By Ryan Bopp10/19/2023

Concerned About Cookieless Marketing? Consider These Effective Alternatives for Targeting and Audience Tracking 

Hero Image

If you’re in marketing, you’ve likely heard what’s coming — the end of cookies, those digital snippets of text marketers use to target key audiences and track how people engage. Google plans to drop third-party cookies by the second half of 2024 as part of an increasing focus data privacy and security

That pivot has marketing teams at companies large and small searching for alternatives to measure their campaigns, content, and digital experiences. Us, too!  Here at Brunner, everything we do is based on measurement, so we know we’re delivering results for our clients. As soon as we heard Google’s plans, we got to work exploring what a cookieless future looks like and identifying alternative ways to track and target audiences. 

From this work, we’ve identified several effective ways to run and measure successful marketing and advertising campaigns without using cookies. Most of these options are built on collaboration with strategic partners who offer innovative technologies that do not rely on cookies. Other options are based on good old human nature — giving people something they value in exchange for their information. 

Read on to learn about the effective alternatives we’ve identified for cookieless targeting and tracking — and the valuable benefits these methods are creating for our clients. 

“If you’re a marketer worried about a cookieless future, you’re not alone.”

What are internet cookies? 

Internet cookies are built for web browsers to track, personalize, and save information about a user’s session online. Third-party cookies go beyond a typical internet cookie by tracking and targeting users across the internet. Without them, your campaigns may not get in front of the right people. And you won’t be able to get the data you need to measure how well those campaigns are performing. 

If you’re a marketer worried about a cookieless future, you’re not alone. A 2023 study of marketers worldwide identified a lack of preparedness for a cookieless future as the second leading concern in media and marketing initiatives, mentioned by 39 percent of respondents. In that same survey, nearly three out of 10 respondents shared concern about losing third-party data that’s collected by certain types of internet cookies.  

Identifying internet cookie alternatives for targeting and tracking 

To identify internet cookie alternatives, the Brunner team began looking into partnerships with companies that offer cookieless solutions already built in. The following options provide ways to track and target audiences without using third-party cookies.  

  • Tool-based partnerships — Resonate is a consumer intelligence company that creates hyper-relevant, dynamic consumer insights and puts them at the fingertips of marketers for personalized brand action. Resonate’s data platform is scaled to the entire U.S. population and is built on the U.S. Consumer Study, the largest, most comprehensive consumer study available. 
  • Login-based partnerships — Brunner’s partnerships with The Trade Desk, Amazon, and OneView allow for strong household and device matching, which combats the deprecation of cookies that expand to other walled garden platforms such as Roku, Walmart, and Hulu. In addition, Brunner is a member of the Agency Accelerator program with Meta. That relationship that keeps us at the forefront of new developments with tracking and attribution within that ecosystem, including Facebook, Instagram, and What’s App.  
  • Testing methods: We work cross-functionally at Brunner — including our in-house Business Intelligence team — to use powerful media mix modeling, brand lift studies, and holdout testing to prove the effectiveness of channels that never had a cookie, such as local TV and OTT.  From this first-hand experience, we can apply these same testing methods to digital advertising  with a high degree of confidence. 
  • Customer Relationship Management systems — With strong CRM systems, you can track a digital conversion all the way to the end purchase. Companies that maintain, categorize and use their CRM system to manage customer data for marketing campaigns are setting themselves up for cookieless success in two ways. First, these companies are building a future-proof way of targeting audiences when cookies are no longer available. Second, they are connecting with potential customers more directly, which gives them a big advantage over competitors. These companies “own” the customer data they have collected — and competitors have no access to it. That means a lower cost-per-thousand for advertising impressions and better cookieless targeting accuracy. 
image describing types of consumer data

As part of exploring alternatives to cookies, we’ve also looked internally to find solutions. For example, Brunner created its own campaign tracking variable, BZ_ID, to tie media spending to conversions. This helps us provide clients with data that’s essential for analyzing the success of a campaign. 

Gathering first-party data in exchange for something consumers value 

The Brunner team is working with clients to develop new and creative ways to collect customer data in non-intrusive ways. This approach focuses on simple strategies to gather first-party data from consumers by inviting them to enter their email address to download a brochure or suggesting they try easier applications for different programs.  

The value exchange approach is crucial. The first-party data captured will become essential to supplement pixel-based remarketing and look-alike models through the capture of ‘soft’ conversions like email addresses and phone numbers. 

Collecting zero-party data directly from consumers via surveys, contests 

Another alternative to cookies is gathering zero-party data, where users voluntarily share information with companies via post-purchase surveys, giveaways, or contests. Recent high-profile examples include:  

  • Jersey Mike’s and Live Nation partnered on enter-to-win sweepstakes to give away concert tickets and sub sandwiches. To enter, entrants had to submit a form.   
  • Arm & Hammer, whose product lineup includes cat litter, developed a cat owner “Purrsonality” quiz. Each participant had to fill out a form with their name, email address, and zip code to receive the quiz results, including product recommendations.  
  • BuzzFeed uses quizzes to ask readers about their interests, whether it’s to find out “what Harry Potter character best fits your personality” or “what type of dog you are.” Readers who submit their email address can get the latest quizzes delivered right to their inbox. 

Cookieless alternatives are creating valuable benefits for companies 

Because Brunner works with a wide range of clients across many industries, we understand that each company’s needs for consumer data will vary in a cookieless future. We share insights and POVs with clients based on their geography, industry, channels, and campaign goals. Our teams consult and advise on cookie usage practices for targeting, optimization, reporting, pixeling/tagging, and website best practices.  

So far, we’re seeing valuable benefits coming out of our cookieless recommendations to clients:  

  • By leveraging media mix modeling even more, we can truly understand the impacts of not only digital media across digital channels but all media across traditional and digital channels. It’s truly the big picture of marketing impact. 
  • First-party and zero-party data are much more reliable and accurate than third-party data, which can be less precise due to factors like incorrect IP mapping or multiple people with different demographics using the same device.  
  • Providing something of value to customers in exchange for their information — then using their information in a contextually appropriate way — puts our clients in the role of a trusted partner, not a creepy vendor.  
  • Advertisers can use the consumer data that they collect to improve overall customer experience, both online and offline, by creating a more customized approach.  

“We’ve identified several effective ways to run and measure successful marketing and advertising campaigns without using cookies.”

Ready to navigate a cookieless world? 

The alternatives to cookies we’ve described are just the beginning as technologies continue to evolve.  As consumer privacy and data security become increasingly important, we’ll see more adaptations and new solutions emerge for tracking and targeting.  

If you’d like to learn more about effective cookieless alternatives for gathering consumer data and measuring marketing impact, please reach out. We’d be happy to chat.  

Ryan Bopp is associate director, integrated planning, at Brunner and has 10+ years of experience in display and social media strategy. His time at Brunner has focused largely on testing and learning the next emerging channels, such as OTT/CTV/OLV, Marketplaces/eCommerce and social media platforms. He has worked across a variety of verticals, spanning retail, e-commerce, higher education, finance, health care, legal and home improvement. Prior to joining Brunner, Ryan spent several years at Merkle developing his skills for cross-channel digital media planning and buying. He has a B.A. in Business from the University of Pittsburgh.