Third-party cookies: How should brands face a cookie-free future?

Andy McNab, VP EMEA of Fanplayr, shares his thoughts on how brands should see the cookie apocalypse as an opportunity to increase personalisation.

Someone selecting a chocolate chip cookie.

Can you tell us what Fanplayer is and what it does?

The role of Fanplayr is to give brands, via agencies or the brands directly, a better view of what’s going on in the whole conversion journey. We look into what is actually happening on the client sites. There are lots of businesses that do little bits of what we do. There are companies where you can do cart abandonment solutions or email marketing solutions.

What Fanplayr does is bring all that under one platform and creates a behavioural data hub. So, as a marketer or for an agency, you have got an excellent view of not just what is going on with any activity you might be doing with us, but what is going on across your site entirely in terms of drop off points or conversions. You start thinking about where your messages should be and how you are addressing those audiences. The critical thing is that you can take that data out to help pair other channels – email, web, push notifications, SMS.

Moreover, we have partnered up with Google’s AI engine to make product recommendations. For instance, when you go to Amazon, it says “people like you bought this product” or “other people recommended this product”. We can give that ability to brands as well now, which is typically quite expensive, and you need quite a lot of staff to do that.

We can offer a single solution to do that and bring that to a brand. I think we are much of a complete all-in-one solution instead of having it all in bits. That is what you see in many businesses where it is very siloed – we kind of break those silos down to create a straightforward platform, which is incredibly effective.

Can you tell us more about the personalised approach that Fanplayer provides?

As soon as someone lands on a site, you start creating behaviours and patterns that get picked up. Looking at those behaviours, we create propensity scores to become more like a virtual personal shopper. I have seen the customer, and she has been on the site for five minutes. She is looking at this product. Still, she has not clicked that exit button. We can put up a message to say: “Would you like to talk to someone in a call centre to make this decision?”  If they have a couple of things in their basket, and they are about to leave, what we will do then is say: “Before you leave, we have noticed you like this other item, we will give you a discount.”

It’s about trying to make the experience more personal, even to a point where you might come on my site, and we know this person and their behaviour. We would know that they will be here and buy this product for £200, so there is no point in sending the message. We try and create more definition by understanding the behaviours based on what they are doing around the site. And then obviously, when appropriate, sending the right message or offer when needed.

What tactics can companies use to get more information about the user?

For us, it is more about the tactics, which are purely based on behaviours around the site. We register and build it. We have got up to about 400 different behavioural patterns that we use to look at people as they go around the site. Then we start creating a sort of segmentation of audiences based on those behaviours. It’s all done in sub 50 milliseconds once we are on the site. It’s pretty amazing how quickly AI works out what is going on. That’s how we do it.

I often get offers when I have even been on the site for five minutes or even a few seconds, and they are already offering me discounts. I am thinking to myself: “Why have you done that? All you are doing is eating your margin. Don’t you want to know a bit more about me and then understand what I like before you offer me a discount?” Another aspect that companies do poorly is they want you to put in an email address. Then you receive a notification that says your email address is already registered.

We already have that information, so we have a better understanding of the behaviour because of the depth of data. We can provide all that information to a client to make their website experience better. It’s about increasing sales and revenue and making the experience better for the consumer. So that they keep coming back because that is the part of any good retailer. For instance, I have always bought Apple because of my excellent online experience with them.

Why do you think brands rely so heavily on third-party cookies?

I think it is much more flexible, and it is easier to work out where people are on the internet and when to send specific messages. For instance, you could be on Boots’ website. I know they probably have something to stop it, but you could be Superdrug and put an advert in front of them on that site. Third-party cookies give you a much broader version of visualisation of what people are doing across the whole internet instead of just on their site. That is why it is easier and reliable. However, new laws are coming in and, for example, Google is busy working behind the scenes to phase out third-party cookies by 2022.

Therefore, brands will have to prepare for phasing out third-party cookies. I remember when GDPR was announced, and many companies took it seriously, but some did not. When it did arrive, they went: “Oh, my God, this is real!”. Especially some US-based companies that came here had to shut shops because there was nothing they could do.

I think that preparation for what is coming is like a renewed focus on SEO and keyword optimisation to maximise traffic, which becomes much more critical. So the first-party data will become much more critical now than ever before. Another important aspect is planning for brands that want to be free from reliance on browser operators and their affiliates.

Why should brands see the cookie apocalypse as an opportunity to increase personalisation?

If you look at the model now, it is like 100 times more spent on just getting people to a website and a tiny one when they get there in terms of digital advertising spend. That is a terrible description. It is like I would invite everyone to the world’s most fabulous party, and when they turn up, there would be no DJ and no food, right?

