For many B2B marketers, the news that third-party cookies have a limited shelf life will have caused a fair amount of panic. For over 20 years, the digital advertising industry has been adapting and evolving methods of using third-party cookies in an effort to target potential customers and display relevant ads.

It’s an area of marketing that has grown dramatically in the last few years. According to e-marketer, digital ad spend is forecast to reach $455.30 billion this year. Over 55% of that figure relates to display advertising, a percentage that is growing year on year in comparison to search advertising.

But one of the foundations of this market is crumbling. Data privacy and transparency laws have been a hotly debated topic for a number of years and is driving a change in the use of third-party cookies to collect and store user information. Firefox and Safari browsers already block third-party cookies by default and Google has announced a date when it too intends to block cookies by default.

This doesn’t signal the end for marketers, however. It’s already something that many businesses have been planning for in terms of how they use data and connect with their customers. If you are unsure how to do this, then fear not. In this article, we’ll address the changes that are taking place and how you can adapt your approach for the future.

What are cookies and how do they work?

Cookies are small pieces of data inside a text file that identifies a device (mobile, tablet, desktop) when it visits a website. Each time a user visits a new site it creates a cookie, allowing website owners to gather information about the user and the actions they perform. This information can be used to track activity, create re-targeted ads or monitor conversions.

There are two types of cookie: first-party cookies and third-party cookies.

First party cookies

First-party cookies are created and stored by the website that a user visits. If you run a website, you can use first-party cookies to see basic information about a user, what pages they visit and what interactions they carry out. Knowing what users like or don’t like allows you to change the user experience by updating landing pages, amending the layout or improving the check-out/buying process.

First-party cookies don’t just benefit the site owner, however. Cookies allow a user to store passwords so they don’t have to keep logging in, remember preferences and save information to generate auto-fill form options.

Third-party cookies

Third-party cookies are created by third-party owners and placed on the site by an owner of a domain. This allows the third-party (often advertisers) to track a user across multiple sites and understand more about their general interests and behaviour.

For example, if you have links on your home page to your social media accounts and a user ‘likes’ one of them, the social media platform is able to identify the user and see which websites they have visited. This allows the platform to build profiles and deliver relevant ads, which is particularly useful for retargeting campaigns.

It is the loss of user information and the ability for advertising providers to create accurate behaviour profiles that worries some B2B marketers. Retargeting campaigns will become much less effective if the ad you are paying to display has no relevance to the audience.

Why are third-party cookies going away?

The death of third-party cookies is due to the increasing shift in users wanting more control of their digital privacy. Although it didn’t relate directly to third-party cookies, the Cambridge Analytica scandal shone a light on how companies were able to gather information without the knowledge of people who visited their sites.

This growing desire for privacy and transparency has led to the introduction of worldwide government reforms and legislation, including The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It targets any company that operates inside the EU or that simply collects data on people who reside in the EU. GDPR is the toughest security law in the world.

Introduced in 2018, you can’t have failed to notice the messages that now pop up on any new websites you visit. This is because site owners can no longer opt-in a user for cookie tracking; instead, they must display a consent message that confirms what cookies are being collected and how that information will be used.

The introduction of these measures, along with the fact that many users don’t want to provide consent to their data being used by third-parties, was a sign to providers that third-party cookies no longer had a future.

Some browsers actually started blocking third-party cookies by default in 2017, but the impact has really been felt by Google announcing that it will be doing the same. With a 65% share of the market, Chrome is by far the biggest fish in the web browser pond.

Google had actually made a decision to deprecate third-party cookies from 2021 but the delay until 2023 has given marketers more opportunity to prepare.

What is the impact of cookies going away?

The answer to this question really depends on what marketing strategy you have been using and how in touch you are with your customer base.

For marketers who rely heavily on third-party cookies and data, the impact could be significant. As we mentioned earlier, one of the main uses of third-party cookies is for re-targeting campaigns. If you currently use this strategy, you should prepare for it to be far less effective. Primarily, this is because the advertising platforms won’t be able to collect the same amount of information as they currently do and so the relevancy of ads to users will be a major issue.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that tracking will completely stop. Google is already looking at alternatives and has seen some success with FLoC, a system that tracks interest and behaviour at a group level rather than an individual level and sorts them into cohorts.

