Life beyond the cookie: 5 steps to mapping the future of marketing measurement

Natalie Stanbury

Natalie joined the Interactive Advertising Bureau Australia as director of research in February 2019. She is responsible for managing the IAB’s relationship with Nielsen and the work developing independent, inclusive and transparent digital audience measurement systems, as well as other IAB programs toward the development of effective measurement solutions and standards for the online advertising industry. Natalie brings with her a depth of experience and industry knowledge, having previously worked as research director at News Corp, head of research and insights at Fairfax Media, and with Ninemsn and Ticketek.

There’s no denying there’s been a whirlwind of response to the imminent demise of the third-party cookie from all parts of the industry. But as we’ve collectively come to better understand the implications, it’s clear this change is giving the digital advertising industry the opportunity to re-think digital marketing to support core industry use cases, while balancing consumer privacy.   

Foremost of the work underway to prepare our industry for this change is the IAB Tech Lab’s initiative, Project Rearc, which brings the industry together on building the future of digital identity, targeting capability and measurement based on adherence to underpinning principles.   

Moving to a ‘cookie-less future’ will definitely be a positive step to improving privacy of data and transparency, but it presents so many unknowns. How can we effectively measure? How can we find new audiences and opportunities? What is the roadmap for programmatic? The list goes on.  

As a marketing industry, we are all on the journey to answer these questions and while finding a single source of information is near impossible, IAB’s Ad Effectiveness Council Life Beyond The Cookie advances a collection of practical advice.   

Possibly the most notable challenge for marketers in the cookie-less future will be how to measure the impact of their digital marketing.  While not all the marketing effectiveness measurement techniques currently used will be affected by the cookie retirement, others will need to require significant adjustments.    

Here are five steps marketers can start now to future proof their marketing measurement.  

1. Understand the expected impact

  • Identify what percentage of media spend is affected by cookie degradation.
  • Find out what cookie-less solutions your agency and tech partners are recommending and working towards.
  • Check in with IAB and other industry resources to understand developments.

2. Move towards people-based marketing: 

  • Make plans for moving away from cookie-based targeting and measurement. Focus on partnerships that leverage people-based planning and measurement.

3. Understand non-cookie reliant techniques: 

  • Use modelled data -
    • Opportunity to see, or specific media consumption questions can still be used to model probability of exposure where passive exposure tracking is not possible. In some cases, this may be the most appropriate methodology to isolate campaign impact.  
    • Advanced analytics can continue to be used to model campaign impact based on various datasets (such as survey, sales, and media spend/delivery data), to understand total return on investment.
  • Form partnerships with publishers, networks, and measurement companies to match passive exposure and respondent data. These integrations may allow for true cross-publisher, and cross-device measurement going forward. Work with publishers who can identify the exposure of their users on their platforms and deliver surveys within their live environments.
  • Use controlled exposure lab style approaches to compare the effectiveness of content across multiple different media contexts. This approach is being used to measure content such as branded and native content that has been tricky to measure in a natural exposure setting. 
  • Use more experimental designs such as split market geo testing. 
  • Develop custom approaches with purpose-built passive exposure tracking panels (such as using mobile metering). Privacy compliant research panels can already provide a great source of media consumption data and many research companies are increasing the size of their panels to enable more matches with advertiser first-party and third-party data sources.
  • Use server-side APIs that let you share key Web and offline events, or customer actions, directly from your servers to others. This can facilitate data on key lower funnel events being attributed to platforms and potentially stitched together to understand interactions.

4. Watch the development of universal identifiers:

  • Universal Identifiers that enable targeting and measurement of omnichannel initiatives. This will provide marketers with the return on ad spend from publisher partners irrespective of the channel – Web, in-app or CTV.

5. Have a plan for evolving your measurement framework:

  • Clients that can harness multiple measurement systems across various degrees of aggregation will gain competitive advantage.
  • Continuously experiment with and test and validate measurement strategies while incorporating an adaptive and aggregated approach.
  • Look towards a more holistic business success or performance goal and re-evaluate how digital ad effectiveness fits into your overall measurement plan.

It’s important to acknowledge that regardless of the cookie changes, no single measurement tool can perfectly capture all media-exposure, conversion, brand and sales data and then give you actionable insights on an ongoing basis. Success has always and will continue to come from a blended approach to measuring media impact across channels and while the retirement of the third-party cookie does present challenges, it also presents the exciting potential to innovate with privacy at the forefront.  

To that end, marketers should work towards a tailored combination of Market Mix Modelling (for long-term budget decisions), Multi-Touch attribution (for tactical insights and optimisation) and experiments (for validating) that delivers insight for their brand. As the industry continues to change in the coming years, other methods may also become possible.  

More information from the IAB Ad Effectiveness Council about life beyond the cookie, can be found in this paper

Tags: advertising, cookies, Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Australia, data-driven marketing, data-driven advertising, third-party data

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