Navigating the Post-Cookie Era: User Identity and First-Party Data Strategies


In the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing, the imminent demise of third-party cookies has been a recurring topic over the past few years. As major players like Google explore alternatives such as FLOC and the Topics API within privacy sandboxes, brands are left pondering the future of performance marketing. The question arises: Is this the end, or is it a new beginning for a more personalised and consumer-centric approach?

Navigating this challenging world requires two points of focus. Firstly, as outlined in The Pace of Progress, dentsu’s 2024 Media Trends Report, as third-party cookies will likely be deprecated in 2024, there is a new push on user identity. Secondly, at dentsu X, we believe in Experience Beyond Exposure, emphasising a shift from mere impressions to meaningful brand interactions across the customer journey. Bringing these together we can craft experiences that captivate attention, provide immediate value to the customer, align with the prevailing culture influencing decisions, and seamlessly integrate with other interactions allows us to not only meet, but surpass the outcomes achieved by cookies.

The Myth of Cookie-Driven Success

Cookies were initially hailed as the holy grail for understanding customer interactions across online advertising environments, promising a meticulously crafted customer journey that led to increased sales. However, the reality paints a different picture. As media platforms become walled gardens and campaigns span multiple full-funnel purchase efforts, the success rate of cookie-based retargeting dwindles. Across various campaigns, approximately only 10% of conversions were attributed to cookie-based retargeting.

Perhaps this relentless pursuit of retargeting pools may be missing the mark. Are we so focused on chasing specific customers and KPIs that we overlook potential conversions from customers exhibiting in-category behaviour? The limitations of cookies become even more apparent as data reveals that approximately 90% of digital conversions stem from a single click on a search ad, bypassing the cookie pool entirely.

Qualifying the Customer Journey

As the industry undergoes a paradigm shift with the demise of cookies, we have a huge opportunity to more broadly qualify the customer journey using alternative data sources. At dentsu X, through our Consumer Connection Study we leverage a wealth of data from the industry's longest-running people-based behaviour and media survey. By merging this data with insights and known customer IDs from media owners such as ITV, Meta, and YouTube, we create a comprehensive segmentation that informs planning and buying across media.

This unified approach doesn't stop there. Armed with a ground truth of customer segment knowledge, we incorporate client data to refine targeting, excluding or upweighting specific segments. This ensures a more precise understanding of who we are talking to. When we overlay data to qualify customers in the purchase journey, integrating retail media or purchase data, we are able to comprehend not just who they are but also their history with the brand and likely place in the purchase journey.

This unification of data across media environments results in a baseline of customer truth that has been proven to drive substantial improvements, with performance and brand messaging seeing enhancements ranging from 20 to 40%.

Understanding Customer Motivations

The second pillar of our strategy involves a deeper understanding of the customer journey and motivations. Rather than broadcasting generic messages to broad audiences, our approach taps into the wealth of available data to discern what customers truly need at different stages of their journey.

For example, if a customer is passively engaged with a category, our goal is to reach the broadest audience with distinctive and general messages, strategically placed in high-attention environments. As the customer progresses towards active consideration, messages shift to cueing them about relevant products or services, priming and nudging them with benefit-driven content. Finally, when customers are actively searching and exhibiting buying behaviour, personalisation at scale becomes crucial, delivering tailored messages that provide compelling and meaningful reasons to choose our brand.

To summarise, the end of third-party cookies need not signify the end of effective performance marketing. Instead, it presents an opportunity for a paradigm shift toward more personal, user-centric strategies. By qualifying the customer journey through diverse data sources and deeply understanding customer motivations, brands can navigate the post-cookie era with confidence. At dentsu X, our blueprint for success lies in Experience Beyond Exposure, ensuring every brand interaction is meaningful, valuable, and seamlessly connected across the entire customer journey. As we bid farewell to cookies, we usher in a new era of marketing innovation and customer-centricity.

The Pace of Progress, dentsu’s 14th annual Media Trends report is now live, in which we explore the opportunities, challenges, and intricacies of ten trends expected to set the pace of progress in the coming year. Download your copy of the full report here.