However, there is no timeline as to when or if this will be rolled out and it’s unclear how effective it would be for B2B marketing. If you think about the range of topics that might be searched for, then relevancy will be a huge problem. A business user might search for a product that your company manufactures, but also for a whole range of things that are outside of your industry.

On top of this, the topics and behaviours are placed into groups based on the activity of similar users, but none of it is specific to you. Would you knowingly commit your advertising budget to target 100 people if you knew absolutely nothing about them? You could end up wasting a huge portion of your advertising budget displaying ads to people who have zero interest in what you have to show them.

That’s also an issue with third-party cookies in their current form. It’s impossible to build a complete profile of a user and quite often a chunk of the cookies from various websites they visit don’t get sent back to the platform. This means your ads are already being viewed by a group of people who don’t want to be targeted.

The good news is that there are already ways to create far more effective advertising campaigns that have much greater ROI.

What other options are available to B2B marketers?

It’s important to note that it’s only third-party cookies that are being phased out. First-party cookies, which can provide you with a wealth of information about yourcustomers, can still be set on your site and used to gather data (provided you present an opt-in/consent box that confirms you’ll be collect cookies).

We also want to highlight that the majority of users don’t have an issue with first-party cookies. As we mentioned earlier, they provide users with a better customer experience; from storing login information to speeding up the check-out process, they save users previous time – which is why it is estimated that less than 5% of users block first-party cookies.

For marketers looking to switch to life after the removal of third-party cookies, embracing first-party data can open a whole new world of possibilities

One of the biggest benefits is that it is accurate and relevant. This is information you collect about visitors who come to your site, looking for your goods or services. There are a host of ways you can collect this information as well, including CRMs, surveys, preferences, on-site behaviour and from customer service telephone calls and online chat.

If you have the right technology and the ability to understand this information it enables you to work out what the intent is of your potential customer.

Everything from which page they visited to how they interacted with a form or piece of content gives you an indication of where they are in the buyer’s journey. Rather than show the same ads to all of your visitors, you can now create specific ads that relate to whether a user is simply looking for additional information or deliberating on whether to make a purchase.

It this approach that underpins the concept of account-based marketing.

Account-based marketing

Flipping the traditional lead and sales funnel on its head, the principles of account-based marketing mean that you start with the most interested prospects first, as opposed to targeting as many prospects as possible and hoping a few of them convert. Here are just a few of the ways it can help.

Create accurate customer personas

With help from sophisticated technology such as N.Rich, you can build customer profiles, segment businesses and users into separate categories and target specific accounts. Drill down to a level where businesses are separated by:

  • Industry
  • Location
  • Turnover
  • Performance
  • Company size

And it’s not just your website that you can do this for. By using cross-channel tracking you can see how businesses and potential customers engage with all of your social media channels, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

Tailor adverts and content

Think about your own activities you conduct online; just because you search for how to check the tyre pressure on your car doesn’t mean you are in the market for a new vehicle. Knowing what stage a potential customer is at in their buying journey, means you can provide information/ads that are relevant to them.

As well as delivering the right content, analysing first-party data also allows you to change the format of how you present it. Does a business prefer e-guides, or videos for a product demonstration? Do formal or informal blogs work better? You can continually adapt or refine the process.

Engage your sales team when it matters

What’s the point of delivering a load of prospects to your sales team if they aren’t yet in a position to convert. Not only does it waste the time of your sales team, but it can also lose you potential customers if they feel pushed in to making a decision.

Give your team the best chance of converting leads into sales by using first-party data to filter out priority prospects.

Better ROI

Need a final reason? Account-based marketing can give you a better ROI. As we’ve already discussed, building your marketing strategy around third-party cookies is akin to throwing enough mud at the wall and hoping it sticks. It’s much more effective to measure what your customers are actually telling you rather than third-parties.

It’s easy to get caught up in confusion and worry if third-party cookies have formed the basis of your marketing diet in recent years, but hopefully, we’ve shown that they really aren’t the be and end-all. If you turn your focus to your users and their insights and data, you might just find it to a much more successful B2B marketing strategy.