Cookies are dead – how to boss your social media ads post-iOS 14

5 November 2021

Marketing with cookies is changing

Cookies have been a fundamental tool for marketers for years. So much so, that digital marketers have become reliant on them, not only from a data understanding perspective but also in terms of audience creation and reaching the right people at the right time. 

If you’re new to marketing with cookies, think of them as the fundamental piece of the jigsaw that enables you to leave a valuable ‘crumb’ of data on a user’s computer or mobile device; this crumb means you can remarket to users, monitor their behaviour through Google Analytics, or better understand results and success.

marketing strategy brainstorm

Despite the benefits that come with using cookies, their availability in recent years has caused marketers to relax and over-rely on them for Facebook and Instagram advertising in particular.

Several years on, and that cookie is starting to crumble.

Users are now beginning to opt out of third-party cookies and are more aware and wary of data breaches and intrusive advertising – just look at the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal. The rise of search engines such as DuckDuckGo and Apple’s recent iOS 14 software update has also meant we are seeing even less data sharing across apps and power is going back to the consumer in terms of how their data is being processed. 

What does this mean for marketers?

Moving forward, digital marketers won’t be able to access or utilise the same level of data and information that they were previously. For example, we won’t be able to analyse conversions and results in the same way as we did before.

In addition, these cookie changes mean that your audience targeting is going to become smaller and more restricted, having a huge impact on social media marketing – and in particular, remarketing.

Marketing without cookies

a crumbling marketing cookie

Marketing without cookies is a very different beast to marketing with cookies. It’s time to start thinking outside the box on how to get a product or service in front of a customer. You’ll need to work closely with other stakeholders in your company, getting PPC, email marketing and sales teams together for a more unified approach.

By doing this, you can then start to better develop the marketing and sales funnel. Paid social media may still be a vital part of your marketing process, but you may need to discuss how you’ll need to change the way you’re doing things in order to have a positive impact on your marketing efforts. 

There could be as many as 8-16 marketing touchpoints for customers or clients before they decide to buy, but as marketers, we’ve become lazy. We’ve been putting all our efforts into the first and last touchpoints, and relied on cookies for everything in the middle. It’s time to review and refine your data strategy and stop relying on third-party data sources.

Refining your data strategy

It’s more important now than ever before that your strategy involves first-hand data capture. Start taking more ownership and be in control of the data you own. First-hand data capture needs to be front of mind at the point that you engage with your audience across social channels.

Here’s my model on how to approach this aspect of your marketing efforts: 

Daniel Jenkins' refined data strategy model

Previously, you may have followed the funnel on the left. You’d get your brand in front of your target audience, then you’d engage with them by sharing bits of added value, then re-market to those who are engaged – eventually you may harness conversions.

But what if we refined this slightly? Instead, gather and harvest data about that segment of the market at the point that you engage, not later. By doing this, you can then continue to remarket with first-hand data before generating conversions. 

You can implement this strategy by building personalised landing pages before automating and streamlining your process through an effective CRM; once you’ve spent your time creating useful resources, the process of audience segmentation and how email addresses are grouped can be automated.

By developing effective tools to capture data and then collating and organising your gathered data, you’re able to remarket to a GDPR-compliant audience without the need for cookies; you’re ticking all the boxes whilst being in control of bringing the right people to your brand. This audience data can be used to remarket through email communications, or you can upload your database of contacts to Facebook to build audiences for your paid social media campaigns.

Contextual and behavioural advertising

There is another way.

For years we have focused on remarketing to people who have shown an interest specifically in your brand, showing ads to people who have visited your website previously. However, a lack of data sharing will have an impact on this, and ad blockers are being used far more frequently now.  

According to a HubSpot report, a number of users say that they find Facebook and Instagram ads are annoying and are starting to switch off to them…  so are we really getting a positive message out to the right people, in the right place, at the right time? Users are utilising ad blockers because they feel like they’re being followed, and these ads are intrusive and personal – almost too personal sometimes – and that wouldn’t reflect too well on your brand.

facebook logos on binocular lenses representing behavioural advertising

To overcome this negative sentiment towards your company and your advertising content, you can replace retargeting altogether by implementing contextual and behavioural advertising. Consumers are spending more time doing their own research, with around 82% of customers consulting their phone before making an in-store purchase. It’s now in our DNA to research, research and research before purchasing, looking at brands’ content and other, similar content across the web. Interestingly, as marketers, our reliance on third-party data has meant we’ve pushed contextual advertising and banner ads to the side, not focusing on them for our marketing strategy. But it’s time to start thinking about these again, and quickly.

