Cookieless Marketing 101: A Destination Marketer’s Crash Course on the Cookieless World

Dive into essential strategies to navigate the cookieless world effectively.

May 2, 2024

The cookieless era is coming in 2025, and navigating digital marketing requires innovative strategies to reach audiences and drive meaningful engagement. But first, let's tackle the big question: What does "cookieless" mean?

Google's decision to end support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser carries far-reaching implications that extend beyond its own platform. For destination marketers, heavily dependent on third-party data to engage with prospective visitors, this shift may initially appear daunting. Let us simplify these concepts to show you what this entails for your strategies moving forward.

What Does a Cookieless World Mean for DMOs?

The deprecation of third-party cookies poses significant challenges, primarily impacting your ability to effectively target and track users across digital platforms. Without third-party cookies, which have traditionally enabled cross-site tracking and ad targeting, you may struggle to reach your desired audiences with personalized messaging. The loss of third-party cookies complicates the measurement of advertising effectiveness and user engagement. You may find it more difficult to attribute conversions and assess the ROI of your digital marketing efforts accurately.

Now, let’s break down the fundamental concepts of pixels and cookies, shedding light on how they function within your digital marketing ecosystem.

Pixels or Cookies: What’s the Difference?

A pixel, also known as a tag, is a snippet of code embedded within your website's code to gauge the performance of your advertisements and help you understand traveler behavior when they visit. It operates discreetly, without impacting your site's functionality. Pixels work in tandem with third-party cookies to collect and relay user data to advertisers for targeted advertising efforts.

A cookie is a small text file that websites send to your browser and store on your device. These files retain information about your visit, such as language preferences and items in your shopping cart, to enhance your browsing experience for future visits. Virtually all modern websites utilize cookies to personalize your experience and streamline navigation.

There are three main types of data—first-party, second-party, and third-party data:

  • First-party data: Data your business collects from consenting users that interact with your brand.
  • Second-party data: Data a trusted co-partner shares with you in a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Third-party data: Data collected from a third-party organization not linked to the customer, intended to provide more context via underlying data and used in market insights.

Among these, third-party and first-party cookies are the most commonly used and compared. Third-party data, historically favored by marketers for its ease of collection and availability, is now facing challenges due to evolving privacy regulations and the deprecation of third-party cookies.

How Do Pixels and Cookies Work Together?

Let's break down the process step by step:

User Interaction on the Destination's Website:

  • Visitors explore the destination's website, interacting with various content such as filling out a form, and indicating their interest.
  • A pixel embedded in the website detects and records the user's actions, capturing their behavior.

Pixel Records Behavior and Drops a Cookie:

  • The pixel captures the user's behavior, and the server sends relevant data back to the user's browser.
  • An anonymous first-party cookie, associated with the destination's domain, is placed on the user's browser. This cookie acts as a marker, storing information about the user's interactions on the destination's site.
  • Additionally, a third-party cookie from an external domain, like an advertising platform, may also be deployed to gather additional data for cross-site tracking purposes.

Storing Behavior on the Browser:

  • The first-party cookie retains information about the user's behavior directly on the browser, essentially serving as a digital note highlighting the user's interests, such as departure dates.
  • Simultaneously, the third-party cookie (if used) collects supplementary data for tracking user behavior across different sites.

Cookie Alerts the Advertiser:

  • Upon leaving the destination's site and browsing other web pages, the first-party cookie notifies the destination that the user is now active elsewhere online.
  • The third-party cookie, if present, contributes to a broader understanding of the user's behavior across multiple sites.

Serving a Relevant Ad:

  • Equipped with insights from both first-party and third-party cookies, the advertiser determines an opportune moment to re-engage the user.
  • A tailored ad is displayed on external websites, reminding the user of the destination they previously researched.

Capturing Interest and Directing Back to the Site:

  • The targeted ad captures the user's attention, enticing them to click and return to the destination's website.
  • This creates a seamless cycle, reminding the user of their initial interest and encouraging them to take action.

How Do Sojern’s Solutions Solve for the Cookieless World?

We’ve cookie-proofed our partner data targeting capabilities to help you leverage valuable audience data. By partnering with trusted data sources, you can target specific audience segments with personalized messaging, maximizing the impact of your marketing campaigns and driving meaningful results in a cookieless era.

We think about our cookieless solutions in three pillars—Durable Channels, Audiences, and Tactics. These pillars form a flexible strategy designed to help you sustain and improve your performance while being customized to meet your individual requirements and privacy concerns. Now, let's explore the specific meaning and significance of these pillars.

Durable Channels

Tracking view-based conversions is a challenge due to the industry’s reliance on third-party cookies to link ad views to specific actions taken by users. For example, third-party cookies help track when a user views an ad on one website and then later completes a desired action, such as visiting a specific page or making a purchase, on another website. Without these cookies, attributing conversions directly to ads becomes more complex, leading to less straightforward measurement. Advertisers may need to seek alternative approaches for tracking and assigning conversions in this changing environment.

We emphasize boosting the adoption of click-based channels, such as SEM, and cookieless channels like CTV. These channels inherently rely less on cookies, making them more resilient options moving forward.

Durable Audiences

Durable identifiers, particularly hashed emails, IP addresses, and mobile IDs, are instrumental in enabling us to market to users in a permission-based manner, ensuring compliance with privacy regulations.

Advertisers aim to connect with their key audiences consistently, but achieving this requires reconsidering identifiers. Our focus has shifted towards leveraging multiple durable IDs to enhance our targeting capabilities. This approach allows us to offer versatile targeting capabilities and leverage our extensive travel data across various demand-side platforms (DSP), ensuring effective and privacy-compliant audience engagement strategies.

Note: A demand-side platform (DSP) is software that enables advertisers and media buying agencies to bid automatically on ad inventory from multiple publishers.

Durable Tactics

We employ robust tactics such as contextual targeting and solutions from Google’s Privacy Sandbox to navigate the complexities of today’s advertising landscape while upholding our commitment to user privacy.

Contextual Advertising

Contextual advertising revolves around tailoring ads to the context or content of the webpage or app where they appear. This approach eliminates the reliance on user data and tracking cookies, ensuring that ads align closely with the surrounding content. For instance, an ad promoting travel destinations displayed on a travel tips webpage is contextually relevant. By analyzing keywords and themes, contextual advertising delivers ads that resonate with users based on their current interests and activities.

Solutions From Google’s Privacy Sandbox

Striving to develop technologies that safeguard online privacy, the Google Privacy Sandbox initiative aims to provide companies and developers with the tools necessary to build successful digital ventures. The project helps bolster user privacy on the internet while ensuring digital advertising remains effective. It introduces a suite of privacy-centric standards and technologies intended to replace third-party cookies. 

The overarching objective is establishing a more privacy-conscious and secure online advertising ecosystem, fostering user trust and confidence in digital advertising practices.

Moving Forward

Google's move to discontinue third-party cookies presents significant challenges for marketers who heavily depend on third-party data. Without these cookies, traditional methods of audience targeting and tracking become less effective. However, by understanding the fundamentals of cookieless marketing and leveraging innovative strategies such as first-party data collection and contextual targeting, you can continue to engage your audiences and drive meaningful actions moving forward.

To learn more about how you can work with Sojern to prepare your strategies, and stay updated on best practices for your campaigns, reach out to our destination marketing experts today.

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