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Choosing Progress Over Procrastination When It Comes to Consumer Privacy

I hated PE as a kid. Don’t get me wrong, I was quite active—how my parents balanced my involvement in basketball, softball, swimming, volleyball, and soccer at the same time, I’ll never know. But PE (aka physical education, aka phys ed, aka my worst nightmare)? Hard pass.

Why? My hatred boiled down to one thing: forced lap running.

Each day in class, my teacher would bring out a box filled with purple slips of paper and dole out several to each person. As class progressed, there were more “opportunities” to “earn” these slips—namely, by not following the rules.

Before class ended, the lap running would begin: run one lap for each slip, drop one in the box when you pass the teacher. For a kid who was a bit of a rulebreaker and not very fast, this routine was, quite simply, the worst.

What annoyed me most was that I had zero choice in the matter! If you’d asked me then if I would ever willingly take up running, the answer would have been a resounding “NO.”

Fast forward a few decades, and—alas!—I was wrong. As an adult, I’m an avid hiker and spend as much time in the mountains as possible. And in the past few years, my outdoor activities have expanded to include (drumroll, please) trail running!

The difference now? I choose to run, give myself opportunities to “play” and try new things as I train, and (perhaps most importantly) there have been zero purple slips involved. Turns out, I have completely different feelings about running when it’s my choice.

But enough about me—it’s time to let you in on how my journey with running relates to digital advertisers.

Right now, advertisers are in a position where they can choose to explore privacy-friendly solutions. That means the process can be done in a way that’s intentional, experimental, and even playful. Today, I’ll make the case for why advertisers should start testing third-party cookie alternatives early, and explore some of the identity solutions currently available for doing just that.

Sounds Like a “Future Me” Problem—Why Start Now?

I know, I know: third-party cookie deprecation has been delayed to 2024. Plus, marketers already have plenty to juggle with inflation, economic instability, and ever-shifting consumer sentiments. But while it makes perfect sense for advertisers to want to procrastinate, there are significant benefits to testing solutions now.

If my relationship with running has taught me anything, it’s that doing something by choice is far more pleasant—and effective—than doing it because you “have to.” Still not convinced? Here are the two biggest reasons digital advertisers should get a head start on testing alternative identity solutions:

1. Privacy Is Top-of-Mind Today

Consumers have made it clear that privacy must be a priority for the advertising industry. With 86% of Americans saying data privacy is a growing concern for them, and a variety of privacy-focused regulations being introduced over the past year, it’s clear that consumers and regulators alike want the status quo to change ASAP. Brands and marketers who embrace this sentiment now can reach consumers in innovative, creative ways that align with demands for increased digital privacy. Beyond that, addressing customer demand for privacy is a great way to build brand trust and loyalty, both of which are increasingly important in this time of shifting consumer behaviors.

2. Choose it Now, or Be Forced Later

I mentioned this above, but it’s worth restating: doing something when you can choose how and when to do it is a far better experience than being forced into change. Browsers like Apple’s Safari, Mozilla’s Firefox, and others have long since bid “adieu” to third-party cookies, and, despite Google’s many delays, the metaphorical bottom of the cookie jar is in sight. Eventually, third-party cookies will no longer be an option, whether advertisers like it or not. By starting to use cookieless solutions now, marketers can avoid the unpleasantness of being forced into the change unprepared.

Okay, This Is Starting to Make Sense…What Alternative Targeting Solutions Exist?

Let’s start with the bad news: there is no silver bullet to fix all our third-party cookie loss problems…yet. However, there are many strategies that marketers can play with to help them reach the right audiences in privacy-friendly ways.

Here are some of the solutions marketers can explore when it comes to effectively crafting personalized customer experiences in a world without third-party cookies:

  • First-Party Data: More and more publishers and brands are collecting detailed first-party data, which advertisers can leverage to target certain audiences in their campaigns.  
  • Geotargeting and Location Targeting: Geo-based targeting is a time-tested and cost-efficient way to reach specific audiences. Plus, targeting by country, city, or even zip code offers marketers the chance to craft creative with specific audiences in mind.
  • Contextual Targeting: Contextual can be used for a variety of formats, including desktop, mobile, and CTV. With the right partnerships, users can access hundreds of segments that align their ads with relevant content.
  • Private Marketplace Deals (PMPs): These customized, invitation-only RTB marketplaces allow advertisers to gain access to premium inventory and audiences. Plus, publishers can make first-party data available in PMPs, making it easier for advertisers to create custom variations for specific audiences.

You Mentioned Trying New Things—Tell Me More!

Have you “run” out of patience for my extended metaphor? No? Great, ’cause I’m not done yet!

One of the most impactful lessons learned along my running journey has been the importance of trying new things, especially things that are intimidating or unfamiliar. As a mountain-activity-loving adult, I spent years watching those around me dive into trail running, but didn’t participate because of the negative associations I had with running—and also because I feared being terrible at it.

Eventually, I realized how much I was missing out. By taking the risk, I developed a newfound sense of confidence: sure, I was sometimes (maybe even often) the last one up the mountain, but I made it to the top! And I enjoyed it along the way!

For advertisers wary of trying new strategies in their campaigns—especially when it comes to adapting to the identity crisis—a similar lesson applies. In preparing for third-party cookie loss, it’s better to make progress imperfectly than to get left behind.  

And the great news? Exploring these new solutions is far more controlled than throwing on a pair of high-tread shoes and hoping they don’t slip as you barrel headfirst down a steep slope. Here are some of the ways advertisers can intentionally explore these new approaches:

  • Conduct A/B testing with different privacy-friendly targeting strategies (contextual, geotargeting, etc.) to determine which allow you to reach your target audience most effectively.
  • Take it slow. We have until 2024, so don’t feel like you need to throw your current tactics out the window right away. Start to incorporate alternative strategies at a rate that makes sense for you.
  • Embrace innovation! As I mentioned earlier, there is no silver bullet to replace third-party cookies entirely; as such, the opportunity has never been greater to experiment, play, and think outside of the box.

Final Thoughts

A few weeks ago, my partner and I were trail running through the Wind River Range in Wyoming, in some of the most rugged, awe-inspiring mountains I’ve explored. As we followed the winding trail up and over rocky passes, beneath jagged cirques, and around stunningly blue lakes, I found myself reflecting on my growth as a runner: how much had changed since I was that kid living in fear of being handed an extra purple slip and forced to run another lap around the gym!

You know where I’m going here: while transitioning away from third-party cookies may seem daunting now, starting to test privacy-friendly alternatives is the first step to using those alternatives confidently when third-party cookies are finally gone. By being proactive and trying new privacy-friendly strategies now, marketers can avoid being stuck with that dreaded pile of purple slips when third-party cookies are no longer an option.

Basis Technologies is here to support brands and agencies as we approach third-party cookie loss. To learn more about our perspective on the identity crisis, get a deeper dive on what led the adtech industry to this point, and explore novel solutions in greater depth, check out our guide.

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