Affiliate marketing in a world without cookies
Cookies, the files created by websites you visit that save your browsing information, are becoming an endangered species.
Affiliates and their operator partners must now rethink what data they have, what data they actually need, and how to get this data in a post-cookies world.
For proactive, forward-thinking companies, all is not lost.
Things to bear in mind about cookies
- Cookies don’t just improve advertising targeting but user experience too
If you think a cookieless world is an advertising problem for advertisers to solve, think again. Cookies are used by sites to keep you signed in, remember passwords and site preferences, and give you locally relevant content. They play a valuable part in your everyday browsing experience.
- There’s more than one type of cookie
First-party cookies are created by the sites you visit. This is the data you collect on your audience based on their behaviours directly on your site or app.
Second-party data basically comes from someone else’s first-party data.
Third-party cookies are created by third-party sites – aka advertising and BI platforms you likely have not visited. Third-party data is a collection of multiple first-party data sources aggregated across websites and applications by independent companies. Only this third-party cookie is being phased out.
- This is part of a larger, longer-term trend
The ‘death of the third-party cookie’ has been playing out for years.
In 2019, EU courts ruled that users must actively consent to all analytics cookies when they log on to a website. If they don’t, the website can’t drop analytics or web tracking cookies on the user’s browser. This was the infamous GDPR ruling that requires explicit (rather than implicit) opt-in before any analytics or web tracking cookies can be placed on a browser.
Apple has been rolling out plans to make certain mobile cookies opt-in only, which will prevent cross-device tracking of visitors.
Google announced its plans to phase out cookies in early 2020. The tech giant explained that this move was being done in response to online consumers demanding greater privacy, transparency and control over how their data is used.
Google is again making headlines after recently announcing that it will NOT be developing any alternative solutions that track users across different sites.
So now what?
While things look grim for third-party cookies, savvy affiliates and operators must now shift focus to first-party data strategies, meaning you’ll need to create, manage and update your own customer profiles directly using your own data.
While you’ll soon lose the ability to see data related to your visitor’s behaviours on other websites, with a first-party cookie, you’ll still be able to learn about what a user did while visiting your website, see how often they visit it, and gain other basic analytics that can help you develop or automate an effective marketing strategy around them.
Strategies for shifting to a first-party-data-first approach
- Build relationships
Developing strong relationships with customers has always been important for brands, and this relationship-building becomes even more critical in a cookieless world.
Be transparent about how customer data is being used. Give your customers more control over what data is collected. Show you responsibly (and securely) collect, store and use this data.
- Offer value in exchange for data
When data is used to deliver value through customised offers and loyalty programmes, then customers will be more willing to share their information. This is where personalisation and localisation become all the more important. For example, customers will be more likely to share their location with you if it unlocks geo-specific games, rather than simply opening them up to more ads.
- Continue to think holistically across different channels
First-party data is collected directly from your audience. It’s collected first-hand. This means first-party data doesn’t need to be collected on your site exclusively.
Even after the cookie-pocalypse, you can use data from any of the following sources to continue predicting user behaviour patterns in a similar manner: site and app data; CRM data; data from the social media profiles and activities of your followers; data from subscription-based emails; and good old-fashioned surveys and customer feedback.
- Speed will be even more important
Personalisation needs to happen instantly to truly deliver the best possible experience and delight your customers. As actions are taken across channels, you need to be able to update a customer’s profile in near real-time. Whether a customer has opted in or out of a programme, you need to deliver personalised experiences in seconds, not days.
Proven strategies to both acquire and leverage first-party data
- Loyalty programmes
In this industry, loyalty programmes should be one of your primary first-party data sources. You can create custom offers, discounts, redeemable points and personalised promotions for loyalty members to increase engagement with your brand.
Someone would be more likely to tell you who their favourite team is if they know you’ll use that information to make their experience better, rather than simply advertise ‘at’ them.
- New channels
Advertising targeting options are going to be impacted when third-party cookies go away. If your goal is to have more ways to reach users, consider exploring new channels and offerings that might be a fit. For example, you might create a TikTok account if research suggests your audience is active there. Another example would be offering freeplay games in a state that doesn’t yet offer regulated sports betting.
- Build your brand
The B-word can make many decision-makers cringe, but that’s largely a result of all of the direct-response, bottom-of-funnel targeting options we’ve had access to over the years. These targeting options are the exact ones that are going away!
If you need to start collecting more first-party data, you need to do a better job of making users want to give you their info in the first place.
Start by giving your customers content they actually want. You may have to spend some time building your brand into a trusted name people believe in, can relate to, and frequently interact with.
Leverage second-party data – assuming it’s still trusted, compliant and accurate.
- Freeplay games
Freeplay games are a powerful acquisition and retention tool for affiliates, media companies and operators. They give players a reason to engage with your brand, provide content that adds huge value and rewards them for sharing their information with you.
The bottom line
If you’re relying on online advertising, pop-up ads, and high-tech audience-targeting tools, you need to consider alternative, first-party data strategies as soon as possible.
Use this as an opportunity to make your brand even safer from similar changes in the future. Ask yourself, “How can I reach my audiences without cookies, hyper-targeted ads, and massive amounts of third-party data?” and you’ll be presented with numerous opportunities for build loyalty, community and your brand.
The death of third-party cookies is inevitable. The death of effective customer acquisition and retention is not. Personalisation, localisation and transparency will see you through.