Data Bunkers Are the Future of Cookieless Marketing

These neutral, privacy-first spaces can help marketers solve the identity crisis

What’s going to replace cookies?

It’s one of the biggest questions in advertising right now and understandably so. The changes to the ways advertisers think about identity, targeting and measurement—precipitated by the sunsetting of third-party cookies—are going to reshape our industry.

But in answering the question of what comes next, it’s important to separate the more theoretical, future-facing answers from what advertisers can be doing practically right now to get ready.

ID resolution is a work in-progress

There are all sorts of exciting things happening in the world of identity resolution. Whether it’s LiveRamp’s IdentityLink, Trade Desk’s Unified ID or any of the other ID solutions that are in the works, it’s likely that the coming months and years will bring about solutions that replicate the effect of cookies by tracking users through defined ecosystems.

But none of these solutions are fully up and running yet. Getting the solutions to work well, as well as work in harmony together, will take time, testing and more education.

It’s an incredibly dynamic space with masses of opportunity. But, while it all shakes out and the breakthroughs and best practices of ID resolution begin to emerge, what else should advertisers be doing to get ready for the end of cookies?

Back to basics with first-party data

The biggest thing that brands need to do right now is get their first-party data in tip-top condition and make sure they have the technology and processes in place to ensure it stays that way.

This is back-to-basics advice, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Not only is good first-party data still the basis for all high-performing digital campaigns, it’s also the way brands can work together—for mutual benefit—to build more powerful audiences, achieve deeper insights and drive better results. 

This is all possible because of data bunkers, where brands can share their first-party data and analyze it in a way that’s compliant, safe and protected.

How data bunkers work

Let’s say a rental car company wants to target customers arriving at a major airport hub like JFK in New York. In a world where third-party cookies are still operating, it would be a question of using first-party data to work out what the company’s best customers look like, then identifying lookalike audiences based on people’s behavior across the open web. And while that works great, once third-party cookies are no longer an option, there must be another way of getting to the same outcome.

The best way to do that is to go right to the source. What the rental car company needs is the first-party data from the airlines themselves. By combining their data with its own first-party data, the rental car company can cross-reference the list of its best customers within a group of people who are known to be regular travelers to JFK airport.

This can be mutually beneficial for the airlines, too. By looking at the data from the rental car company they can, for instance, identify groups of regular JFK travelers who arrive via other airlines and target them accordingly.

Traditionally, this sharing of first-party data between brands was a no-go. Not only is this data usually a brand’s most carefully guarded resource, it’s also the most sensitive. Neither the hypothetical rental car company nor an airline would want to send their data to each other to be stored on servers that are outside their control.

That’s where data bunkers come in. By working with these emerging companies—Infosum being a good example—brands have a neutral, privacy-first space where that data exchange can happen securely, thus allowing both parties to make more of their first-party data without needing any third-party cookies.

Agility is key

Returning to the original question, “What’s going to replace cookies?” the answer won’t be singular.

Advertisers looking to target consumers, optimize campaigns and measure their effectiveness will need to combine the use of first-party data bunkers with new emerging identity solutions, as well as connect data from the growing number of addressable channels like connected TV (CTV) and mobile in-app that don’t rely on third-party cookies.

And, of course, all of this will create challenges that must be overcome. But, in general, the changes that are happening around identity present a massive opportunity for our industry, both for the kind of strategic alliance-building between brands described above, and in building more trust and more transparency across the digital ecosystem.

Gurman Hundal is an ad tech entrepreneur, the CEO and co-founder of MiQ, and the 2019 winner of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Sustained Excellence. In 2010, Hundal and his business partner Lee Puri founded MiQ, a company driven by a desire to help clients get deeper insights from their data and achieve the maximum value from those insights through a better-connected approach to marketing.