A Well-Balanced Data Diet: How Brands Can Rely Less On Cookies

Much like a certain lovable, googly-eyed muppet in Sesame Street, advertisers have spent the vast majority of the internet era obsessed with cookies (but, you know, the data kind, not the chocolate chip kind). On Sesame Street, after years and years of gorging on cookies, Cookie Monster learned that cookies are a “sometimes food” and it’s about time brands learn the same. Relying solely on cookies for customer data can be unhealthy for a business. Fortunately, there are other, better ways of collecting customer data.


First, let’s discuss the concerns around cookies. On the business end, cookies have been giving companies incomplete data for years. Cookies are supposed to track when a user has visited a website, which allows sites to remember user data, such as login information and items in a shopping cart. Companies team with third-party advertising networks to monitor a user’s web traffic and develop a clearer profile as well as advertising opportunities on frequently visited sites. And this worked well when people did all of their web browsing on a single home computer. But that era is long over, and people now use multiple devices -- computers, tablets, and (most importantly) phones to browse the web. Cookies can only track a single device, so businesses are only looking at a small slice of the pie (to mix my sweets metaphor).

Furthermore, most online interactions are handled on phones, and they are notoriously unfriendly to cookies. Two-thirds of mobile devices don’t accept cookies, and Safari doesn’t allow any cookies to be used on their mobile searches. To add to the misery, cookies don’t work at all on mobile apps, and apps (like Facebook) are where many users spend the majority of their time. In fact, as of 2017, phone users only spend 8% of their time on browsers, and a whopping 92% of their time on apps! And, acknowledging the times, major companies, such as Apple and Mozilla, are making it much harder for third-party developers to collect data without customer consent.

Ethically, people have become savvier and more protective of their own data. Some consider cookies as a form of spying—if people don’t know that their data is being tracked, and for what purpose. Others don’t care about being tracked as long as their data is being used to improve browsing experiences (though this is becoming less common).


Either way, people are more aware than ever of how their data gets used, and rely on methods such as clearing caches, using ad blockers, and others to protect their online privacy. It’s why governments are stepping in to protect user rights, implementing regulatory laws such as the GDPR in the EU, and the upcoming CCPA in California, which allows users to opt out of data collection and presents a clear picture of how data will be used. These actions need to be embraced, because losing a consumer’s trust is just about the worst thing a company can do, as Instagram and Facebook are learning in their newest privacy breach involving a third-party, Hyp3r.

Of course, there are ways around cookies, such as canvas fingerprinting, but there are vastly more sustainable solutions:
1. Provide an experience that uses customer data to do cool things.
2. Show how you would be using their data.
3. Illustrate how sharing their data will benefit them.
4. Have them opt-in (more on this one in a bit).

It all comes down to proving that you are worthy of customer trust. In fact, In the last few months, the term “zero-party” data has popped up in light of this idea. Zero-party data is a fancy way of describing data that a brand has received explicit consent to use. So, while first-party data represents information your customers provided directly (clicking on an email and going to your site), zero-party data would mean a customer actively filling out a survey (Rent-the-Runway regularly has a 50% response rate on customer feedback surveys).

The takeaway? Put the focus on collecting and leveraging your first-party data more effectively. Businesses must prepare to invest in in-house technology to collect this type of data. As Shawn Lim of The Drum writes, “interactive experiences like subscriptions, loyalty programs, and contests, have been touted as the solution for marketers to rebuild trust and engender lasting and meaningful connections with consumers.”

None of this means that you should stop using cookies altogether. It is a data point that does have its uses. But it should be nowhere near the top of your data arsenal, and it should be something for which the customer has to give consent, with clarity of purpose. Give customers the ability to opt out at any time, either with some of their information (such as their email or their cookies) or with all of it. And once they have opted out, that element can no longer be tracked. Period. An opted-out user may come back, but it’s guaranteed they won’t if you have lost their trust.


Now, it can be difficult to keep track of which data points need to be deleted from which profile across all of your marketing campaigns. And it’s imperative that US-based brands have tools in place that allow them to manage customer consent in light of upcoming California data privacy laws.

One option for brands looking to put customer privacy at the forefront is Lineate’s Consent Manager. Specifically, Consent Manager “allows brands to give customers access to their data while providing a central way of managing, tracking, and optimizing for consent collection on an operational level.” What does this mean in action? For starters, it makes it easy for brands to provide consumers the ability to access, limit, or erase their data from a company’s database as outlined in the law. This tool also allows brands to layer opt-in preferences into segments that are used in campaigns (i.e. ensuring that any customers who’ve opted out of display ads but are fine with email are sorted accordingly). Plus, Consent Manager provides high-level reports on customer consent by channel and device to give marketers a concrete idea of where consent messaging works and where it isn’t.

To learn more about the Consent Manager, book a quick call with our SA team. And remember—there is nothing inherently wrong with using cookies, just so long as you remember that it is a ‘sometimes food.’