When Cookies Are Finally In The Rearview Mirror, Leave The Metrics Game With Them

By Will Kunkel, VP of Marketing at Stirista

This article is sponsored by Stirista.

There’s really no excuse for ineffective campaigns anymore.

These are big words – but they reflect the significant momentum toward confidence in data as both sides of the ad spectrum look for solid footing in the wake of rapid changes.

The absence of cookies, pixels and other programmatic hallmarks feels like a loss. But with ad spending on the rebound, digital ads in the lead and every mind abuzz with identity and personalization tactics, it’s apparent that even when things settle down, they won’t be what we used to call “normal,” making it the perfect time for a mind change across the spectrum – one that prioritizes connections built from data over the metrics themselves.

The common causes of failed campaigns – bad creative, poor messaging and mismatched personalization – will exist long after the cookie crumbles. But if advertisers want to close the gap between effort and results and more confidently show the value of their work, it’ll take more than knowing who they want to reach. It’ll take a fundamental shift in their understanding of the tools they use to reach them.

The problem: undoing years of numbers-chasing desperation

Clients want new now. After decades of rushing to stay relevant, those common demands have instilled a fear of obsolescence across the ad spectrum. Over time, desperation has left advertisers and publishers alike begging for scraps at the feet of the almighty metric.

“Boost CTR by 5% or get left in the dust,” a client might say. Or “Increase ROAS this quarter or be gone the next.”

The struggle to deliver better numbers gave birth to a comfort with the status quo. Why do advertisers chase a 25% open rate when so much has been done to target those specific people at that specific time with that specific offer and creative? The truth is that the media ecosystem never really found out how to properly use those tools, let alone how to improve them.

As it is with most of the media world’s biggest problems, the solution to cookie addiction is a hybrid of hard numbers and human interpretation. I think that the industry needs to find a happy medium where they’re not completely reliant on data for everything, but they’re also not completely reliant on 50 years of gut experience – the kind that can’t be measured, transferred or repeated.

The data will influence everything. Who you’re communicating with, what message you’re communicating, when, everything. To that end, cookies were never more than a data point. The needs of the modern advertiser had long outstripped what cookies could provide anyway.

There may be a very different reason for a 25-year-old to sign up for healthcare and a 60-year-old or even a 45-year-old. For a 25-year-old, it might be their first foray being off their parents’ insurance and onto their own. For a 45-year-old, they might have kids entering school for the first time – and so on.

Knowing the message, timing, frequency, design and offer to serve each of those audiences requires more than cookies.

And in their absence, first-party data is entering pole position for advertisers and buyers alike. But not all first-party data is created equal: If an ad partner uses an identity graph that updates every 60 days, that’s an eternity in 2021. In 60 days, people could have moved. If it’s a B2B audience, people could have changed jobs. To be fresh, data needs to be continuously refreshed.

The solution: a long-term strategy built on continuous learning

To better grapple with the rapid changes in today’s ecosystem – and to better prepare for the future – advertisers need a more intentional, long-term look at the tools they use, how they use them to reach people and who they partner with to get the most out of those tools.

People have looked at cookies as the be-all, end-all feature of digital advertising, which oversells their vitality to both sides of the spectrum. There is not one magic bullet. It’s really about having the right mix of pieces.

In the near future, it might look like you’re solving one problem with seven solutions, but the reality is that those solutions are more likely to actually solve the problem and ultimately give you better results. Instead of having silos and disparate channels that are working independently, having everything spire off the most relevant data in the first place is going to be a needle-mover.

When cookies are completely in the rearview mirror, the ad ecosystem can start uncovering the potential of the mountains of data that will shape the future. An overwhelming majority of marketers understand the value of first-party data and sophisticated signals. It’s time to finally use them to replace the inefficient targeting of the past with a stronger, more accountable, real-time data backbone.

If you’re armed with the right data and you have the right identity, you know what device people are using, you know what they watch, you know who they are, you can remove segments of the audience who might not make sense for your brand. And with that, you remove the biggest risks for a campaign to fall flat in the future.

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