facebook and Google algorithms for what they’re good at—but remember, eventually everyone will be playing by the same or very similar rules. Differentiation will be found by the people who set up feedback loops and make the right strategic decisions.

I started my agency on the programmatic team. At that time, there was a distinct advantage in just having better traders. But now as algorithms have gotten stronger, it’s become less important who’s operating the hands-on-keys and more important who can think beyond technology and into the mind of the customer. Brands that win tomorrow will connect the pipes strategically—immutably linking the way they view their customer, with the way they view their media, with the way they view their business.

Look, this landscape will only continue to change. And walled gardens aren’t going away; they will still be vital parts of nearly every media program. What’s different is now the ball is in our court—the brand and the agency’s—and it’s time to make the most of it.  

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