6 Reasons Cookie-Based Marketing Has Gone Stale

In today’s hyper-connected society, digital devices have put a world of information at the fingertips of most consumers. Yet the rich engagement data associated with these interactions often feels just out of reach for most marketers.

The promise of these connected devices is to bring together more marketers and customers when it matters the most, with the messaging that will resonate the most. While this constant connection should be helping to make people-based marketing a reality, why does it feels harder than ever to achieve?

The answer lies in the technology traditionally associated with digital marketing known as web cookies. This browser-based technology dates back to the mid-1990s, when internet usage was limited to the desktop. Cookie-based marketing was a valid solution to target customers online, though never perfect even then.

Why the Cookies Are Crumbling

Today, consumers can access the internet from any number of different devices, including mobile phones, tablets, computers or wearables. The flaws that previously existed with cookie-based marketing and targeting have become even more apparent, along with a whole host of new issues.

  1. They are device-specific, not person-specific.

    Cookies are device-level identifiers associated with a single browser, which means that they aren’t a reliable way of mapping to an individual. For one, multiple cookies could exist for the same person using more than one device or browser. It also means inaccurate identification if several people share any one computer or device because they are also sharing those cookies. If true people-based marketing is meant to target people, using a technology that targets devices creates more challenges than solutions.

  1. Cookies expire.

    Much like a bag of Oreos, web cookies have a shelf life and an expiration date. This can range anywhere from a single session to several months, depending on the cookie’s originating server or a user’s personal settings, browser, anti-virus software or voluntary deletion. All this considered, experts estimate that within a 30 day window, about 50 percent of cookies will only be seen one time, and then never again.
    Because of this, marketers who rely on cookie-based targeting do not always have an accurate view of the customer journey or their place within it. Reach is over-exaggerated when the same customer is counted as new each time a cookie is expired or deleted. This, in combination with the loss of historical views on web behavior, often results in an over-saturation of irrelevant messaging.

  1. They don’t exist in mobile apps.

    Today, 86 percent of consumers’ mobile time is spent within apps, which do not support cookies. This means that marketers can’t connect this valuable mobile app data to the rest of the customer’s journey.

  1. They aren’t consistent or effective on most mobile browsers.

    With more mobile-only consumers than desktop-only consumers, mobile is an increasingly valuable way to reach customers. Unfortunately, third-party cookies are blocked on Apple’s mobile browser, Safari, which claimed 55 percent of US mobile browser usage last year. Cookies do work on Google’s Chrome browser and the Android OS, but they don’t function successfully within most other smartphone or tablet browsers. The lost opportunities associated with this inconsistency can be staggering for marketers.

  1. The user experience suffers.

    Between slower page load time and site response times, the user experience (and the tax on data plans associated with it) has suffered. This has lead to broken customer experiences and the prevalence of ad blockers, neither of which furthers people-based marketing strategies.

  1. They are not future-proof.

    If cookies are already depreciating in today’s mobile world, what will happen in four years when over 50 billion connected products, from wearables to TVs, are estimated to exist? Most of these devices will likely operate in cookie-free environments, continuing to decrease the usability of cookies and increase a marketer’s need for alternative technology.

A Fresh Solution for Targeting People, Not Cookies

As cookies continue to lose relevance, marketers who want to reach actual customers and serve them personalized, meaningful messages, must re-evaluate their data collection technologies and decide if their investment is paying off.

Forward-looking marketing platforms enable disruptive solutions to close the identity gaps created by cookies. New technologies are elevating identity to the level of a person, instead of a device. Tying devices and data to customer identity for the long term is only possible with a cloud-based persistent identifier such as an anonymized email address. Unlike a cookie, an email address is durable and won’t expire, serving as the anchor that stiches an individual’s fragmented identity together across browsers, devices, and channels. And because a customer profile centers around an ID that’s persistent, that profile continues to grow and evolve with each customer interaction.

Marketers know what they want to accomplish, and the technology exists to enable their cross-device, people-based marketing strategies.

Ask your technology partners how they are planning to address this connected, cross-channel world where the role of cookies is crumbling. If your technology doesn’t support your strategy, now is the time to close that gap before it widens even further.


Originally published February 09, 2016

Marc Kiven

As an industry veteran and the founder of Signal, Marc Kiven has a wealth of digital marketing expertise from senior executive roles at aQuantive (Avenue A | Razorfish and Atlas), Right Media and Centro. Marc serves as a director on the Signal board, is an active participant in the IAB and also a frequent speaker at digital marketing events including OMMA, DMA and TechWeek.

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