The decision by Google to end the use of third-party cookies in its Chrome browser by Q4 2024 has emerged as one of the key issues for retail marketers recently.
But how aware are they of the implications of the change? And what types of solutions are they planning to put in place to minimise the impact on their marketing activity?
We decided to find out in our latest industry report, Marketing in the Cookieless Future, by exploring:
- The key concerns marketers have surrounding the removal of cookies
- What they understand about the accuracy of data generated by them
- What solutions they are looking to put in place to mitigate their removal
A quick recap on Google’s plans for ending third-party cookies
Before we dive into the detail of the survey it is worth providing quick context on the timeline for the removal of third-party cookies as follows:
- Google has announced its intention to remove third-party cookies from their Chrome browser
- The current timeline for this is that it will happen in the latter half of 2024 (it has been subject to delay already)
- The move has major implications for ad targeting and measurement that relies on cookie tracking, given Chrome’s 65% plus share of the browser market
So, that is the context – what is the survey data telling us about marketers’ response to the situation?
97% of retail marketers are concerned about the loss of third-party cookies
A resounding 97% of respondents are concerned about the loss of cookies having a material impact on their ability to either understand which marketing activities are effective or even serve ads effectively. And that chimes with similar research from by GetApp and HubSpot.
Given we are already underway with Google’s removal of third-party cookies from +60% of the browser market – in a rollout that will conclude early next year – this is a damning insight into the over-reliance on cookies in the digital marketing ecosystem.
That 73% of respondents are specifically concerned with measurement tells us that – while finding a replacement for activating ad targeting (the purpose of Google’s proposed cookie replacement technologies, Topics and Fledge) – is surely important, the problem faced by marketers is more foundational. Namely that they have no home truth, and no baseline against which to measure performance.
And digging deeper into the survey data provides context for the implications of the change that Google is making:
- an overwhelming 83% of marketers are reliant on cookies in some way to support effective marketing
- although there may be some lack of understanding amongst some marketing functions with 50% of Heads of Analytics indicating that they are not reliant on them
79% of respondents believe cookies provide accurate data
This is a bit of an eyeopener for us – and is fairly contrary to evidence that they do a particularly poor job of tracking customer journeys.
Historically, this is also a belief that has stood up to light levels of scrutiny.
When there was a less fragmented online advertising world, marketers mainly had only two sources of truth for their digital marketing activity:
- their own analytics platforms
- their Search Advertising spend
Spend was completely dominated by Google Ads & Google Analytics in most markets.
However, the rise of Facebook (now Meta) over the last decade has seen a second silo for marketing spend emerge – followed by Amazon and TikTok.
The challenge for marketers now is unravelling the complexity of the data they are being fed by these analytics platforms – and our own work in this area has indicated that 80% of marketing data in cookie-based solutions like Google Analytics and Adobe are incorrectly attributed.
For the 75% of marketers in our survey that have identified the need to integrate analytics with ad buying and keep acquisition costs down, this is a very real concern. And one that is leading them to consider cookieless attribution solutions like Corvidae.
Marketers are investigating a range of alternatives as cookies go away
It is clear that a wide variety of approaches are being investigated by businesses. As you might expect, given the circumstances and uncertainty in the marketplace.
- Removal of third-party data altogether – just short of 43% indicate they will remove third-party data altogether from their mix
- Google’s Chrome-based options, Topics and Fledge – they are a sizeable part of the picture (43%) which is logical as they will be the only way to serve targeted display ads to 60% of online browsers. This is despite being dogged by privacy concerns over the years
- Contextual advertising – placing ads where you think your important customers will be, based on the content around the ad is a robust and simple approach that is being embraced by 40% of respondents
- Unified Attribution platforms – measuring the performance of all of this activity will be key to success in the cookieless future. Which explains the marked interest in Unified Attribution platforms (38%)
So, marketers are spreading the net in the search for solutions – and it appears that the majority of marketers are either strongly confident (45%) or confident (with some reservations) (45%) that their partners will provide a solution for the cookieless future. But our concern is that they might be sleep-walking into the opt-in problem presented by solutions like Topics and Fledge.
Get the full survey now
If all of this has given you food for thought, you can download a copy of the full survey here.