I have seen information where some publishers tried to see what will happen if they did not have third-party cookies on their website. What happened to their revenues? They plummeted about 52%.

This is why personalisation becomes much more critical. Because in 2022, the rules are going to change again, and businesses will have to adapt. It would be best if you treated people that come to your site in a much more personalised, sophisticated way to keep them for longer. Moreover, if they sign up, you can then keep that data.

How can brands ensure real-time interactions are delivered at precisely the right moment?

That is where AI plays a huge part. These are the right products based on the right moment, the right time, their behaviours and what they have looked at initially. AI platforms allow you to recognise consumers and track their behaviour, and intervene in real-time with better recommendations and more personalised messages. So it’s going to be very much dependent on how much you invest in AI.

That is what’s going to make the difference.

What do you think will replace third-party cookies?

It’s going to be a couple of things. I think it will be a renewed focus on SEO and keywords to optimise the traffic because you can get quite a bit of insight into people’s behaviour based on keywords. You also need to think about how you improve the experience when people land on your site. I am making sure to get that sort of behavioural data.

How do you improve your email remarketing? So you can do a B testing and you can start learning more about your consumers much quicker and being more competent. However, the only thing I will say is trying to do that on one platform because I see many companies getting a few platforms, but none of them talk to each other, which becomes a real mess. So try and get it under one umbrella if you can.

Why should the topic of third-party cookies be important to users?

I guess, for some people, they kind of like it, right? They are protecting their data. However, for most people, it is probably going to be a sense of relief. People often feel like companies know far too much about them. Therefore, for most consumers, they will see it as a good thing. However, most companies obviously won’t because it is making life harder for them.

So I would say most people are probably relieved that this is happening in some ways, because it just means, hopefully, they will not get bombarded with meaningless messages, which is one of the problems I think consumers will have a better experience online and feel a lot safer that their data is not being pushed around. I guess the problem is most of that data is only based on behaviours. They do not know your name. They do not know your bank account etc.

Many users may not notice how their privacy is affected by the change initially. What would be the main differences?

I think they’ll probably notice there will be fewer meaningless ads. There will be less bombardment of ads that are not relevant. How can you be more sophisticated? I think it would be such a better experience for the site’s customers who regularly visit to be treated like a loyal customer, instead of just another person that turned up. So I guess you will see a lot less so called cookie bombing with loads of ads that are not really like they are just trying to sell inventory and get impression levels up, where you are just not getting the suitable ads. I am hoping you will see a better keyword tactic.

Customers like to engage with a much more excellent, more personalised experience. It will be tough for companies, but I hope that the content that gets served based on the keywords will be better for the user. And, obviously, the on-site experience for people that go to those brands should be far more beneficial. So I am hoping it will take some time. However, over the next couple of years, I expect all of us to enjoy our web experience even more.

What advice would you give to brands that rely on third-party cookies and would need to find new ways of understanding their customers?

I would say that you should try to get used to not being reliant on third-party cookies. Start looking at your keyword strategy, your content creation strategy and your first-party data strategy. When I talk to ad agencies, they fight so hard to win the business. Nevertheless, the more tricky bit is keeping them, right? Furthermore, it is the same thing with businesses when you have spent much money getting customers. You have to keep finding ways to keep them as long-term customers. In a nutshell, first-party data is going to be essential for brands that want to be free from reliance on browser operators.

Moreover, look at AI solutions that can cover as much of that for your business as possible. However, also, do not go for a siloed approach. For example, you have got an email platform, and before you know it, you have got seven or eight platforms that do not talk to each other. This makes it harder to have control and get a good visualisation of what is going on. You are using customer journeys and the business insight, and then that renewed focus on SEO and keyword optimisation is critical. And then put much more focus on SEO keywords and content strategy.

How will phasing out third-party cookies help companies to increase their trust with users?

Communication between brands and customers is massively important. However, they need to make it clear that this data will be used to improve the experience. It’s not going to be shared. Being upfront but almost silent. Once people enjoy that experience, they will share that information with their friends: “Hey, I just went here, it is fantastic. They knew these things, it’s amazing. right?” All those kinds of things are going to make a difference, but it will take time.

I think the companies that are planning now are going to be okay. They are going to lose a little bit to start with probably. However I am sure it will come back because the customers are not going anywhere. It’s just how you approach them differently and become more relevant to them. In a nutshell, more planning needs to go into it. Although, try to make it easy and do not panic by buying a tonne of platforms.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: