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Retrograde Marketing: How Moving Back Helps You Move Forward

By Crystal McFerran, CMO | The 20 

Google has announced that Chrome will drop support for third-party cookies before 2022. While they aren’t the first to do so, they are the largest browser by market share to do so. Marketing is about to have a major lateral move where some parts move backwards as other parts move forward to compensate.

The death of third-party cookies isn’t going to be the ad apocalypse of 2021 that some marketing firms claim it will be, but it will be the death of an entire methodology. Data didn’t get diminished, it got different. If you’re ready for the changes, or at least receptive to acknowledging things are about to get much different, you’re ahead of most companies. This is a grand reset of the marketing ecosystem with an old premise brought forward to today.

Learning from the lessons of the past will enable to you to adapt to the lessons of tomorrow once this change hits the ground running. Yes, things are about to get harder for a while, but they’re also going to be harder across the board. That includes for your competition. Capitalize on the chaos and use the foundational principles of marketing, and you can and will prosper.

Third to First: Move Back to Move Forward

It’s a bit of a misnomer that the death of third-party cookies corresponds to the death of analytics. The rumor feels like it’s mostly been quashed, but I still hear echos of it from time to time. Good first-party data and analytics were essential before tracking networks were even feasible, and they’re going to make a return. You may lose action to the connections, but it’s possible to get a very good picture without leaving your domain.

People tend to forget that if people are opting in, you still have their data. If they’re on your email list, if you place or generate the link, etc., you can still collect data on them as a first party. The same tricks that worked in the late 90’s and early 2000’s are still used today. You may lose some of the granularity, but imagination and experience easily fills in the detail.

How are you collecting data and what are you doing with it? How a customer, client, or prospect is using your website or interacting with your content is just as valuable as ever. Your ad targeting will get much more narrow and general, but will also get cheaper on average (when the dust finally settles). We already started going back to older models where advertisements almost need a bribe in technical circles. A business doesn’t put out their white paper for the benefit of humankind after all.

Content Is King: Back to Basics

The first rule of running a business is to have something someone wants, and the same applies to marketing. People buy something because they’re looking to solve a problem or because they want to buy a feeling. People want content because they’re looking to learn something or find out about a product. Why not do both at once? Content is still king and you need to get competitive with it.

You need content people want to view. Almost every industry is saturated with ads and gimmicks, but how can you get people to come forward to pick your ad and marketing rather than trying to push it down their throats? A blog article that solves a problem can also point all signs towards your offering. You can push a white paper that covers what you discovered behind an email list to get them into your pipeline.

Content should be part of your marketing cadence plan to scale your marketing outreach. People don’t just want an email with details written out, they want something aesthetic, easy to digest, and full of the details relevant to what they’re looking to accomplish. They want a holistic package which balances the information with the glitter to really shine. The exact balance will depend on your audience and what you’re selling.

What can you provide to get people to volunteer to learn about your solution? How can you provide valuable content to begin to monetize your actual value? SEO and marketing cadence are going to decide the next rounds until something new comes along. How are you building a marketing cadence and building your SEO strategy with quality content?

Hitting the Digital Pavement: Get Back Out There

Think of this change as getting laid off with a favorable severance package and a strong safety net. You do need to make changes to keep going, but you have some time to wrap your head around the changes. While the jump when third-party cookies finally die is going to be abrupt, the principles you’ve learned and used will continue to serve as long as you’re willing to make changes, especially if you start testing things now. The service you used for data and metadata may shift to a quick lesson in Excel for analytics.

While you probably can’t just hit the pavement to sell a service or find a job even now, doing the digital equivalent can set you above your peers or competition. SEO tips from 20 years ago may be heavily dated, but the principles themselves are more relevant than ever (such as having good content). We’re moving back in terms of what we have access to, but not what we can do with it. Data may get “simpler”, but how we work with the data can get more and more complex with the right application.

Pay-gated services are going to get heavily shuffled, and necessity will necessitate innovation once more. Things are going to get a bit chaotic before we get some serious changes. It’s a new frontier, temporarily, but you have a chance to make a breakthrough ahead of your competition. Hit that digital pavement and ask around and go back to basics deciphering how to make sense of the new world of marketing.

Retrograde vs. Regressive

There’s a difference between moving back and moving backwards. Go back to the principles but not backwards in the practice. Technology has changed the game and will never be less important than it is now. Make more sense of your analytics and you make more sense of all analytic processes (assuming the data hits a certain standard). If you have the concepts down, we’re moving back in available data not potential.

The move from third-party cookies will hurt the marketing industry as a whole at first, but it is also a chance to see the playing field leveled. It’s also a chance to see a better balance between the creep factor of profiles and the idealized prospect. Marketing and advertising had been beholden to the paradox of choice with data and ways to weight it.

Third party sources each held varying levels of value and none of them agreed with the other. 100 views was 110 on one platform, 91 on another, etc. While I made the numbers themselves up, I’ve seen data that varied (or more) between sources on individual data points. We see data after it has been through the black box of the almighty algorithm which gives each service its edge. Some remove data, others don’t, and others count data which is near erroneous everywhere else for the sake of completeness. The problem is, no one tells you what they actually do before you get the data.

What you see is what you get, but what they got isn’t what they necessarily started with. You just never know. Your data you can understand and thoroughly shape, but outside data may have a differing foundation. Use the principles that worked on a more limited internet and not the contemporary trends. Move back not backwards.