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Now, not later, is the time to figure out your first-party data strategy

A broken chocolate chip cookie sits on a browser window parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Shutterstock / The Current

Winter is a season of rest, relaxation, and reflection. It can even be a time for hibernation to prepare for the new year.

But lethargy, at least when it comes to preparing a first-party data strategy for a post-cookie world, could mean being left behind as 2024 rolls around and the identity revolution really gains momentum.

Google has yet again promised a phaseout of cookies next year. This time, however, it’s different. Because whether the search giant keeps to its promise or not, smart marketers are ready to move forward anyway.

How else can they best take advantage of the burgeoning opportunity in channels like connected TV and retail media, which are growing by double digits.

"You may not need to be first in activating your first-party data strategy, but you don’t want to be last."

A lot of brands that used to be big linear TV advertisers are now moving money to connected TV. The recent announcement of Freely by Britain’s major broadcasters underlines that the future of TV is digital. When you bring first-party data to these channels, you can start to unlock serious addressability, efficiency, and performance.

Still, some industry players are cautious. They may wonder if they’re doing it right. Or if they’re moving fast enough. Or, perhaps most of all, if Google is really going ahead with this. To them, I say this: You may not need to be first in activating your first-party data strategy, but you don’t want to be last.

Audience data is a publisher’s most valuable form of first-party data, but this becomes even richer with behavioral, transactional, and preference data. This all becomes redundant if the publisher doesn’t have the right consent mechanisms in place to ensure they are compliant with applicable privacy laws and ready for a completely cookie-less world.

Those publishers without a robust first-party data strategy face multiple risks. For one, I believe they will be at a massive disadvantage against their competitors — unable to differentiate to attract more ad budgets. They’re also at risk of breaching applicable privacy laws. Perhaps inadvertently, but that doesn’t make it any less serious.

Most of all, without personalization around content, publishers will struggle to keep their core users engaged.

The stakes for brands may be even higher. I believe overdependence on third-party data will bring forth issues on accuracy, privacy concerns, and inadequacy in the face of regulatory changes.

Without first-party data, marketers’ understanding of their customers will be limited. That could lead to reduced personalization and a “spray and pray” approach to ads — not a recipe for successful marketing in service of business growth. At least not in today’s environment, where consumers’ expectations are high.

Ultimately, inefficient campaigns may lead executives to question why they are not getting the results they expect from their marketing budgets.

Some marketers wonder if they have enough first-party data, or if what they have is of sufficient quality. They may also question whether clean rooms and CDPs (customer data platforms) are necessary. Those aren’t easy to answer, but the time to ask is now.

Good first-party data is fresh, clean, and collected in a consented, compliant way. It should be refreshed and reviewed regularly. A good partner can help marketers understand and refine their strategy in this space.

Not all are playing catch-up. We’ve seen brands that are very well prepared — they are looking to activate their first-party data, they are exploring how it interoperates with other IDs, and some are even testing new IDs, like EUID. These brands are pioneering a new approach to identity that will help them preserve the value of relevant advertising while improving controls for consumers.

The internet today is vastly different from its earliest days in the mid-1990s, and with it, the development of cookies to keep track of what was in a consumer’s shopping basket. The internet has evolved. And cookies were applied to things they were never designed for. The rise of connected TV, retail media, and audio, to name but a few, are environments that don’t even rely on cookies and are built for identity frameworks that work across today’s fragmented and expanding media landscape.

In some ways, the deprecation of cookies, whether Google delays again or not, has already happened. This reminds me of the way GDPR triggered industrywide change. Only this time, marketers don’t have to settle for a mad, last-minute scramble to figure it all out.

The Current is owned and operated by The Trade Desk, Inc.