How Contextual Targeting Can Help Your Marketing Strategy Survive the Cookie’s Coming Demise


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The concept of the digital cookie is an interesting one. These bite-sized pieces of data help identify who you are and streamline your experience on a website.

Cookies remove the need to enter information repeatedly and can help with remembering settings and preferences. However, the use of third-party cookies (that is, personal site data harvested and shared with others without your consent) is in an ethically gray area — which is why Google and others are appropriately phasing them out.

The question is, what can business owners and marketers do to keep the benefits of a streamlined digital experience when they find themselves operating in a cookie-less online space? Let’s explore the end of the cookie and how contextual targeting can help fill the gap that it will leave in many marketing strategies.

contextual targeting

The End of the Third-Party Cookies

The cookie has been dying a slow death for a while now. Major browser brands like Apple, Mozilla, and Google have announced that they have plans to phase out third-party cookies, in particular.

The good news is that businesses have little breathing room to prepare. Google, for example, has already delayed the phase-out until the second half of 2024 (and there’s no guarantee it will happen by then, either).

First-party cookies are still an option. Those are pieces of consumer data that businesses gather directly from their site’s visitors with their consent and only for use on their site. But first-party cookies are much harder to come by.

Rather than accept the inevitable, businesses should be proactive in looking for alternatives to cookies. One of the best options on the market at the moment? Contextual targeting.

What Is Contextual Targeting?

As the name implies, contextual targeting is the concept of providing ads that are targeted based on the context of a situation.

Also referred to as “contextual advertising,” IBM further details the term’s definition thusly, “Contextual advertising uses various factors to determine which content is most relevant to users when placing an ad. It targets potential customers by relying on context such as the content of a webpage, location or weather.”

The tech giant adds that modern capabilities, such as machine learning, also factor into the mix. These can utilize data science to create hyper-targeted contextually based advertisements. With the current explosion in AI development, this ability to use computers to automate processing will only make contextual targeting more possible — and accessible — to small businesses.

Examples of Contextual Targeting

The possibility of using context to direct ad placement is a viable alternative to cookies, in theory. But what does it look like in practice? There are a few different answers to the question. Here are a few examples.

Time-Sensitive Marketing

Time-sensitive marketing is the art of using data and analytics to reach the right consumers at the right moment in the customer journey. Rather than use cookies gleaned from past behavior, predictive analytics help identify prospective consumers who are in the consideration phase of the marketing funnel for a certain product or service.

This requires sophisticated algorithms and marketing tools — both of which are becoming more accessible to businesses. For instance, Nativo, a native advertising platform, put this concept into action with a recent campaign for a Japanese automaker. The result was a 50% reduction in CPA (cost per acquisition).

Segmenting Your Target Audience

Improving your target audience is a proactive form of contextual targeting. In this case, rather than aiming for time-sensitive encounters with prospects, you take a step back and consider what those prospects are in the first place.

Target audiences are part of the course with any competent marketer. However, if a small business wants to overcome the precision gap created by a cookie-less world, it must go further by embracing customer segmentation. Hootsuite emphasizes this as a key way to create marketing messages that are more relevant to each portion of your target audience.

Amplifying Affinity

Time-sensitive marketing is nearly instantaneous. Segmented marketing provides short-term inspiration that should be tweaked and adjusted as audiences, offerings, and goals change. Brand affinity goes to the opposite end of the marketing spectrum.

By building brand affinity over the long term, you align yourself with customer beliefs, values, and expectations. Amazon advertising makes the important distinction that true brand loyalty goes beyond repeat business. Repeat customers also associate positive feelings with patronizing a brand over time. This overcomes the need for cookies by creating an invested and informed audience that buys into what you stand for as a company and continues to engage with you over time.

Maintaining a Competitive Edge With Your Marketing

Marketing continues to be a core brand-building activity, and it won’t stop simply because cookies go away. Brands must remain creative as they look for new ways to promote their products and services.

Contextual targeting is a multi-faceted way to meet customers on their terms. From predictive analytics to segmented audiences to brand affinity, putting context front and center gives brands the best chance of remaining relevant in the eyes of consumers and maintaining a competitive edge over the competition as they move forward into a cookie-less future.

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Image: Envato Elements



Larry Alton Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.