When Google announced its decision last month to rein in the tracking of web users by 2022, digital marketers and industry pundits seemed to immediately pin their hopes on first-party data. After all, first-party data is supplied by individual consumers to a business or publisher, in exchange for something the consumer values, be it access to content, special pricing, or products. In theory, it's the ultimate consensual exchange of data.
In reality, some brands are better positioned to take advantage of this value exchange than others. Fashionable, digital-native brands have long been leaders here. Glossier, for example, has used its blog “Into the Gloss” to mine market insights  while building its consumer database since 2014. Likewise, DTC wine brand Usual Wines uses SMS to chat with customers about which wines pair well with their food and more. That's clutch info even when your pandemic charcuterie plate is for one.
But certain categories, like CPG brands, have a tougher row to hoe when it comes to collecting first-party data. Most consumers don't have a direct relationship with these brands, they only interact with them on the grocery store shelves or the pharmacy case. Their connection is totally mediated by the retailer. Many CPG brands don't have the slick web presence of other categories, largely because their businesses have historically been tied to brick and mortar stores or, alternatively, large online retailers like Amazon. (Even hardcore practitioners of oral hygiene probably don't spend much time on CrestWhiteSmile.com, the online home of Crest White Strips.) In either case, these are not brands forging personal relationships with their customers.
While Google has a way of kicking their cookie-ban down the road, brands without a trove of first-party data are now caught on their back foot. They might try launching a sweepstakes or rewards system, but if they want to ramp up first-party data, they'll have to get in front of people. We recently spoke with DTC experts about how digital native brands—whose marketing is reliant on a 1:1 relationship—scale their businesses, and they outlined a two-step process:
Step 1: Targeting within walled gardens: According to DTC specialists we've talked to, the quickest way to scale from zero is a targeted campaign within Facebook and Instagram, Amazon, or Google. Those networks are vast, and yet even they have their limits. At some point, your brand will saturate your target audience, potentially turning them off to your offer.
Step 2: Audience-targeted display campaigns: Once advertisers reach their limits on those platforms, they'll have to turn to targeted display campaigns to drive awareness of their brands and special offers. There's a near-limitless audience here, but there is a ticking clock. Once third-party cookies disappear, they're going to have to find another way.
The starting shot has already been fired in the race to collect first-party data, but when third-party data disappears, there's another trifecta marketers can bet on—a meaty offer promoted in an eye-grabbing creative execution and contextually targeted to an engaged audience.
Our tool Verity allows advertisers to customize targeting based on the IAB's most recent taxonomy, major seasonal events, and sentiment analysis. Want to promote a branded fitness newsletter in articles about post-pandemic weight loss? Or a recipe contest on a page about healthy snacks for kids? Verity can do both of those things while allowing advertisers to safeguard against dicey topics like COVID deaths or childhood obesity.
Advertisers know that contextual advertising drives engagement. They also know it's not vulnerable to the vicissitudes of privacy advocates or legislation because it doesn't rely on personal data. That's probably why more than half of brand marketers and agency executives told Digiday that they plan to invest in contextual advertising in order to compensate for the loss of third-party cookies.
In a post-cookie world, brand marketers who rediscover the beauty of creativity and context will come out ahead on first-party data.