The Deprecation of Cookies Leads to a New Probabilistic Playbook

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Digital marketers have already experienced and accepted Firefox and Safari’s deprecation of third-party cookies. Most of the industry knew Google would follow suit with Chrome — but everyone assumed (hoped) there would be an alternative deterministic offering. However, Google’s recent revelation that it won’t release a deterministic alternative sends another shockwave to digital marketers. 

We’re standing witness to a couple of continuing themes: the broadening of market segmentation and the reduction of value from major ad platforms’ core tools in an effort to protect themselves from the government. In other words, the scale and costs will forever change at major platforms. This change is because audience data cannot be targeted outside of the respective walled gardens, and the cost for what is available will become too high for most marketers to consider.

This notion brings us to a critical point in regard to Google’s cookie deprecation. This move won’t impact all cookies, only third-party cookies. Chrome’s changes actually limit the ability for walled gardens to correlate IDs with information from their own platforms. For example, if a consumer searches for furniture reviews on Google, advertisers can no longer utilize that segment on other websites outside of Google’s owned properties.

The upshot is that deterministic approaches via walled gardens will still have importance, but they will simply become a strategy play as opposed to a catch-all approach for digital marketing. It’s apparent that any brands buying or relying on deterministic audiences need to augment their solutions to ensure they meet their ongoing campaign goals.

Realities and Solutions

While new deterministic tools might start popping up in the market, we see there’s actually tried-and-true methods that can be evolved to provide the accuracy and scale needed to replace cookies. Sure, solution providers might push to create new deterministic options, but to actualize them while also fighting with evolving regulatory mandates doesn’t appear to be the best route. It seems like the industry is at a crossroads — do we chase successes of the past, or venture to the next frontier? From my perspective, the industry should collectively move forward and work together to redefine what the next era of digital marketing looks like. 

That said, I expect there to be a few main methods going forward.

Firstly, many solution providers will develop aggregate targeting tools focused on context derived from environmental signals. It’s worth calling out that today’s signals are wide-ranging and include location, nearby points-of-interest, weather, daypart, event data, and even pollen count and flu indexes. In a way, the industry is about to experience a renaissance of probabilistic — but with enhanced methods of defining and engaging relevant audiences based on environmental factors. 

Another component that makes environmental signals a key contender for audience targeting is the advancement of Probabilistic IDs. These IDs are generated by taking a holistic view of the incoming signals. In essence, they unlock the ability for marketers to scale with no reliance on personally identifiable information — which is exactly what is needed as the cookie vanishes.

With Probabilistic IDs, marketers can correlate devices based on behaviors that have a high likelihood of matching a given criteria. While this is sometimes dismissed as “just device fingerprinting,” the truth is Probabilistic IDs provide a significant amount of complexity.

For example, hospitality brand marketers can utilize a probabilistic approach to advertise to consumers who recently arrived at an airport. They can incorporate current event information, pinpointing any major conferences or trade shows in the area, and use those insights to personalize the messaging and creative of the ad — all without a deterministic ID or cookie. 

Lastly, don’t forget there will still be targeting options based on device ID opt-in across in-app environments. This adds in a layer of deterministic targeting opportunities for consumers who prefer more relevant ads. It’s yet to be seen exactly how consumers react to opt-in requests, and there may likely be decent scale among people who want a more personalized experience as opposed to random ads. 

As recent industry changes cause many digital marketers to question their path forward, and reassess strategies for success, the importance of expanding beyond a few platforms and partners is critical. Marketers will be heavily encouraged to embrace aggregated population insights as opposed to deterministic insights, especially as the larger, ‘go-to’ advertising platforms deliver less value. 

Ken Harlan is CEO and founder of MobileFuse.

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