• Chris Phillips, Group MD, twmi

Change Is a-Coming: What Should Brands Be Doing To Counter the End of Cookies?

Chris Phillips, Group MD, tmwi writes his debut column on a guide to how brands can counter the end of cookies - effectively and painlessly.

The surge in new customers for the likes of Amazon, online grocery sites and Zoom since the start of the pandemic prove that necessity really is the mother of invention. Before March 2020 it seemed likely that most people who didn’t have an Amazon account, or had no need to use video conferencing, were probably perfectly okay with that. But the record-breaking profits that mark Jeff Bezos’ departure as Amazon CEO are indicative of our collective behaviour over the past year.

The pandemic is changing consumer behaviours at every turn, and many of these changes will continue on long after life returns to normal. Brands who can attract new customers now - through the implementation of intelligent marketing strategies and analysis of strong insights and data - will almost certainly retain a good number of those going forward and enjoy the benefits long term.

However, the route to success lies not in attracting those visitors, but in converting them to paying customers who, after a positive experience, will return at a later date.

And now, with the relatively imminent demise of cookies, brands may fear they are facing a reduction in how far programmatic ad buying can get them. However, while the end of cookies will certainly force some business to implement changes, advertisers should be reassured that everything will still be possible, and the same results within their grasp, it will just require a slightly different approach.

Embrace contextual-based advertising

Instead of using cookie data to follow people around the internet, simply focus on advertising against content that aligns with your message. Base your advertising on content the consumer is already looking at rather than relying on a behavioural profile that may or may not be accurate. Content is king and by delivering your brand message in an environment where your potential customers are already present will ensure a significant degree of accurate targeting.

Make first-party data your priority

The idea of sourcing first-party data can panic some advertisers, but in our experience they have access to a lot more of it than they might realise. Information on your customers can come from your website or app, your call centre, surveys or CRM, as well as any purchasing history. Not only can it tell you valuable information about your existing and potential customers but it has the benefit of being completely legitimate and above board, where we know consumers can all too often be unnerved by the behaviour of cookie-related brand activity that sees them followed round the internet.

We are working more and more with clients who are aligning their content to cater not only to new visitors but also to the customer journey to ensure every touchpoint is aligned to the new and existing audience. This conscious shift to ensure the right message is in front of the right audience at the right time relies on access to up to the minute data and a comprehensive understanding of who is using your site.

The key will, of course, be in a brand’s access to first party data and building first-party datasets will help develop a brand’s audience segments. Any insights gleaned from their customers directly are always more powerful and have the potential to drive greater impact through an advertising campaign.

Focus on the user, not the device

One of the ways in which the efficacy of cookies has always fallen down is that they are device-based, and don’t take into account the user’s activity elsewhere. When we spend more time on our mobiles than our computers, that can create huge gaps in an advertisers understanding of the customer journey. By targeting people in real time you gain a single view of your customer and can reach them across devices and platforms.

Furthermore, a focus on CRM to date will be vital in helping brands understand their audiences at a broader level, speaking to them with more personalised, targeted messages, and putting the advertiser in a stronger position post-cookies.

Move your measurement methods on

The key to getting ahead lies in having access to a rapid analytics programme that will ensure brands are in a position to optimise their campaigns while in-field, ensuring more accurate targeting and effectiveness.

For example, do you know your current geographical hotspots for converters? Have you recognised any attitude and behavioural identifiers appearing across customer segments? Do you know which websites are performing better for your business, and are you analysing your data to establish the demographic make-up of your customers at various times of day and days of the week?

This sort of analysis is pivotal for any tech business to understand who is using their platform versus who is converting.

After a year of rapid adapting for brands, the next raft of changes - the removal of third-party cookies - will come round surprisingly fast, and will not necessarily be easier to weather just for having been anticipated. Greater access to data often brings greater complexity, and achieving clarity requires a structured approach to audience planning.

It will be the advertisers whose agencies have behaviours in place now that will be the early winners of a cookie-less future. An over-reliance on pseudo one-to-one marketing today will be the stumbling block for brands going forward.


Chris Phillips is Group MD of tmwi, a full-service marketing agency he founded in 2000. With more than 30 years’ experience in the advertising industry, including many years as Sales Director at ITV, Chris is an early adopter of digital media, and regarded as one of the most innovative and effective proponents of digital marketing in the UK.


Chris has successfully grown tmwi over the last two decades, continually evolving the business to reflect the ever-changing demands of audiences and embracing the latest developments in industry-leading technology. He is an expert in brand advertising, campaign strategy and data technology.

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