The Age Of The Cookie Has Passed

Leadhorse-Logo

Unless you’re talking about the chocolate chip cookie. That is certainly always in vogue!

But in all seriousness, this TechCrunch article caught our eye, so here we are to discuss its statement that “cookies are dead” and that we are living in a “post-cookie online marketing ecosystem.” As the article notes, these delicious-sounding trackers that follow users from website to website as they browse the internet are becoming less and less prominent. Though they give us insight into our target audience, and even allow us to do someretargeting in an effort to remind consumers about our great products, cookies are being replaced. Major social networks and search engines have been developing cookie alternatives since 2013. The cookies are crumbling, leaving advertisers scrambling to stay ahead of the game (or, more accurately, keep up with the game).

The Facts

Online advertising has and will continue to change as technology and the web environment evolve – this is a fact that we have all accepted, and most of us embrace. Advances in HTML5, JavaScript, and a host of other technologies have brought valuable, widespread advances – we’re thinking of responsive web design, cool apps we can’t live without, health tracking, dynamic keyword capabilities, and new ways to reach target audiences faster and more efficiently.

So, as they say, out with old, and in with the new. With the growth of mobile internet browsing, one of advertising’s greatest tools, the cookie, th has been slowly diminishing in value and usefulness. In 2013, an astonishing percentage – 50%! – of global mobile web users were using cell phones as their primary means of getting online. Further, Pew Internet Research Project found: “As of May 2013, 63% of adult cell owners use their phones to go online. 34% of cell internet users go online mostly using their phones, and not using some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer.”

Why does this mean that cookies are dying out? Because they don’t work on all mobile browsers, which leaves us, as advertisers, with incomplete data for building campaigns with which a significant amount of our consumers will actually engage. As the aforementioned TechCrunch article notes, device fingerprinting and cross-platform advertising are slowly making cookies obsolete.

Seismic Shift

In recent years, the world of marketing and advertising has experienced a seismic shift toward data-based decision making. Though focus groups were always a core component of a holistic advertising strategy (especially in the early days, Mad Men style), it’s only been relatively recently that we started using true analytics – Google Analytics, cookies and other data to reach out to our audiences in more effective and exciting ways. As analytics have become better and better, and new tracking programs have come about and then evolved, we’ve become spoiled and have begun to crave more and more details about consumers. First, this specific data helped us target large audience groups who we thought would be most likely to buy our products based on average behaviors online and on our websites. Now, we’re narrowing down data to market to specific individuals based on their browsing and purchasing behaviors. Today, it’s hard to track specific individuals with cookies alone, since they are likely surfing from desktop to tablet to smartphone – hardly ever in one place long enough for us to track their purchasing journey. So…

What’s Next?

“People-based marketing” is here, and its techniques and technologies will only improve as time goes on. We are moving toward (and have already arrived at) a system of cross-platform initiatives that allow us to track (and attract) each individual user within different software types and a multitude of devices.

The TechCrunch article that brought this issue to our attention points to the controversial cookie-free tracking activity called “Device Fingerprinting” as the future. Device Fingerprinting tracks the consumer and reveals to advertisers (and others who want to track people – hence the controversy) what device a person is using and what he or she is using it for on the web (device fingerprinting is triggered once you click on an ad). It also tracks what browser a person is using, what the dimensions of the browser are and what types of fonts and plugins it utilizes. This creates a so-called “fingerprint” of the device (and the consumer using it). We, as advertisers, can use this information to optimize ads for consumers’ specific browsing experiences. According to TechCrunch, “Fingerprinting allows publishers to match a click to an install lifespan of five hours (with 95 percent confidence). After that, data points may have changed to an extent that a certain attribution cannot be made anymore.” Though it has its strengths and weaknesses, this technology will only continue to get better and more accurate, attracting more and more advertisers to its use.

Retargeting has also entered the mobile space without the use of cookies but with the use of new software programs, thereby improving cross-platform, user-specific marketing. Customer.io, for instance, markets its “person-centric view of the world.” Their product takes the exact approach we’re talking about:

“Apps have lots of great information about people. Customer.io lets you use it. See every email someone has received, and what they’ve done with that email. See everything they’ve done on your site too.”

Programmatic Advertising

Programmatic advertising is an interesting conundrum. According to MAGNA GLOBAL, $9.8 billion dollars will be utilized in programmatic advertising in 2014 alone (in the US). By 2017, this number is projected to grow to $16.9 billion dollars. Programmatic automates the advertising process with a stock-market like approach to ad bidding. Programmatic works in real time, with the system looking something like this:

[Programmatic]

Image via.

Many people tout programmatic as the way of the future. However, desktop/display programmatic relies on cookies (like the real time bidding function and audience targeting). Information is not actually stored – it is simply used for the moment. Programmatic in the future will perhaps shift to the mobile strategy, which relies on precise location and behavioral targeting. According to Marketing Land:

“Mobile RTB [real time bidding] is a very exciting frontier at the moment. There are unique advantages with mobile that allow for extremely precise location targeting, and in the near future, extremely precise behavioral targeting that won’t depend on the previously-dominant cookie. Look no further than Twitter’s acquisition of MoPub for a glimpse into the future of mobile.”

What Can You Do?

Be ready for marketing and advertising on both desktop and mobile, and keep an eye out for companies like Customer.io for tracking individual users across multiple devices.
You should already have your web presence optimized for desktop, tablet and smartphone surfing – now it’s time to adjust your tracking!
For better or for worse, “people-based” marketing is here to stay, and will only become more prevalent. Embrace it!

[Featured Image Via Flickr.]

Recent Posts

An exciting month is right around the corner – one filled with fireworks, hamburgers and...

The way that people search online has evolved, and search engines like Google have grown...