The benefits of contextual and behavioural advertising

With banner ads, users don’t need to have visited the site before for this to appear – they can include a message in the right context of the page. Get your ad next to the right content, and try to capture them at the right time in the conversion funnel without the need for social media retargeting. 

In this example, you might ‘front load’ your paid social media campaigns to get the message to the top of the funnel to reach out to the right audience, and then we can implement contextual advertising through Google’s display network, for example, and behavioural advertising to support that, having a key role to play in your marketing funnel. This is because the same people who are going to be engaging with the top of the funnel aspects are then going to be seeing the other signals in the other places they go to; it’s all about understanding your customer profile and customer journey, and building these personas is more important as we go into 2022.

Embracing YouTube as a paid social media channel

YouTube is the second most used search engine in the world, falling only behind Google in the popularity race.

As with Google Ads, YouTube advertising enables you to advertise based on keyword targeting rather than remarketing. As an alternative paid social media channel, we can get our ads in front of people in the right place of the funnel to users who are actively searching for your product or service. 

user browsing on youtube as a paid social channel

Changes to remarketing through Google

The Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) proposes a new way for businesses to reach people with relevant content and ads by clustering large groups of people with similar interests. Unlike cookie-based advertising, Google will start putting users into categories based on behaviours. This means that through various advertising forms, you can still reach people with a strong desire for your product or service.

Google states that “advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising”. Essentially, Google can look at users’ interests and behaviours without the need for cookies; they don’t need to visit a website in order to be a converting customer. 

What does the future look like?

Let’s face it: it’s time to move away from our reliance on cookies.

In 2023, Google is going to be tightening up significantly in this area, so you’ve got time to prepare for these changes. You should anticipate that platforms will want to have more control over users that are subscribed to them to enable advertisers to advertise more effectively. In addition, Google is also going to start focusing more heavily on FLoC and contextual / behavioural advertising.

Meanwhile, Facebook has recently launched features such as the Facebook Bulletin – this is a community of writers which crucially requires you to have to log in to engage with and read content. Whilst you’re doing this, Facebook is going to be learning more about the user – will this lead to more tailored ads to those customers who have engaged more with certain content types or industries? Probably.

Your Action Plan

Remember to:

  • Be targeted, focussed and appropriate without being ‘intrusive’ and ‘creepy’. 
  • Invest more in ads to generate brand awareness, ‘feed the funnel’ and remove remarketing altogether. 
  • Consider tactics in synergy, not isolation. Look at the value of assisted conversions and acknowledge how each of these actions fed into the final conversion. You can do this through Google Analytics, and this is how this might look like in practice:
Daniel Jenkins' data action plan without using cookies

Here’s what you can do to prepare for these new changes and a cookie-free approach:

  1. Build or improve your customer profiling – understand the target market as best as you can.
  2. Develop your customer journey – define and analyse routes to conversion.
  3. Gather more first-hand data – stop relying on third-party cookies and improve the GDPR-compliant audience that you have
  4. Start reporting on assisted conversions – this will help to really communicate success internally to the team and externally to clients
  5. Consider replacing remarketing altogether 
  6. Stay one step ahead of the curve – think about FLoC as the whole cookie landscape is going to change dramatically over the coming months
Wagada's Daniel Jenkins presenting his talk at BrightonSEO

Wagada Digital’s Strategic Marketing Manager, Daniel Jenkins, spoke at BrightonSEO’s Paid Social Show. In his talk “Cookies are dead – how to boss your social media ads post-iOS 14”, Daniel covered paid social media remarketing and how to create successful Facebook Ad campaigns. To watch Dan’s talk at BrightonSEO, then you can register to watch the online recording here. If you would like to download Dan’s slide deck for the talk, click here to get access.