First-Party Identity Is a Strategic Imperative in the Cookieless World

Making the transition away from third-party data isn’t as hard as it seems

The death of the cookie may not rank in your top five stressors going into 2021, but if you don’t already have a strategy in place, it might be. Rest assured, help is on the way.

First off, let’s get on the same page about what “the death of the cookie” means. In January 2020, Google announced that the Chrome browser will expire third-party cookies after 24 hours at some point in 2021. Basically, third-party cookies will become unusable, or “die,” after one day.

So what? Apple did this with the Safari browser in 2017 with Internet Tracking Prevention (ITP), and the world didn’t end then.

Well, at that time Apple’s Safari browser represented about 15% of all browser traffic, and marketers just shrugged it off. Today, Google’s Chrome represents about 60% of all browser traffic, and the smaller browsers are rapidly following Apple and Google’s lead. If you do the math, that’s the rest of them.

Why should marketers care about the death of the cookie?

You may be surprised to learn how reliant you are on that third-party cookie. For example: How important is retargeting to you? After the Chrome policy goes into effect, 90% to 95% of your non-walled-garden retargeting cookie-pool size will diminish.

Have you invested in multi-touch attribution (MTA)? Many of those MTA solutions are fueled by third-party cookie data. So, that ocean of data you swim in today will evaporate into a puddle.

Do you use third-party digital data segments to build prospect audiences in your DMP or DSP that look like your current customers? All those data attributes (age, gender, income) are tied to those third-party cookies, cookies that soon won’t look like anything.

Before you stress too much, take comfort that there is a silver lining. You can take back control from the browser makers and device manufacturers because you have one thing they can never take away from you: your relationship with your consumers and the data that this creates.

You can rebuild and restore many of the capabilities that will degrade when the Chrome change occurs by building your own private identity based on your first-party data signals (a cookie from your website domain which will not expire in 24 hours). Rather than lease access from, and therefore cede control to, “public graphs” such as onboarders and walled gardens like Google and Facebook, you can stitch identity together based on your rules, with transparency, using your owned data.

Transitioning from reliance on third-party identity to first-party identity is one of the most important strategic imperatives you can do to remain competitive.

3 steps to transition from third-party cookies to first-party identity

1. Ask for email addresses every chance you get. Every email address, mobile number and name/address you collect is an opportunity to connect to your first-party cookie. This will require two important steps. First, develop a compelling value exchange for the consumer. Then use tactics like lightboxes, loyalty rewards, offers and personalization triggers to offer a value exchange at the right moment.

2. Integrate with your email service provider (ESP) and rev up your CRM program. When your first-party identity tag is integrated with your ESP, every email open and click is an opportunity to connect your first-party cookie to an email address. This includes every email, not just your promotional CRM offers but also all operational and triggered emails.

3. Tag your site with a first-party identity resolution service. This type of tag will use a first-party cookie that you can link to consumer identity signals, such as email addresses, mobile numbers, or name and address. You will need to tell your website team that they need to implement a new tag and taxonomy, and when they push back, tell them most of the third-party tags on your site today will be mostly useless in six months, so don’t delay the inevitable. Merkury’s Digital Consumer Recognition (DCR) service, aka the Merkury Tag, does this and is built on the largest repository of first-party cookie to email hash linkages in the industry. The Merkury Tag is able to bridge the gap between a first-party cookie and a real-person ID through the scale of Merkury’s third-party graph.

With these three steps taken, you will be able to survive the upcoming paradigm shift and be on your way to reclaiming the lost capabilities tied to the death of the cookie.

Michael Fuchs has 20 years in database and direct marketing experience focused on applying data technology and analytics to drive better business outcomes. He is equally comfortable spanning digital media services and marketing services, making him uniquely qualified to lead Merkle’s top clients in this time of people-based marketing.