Cookieless Analytics is an Ultra-Marathon (Not a Sprint)
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Cookieless Analytics is an Ultra-Marathon (Not a Sprint)

There are many inspiring correlations between sports and business. I recently had one of these experiences while playing a supporting role in an ultramarathon that informed my perspective on how the marketing and analytics industries should approach the impending demise of third-party cookies.

Ultramarathons are long-distance races, often on trails in mountains. Distances can range from 50 miles (a little more than 80 kilometers) to 100 miles (a little more than 160 kilometers). Ultramarathoners train extensively to get their legs ready for over 24 hours of running and aggressive hiking. They rely on a crew to deliver equipment and food to aid stations along the course. Many ask pacers to help provide moral support on the trail. I recently paced a friend who was running his fourth Wasatch 100, an ultramarathon in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, Utah.

When I started pacing my friend, he had already covered 47 miles over 12 hours. Unfortunately, the sun was out in full force that day and it sapped his energy. By the time my 21-mile segment with him was complete, my friend was contemplating pulling out of the race.

But he didn’t give up. Somehow, he found the will to continue and I handed him off to his next pacer. They commenced the climb up another mountain and I got some sleep.

When I awoke a few hours later, I was excited to learn that my friend was making good time, even picking up speed. I drove to the finish line and arrived in time to see him powering past other runners to finish with a personal record time just under 32 hours.

It was the most inspiring transformation I’ve ever witnessed in sport; the epitome of mind over matter. He didn’t let the difficulties of the previous night stop him from putting one foot in front of the other. He didn’t give up. Watching him finish his race was inspiring.

How does this relate to third-party cookies?

The prevailing sentiment today is that by setting browser defaults to not allow third-party cookies, contextual marketing and advertising will not be possible. This negative attitude misses the opportunity to form stronger connections with customers and to improve the technical infrastructure associated with marketing. The path forward may not be easy, but there is no reason for savvy marketers to drop out of the race.

Browsers will likely default to not enabling third-party cookies because their customers, Internet users, are concerned about their privacy. And rightly so. We’ve all encountered situations where an advertisement was just too relevant. None of us like the feeling of being watched. Yet with third-party cookies, our Internet journeys have been on full display. The real-world corollary would be if Walmart hired people to follow you around when you were at Target, watching what you browsed and what you bought, and then brought you products you might be interested in when you made it to Walmart. Oh, and they’d be yelling at you while you’re trying to make dinner or watch TV – “Hey Marcel, come to Walmart! We’ve got what you need!”

Definitely creepy! Yet we put up with it. There is a better way.

Adobe has assembled an extensive thought piece on the matter. A statement near the top stands out to me.

Not only can you survive without the third-party cookie—you can thrive in a completely new digital marketing world where customer relationships are built on a foundation of real-time engagement and trust.(Thinking Beyond the Third Party Cookie (

This engagement and trust may seem scary. It may seem a long way off, but it is closer and easier than you think. No need to go to a dark place. How does one build a foundation of trust?

  1. By initiating relationships with a partnership perspective
  2. By delivering value at every stage of the customer journey
  3. By saying what you’re going to do with data – and doing what you say
  4. By making it easy to authenticate, from account setup and password retrieval to integration with biometrics and password managers

This is what we do at Course5. We drive digital transformation for some of the world’s largest enterprises using analytics, insights, and artificial intelligence.

1. Initial Outreach from a Partnership Perspective

Reaching out to customers in ways they appreciate and value will form the basis of a lasting partnership. Segment and test for content and offerings based on known parameters that don’t rely on cookies. Without a third-party cookie, these parameters are not always known, but geolocation, general search and social trends and industry context can all inform the initial message. Course5 can help make these initial communications more contextually relevant through Market & Competitive Intelligence, Social Media Intelligence and Search Analytics.

2. Delivering Value at Each Stage

Forging relationships of trust with your customers should be at the root of your digital transformation. Delivering value includes giving your customers the reason to authenticate. Course5’s Market Research and Customer Journey Analytics solutions help you understand what your customers like and what they dislike about your current shopping environment. Our Market and Competitive Intelligence solution helps you mark your shopping experience relative to the rest of your market. Are you best in class or do you have some work to do? These solutions help you prioritize what you can do better in your quest to deliver value.

3. Data: Say what you will do and do what you say

You wouldn’t lie to a customer face-to-face, would you? You wouldn’t purposely deceive them by leaving out how you’re going to use their personal information, right? Of course, you wouldn’t. So why do so many organizations fail to prioritize this trust-building step in the digital realm? Because there isn’t enough sunlight on the problem. It is easier to prioritize other work than to audit your privacy practices. It isn’t privacy policies so much as privacy practices. Yes, this will be a hard mountain to climb. But you’ll get to the top with consistent effort. Hold yourself accountable to your customers by committing to making regular progress in how you actually treat customer data.

4. Ease of Authentication

At Course5, we help brands measure the quality and speed of their digital experiences, including authentication and all associated experiences. Here also, consistent effort will deliver more tangible results over the long run. Digital experiences are like instruments that easily come out of tune. You launch a new site or expand into a new geography and the experience changes. Make sure your authentication-related experiences work and work fast by monitoring the speed of the services that deliver these experiences. Leverage A/B testing to find easier, more intuitive experiences, consistently improving over time.

The Digital Ultramarathon

Building trust in digital commerce is definitely not a sprint. It takes time and consistent effort to deliver value to your customers across all experiences, every day.

My friend’s race had a finish line. It may have seemed unreachable when he was thinking of dropping out at 2:30 am, 68 miles into the race. But he didn’t give up. He had a crew and pacers to provide fresh supplies and motivation. After the race, he said that what kept him going was the knowledge that his team believed in him. Don’t give up. Especially when it comes to the evolving landscape around customer data and cookies. If you’re looking for a crew to light the path forward and to provide reason for optimism that you can reach your successive finish lines, contact Course5. We’d love to help you achieve your goals.

David McBride
David McBride
David McBride is a 13-year veteran of the analytics industry, having held analytics leadership roles in media, retail, technology settings. David is passionate about helping...
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