"In a cookie-less world, email and mobile numbers have the potential to become the new universally unique identifier when it comes to data collection.”  -James Robert Lay

The cookie is becoming an internet relic. For years, most financial brands have relied upon cookies to deliver delicious information about user behavior. How will your company adapt to this small but meaningful change in the digital world?

Here are 3 of the most compelling questions we are hearing about cookies.

How Have Banks Historically Used Third-Party Data?

Cookies and third-party data have historically been the key to targeting specific audiences. Consider the lookalike data that has allowed fintech brands to target potential account holders. They’ve used this data to expand their audiences considerably.

However, there have been constant compliance issues over the years, here in the U.S. and around the world. Many brands have tried to sidestep these issues by using ads and brand awareness to spread their messages more broadly.

In the past, third-party data also came from feed integrations into personal financial management platforms that filtered in third-party account and transaction data. This was a goldmine of opportunity, but it was always challenging to make it work consistently due to a number of complex issues with collecting and using data.

At an even simpler level, third-party data from email service providers like Gmail and Apple have provided insights into who’s opening, clicking, and interacting with emails. Platforms like Salesforce, HubSpot, and MailChimp have helped us crunch the numbers and put them to good use. As you can see, third-party data has held an important place in the financial services world.

What Does the Loss of Cookies Mean for My Company?

Up to 90% of all display ad impressions will have no user/device identifier after the loss of third-party cookies. In a cookie-less world, it’s essential to take a portfolio approach to ad placement that provides other paths to ad targeting without clear user/device identifiers.

Keep your eye on the iOS update because it could cause pain for financial brands. It means that some of the biggest email marketing features are going to disappear, like knowing who opens your emails. This could impact your account-based sales and marketing strategies.

Another challenge is not being able to accurately track open rates, which are more than just a vanity metric. They allow you to send follow-up emails based on open/unopened status, which should be part of many financial brands’ marketing automation workflows.

Finally, consider the impact on your A/B testing. Until now, you could run A/B tests based on open rates and subject lines. Now the open status will be unknown, so the A/B testing becomes more difficult. It will take strategic thinking to determine new ways of testing, tracking, and optimizing your marketing messages.

How Can We Wean Ourselves Off third-party Data?

So, you’re probably wondering how your organization can possibly give it up. Here are four priorities for breaking your cookie habit.

Refresh Your SEO Strategy

Take a moment to consider how recently you’ve updated your SEO strategy. SEO is entering a new golden age where it can really shine and deliver fresh leads and conversions. Use content for SEO purposes and nurture leads through first party - not third-party - data, which is explained in more detail below.

Shift to First-Party Data

Now’s the time to start collecting first party data instead of third-party data. First-party data is collected directly from your customers via your own channels. Your first-party data is precious information that your competitors mostly can’t replicate, so give it the attention it deserves.

Give Email a Second Chance

Many companies have abandoned email in favor of other strategies, but in a cookie-less world, email is more important than ever. Plus, new research shows that the value of a single email rose from $16 in 2019 to $33 in 2020 thanks in part to the impact of COVID-19. Despite, its stereotype as an old-fashioned approach, email has remained strong and is making a big comeback as cookies disappear.

Take a New View Audience-Building 

It’s also a good time to stop thinking about audience acquisition in terms of the old-world model where it’s all about acquiring individually-identifiable names and blasting information out at them. The new view puts the focus on community building, where digital communication is an enriched back-and-forth dialogue.

What New Data Opportunities Should We Be Thinking About?

In a world without cookies, email and mobile numbers could potentially become the new universal unique identifier (UUI) for the internet. This gives community banks a significant advantage over startup fintechs, which may or may not have the same level of first-party information about their customers.

There’s also the low-hanging fruit of the data you’re actively gathering from your public-facing website. For example, you already know which pages people have been viewing most often and which products tend to attract them. You’ve also, hopefully, gathered thousands of email addresses from people who volunteered them because they were interested in your products and services.

Now’s your opportunity to take all of this information, synthesize it, and use it to benefit your customers. Make proactive offers and provide the guidance people need to progress in their financial journeys. Email automation and AI algorithms can support this process, but it really comes down to having actual human interactions.

Whenever someone from your organization is interacting with a customer, they can ask relevant questions that connect to the person’s needs at that exact moment. Take their feedback, analyze it strategically, and turn insights into actions.

It’s always been possible to thrive in a world without third-party data. The deep nourishment of human-to-human connection has always been more important than scrounging bits and bytes of data from across the internet. Now’s your chance to prove you don’t need all those cookies!

Do you have a question about digital growth? If so, please text it to 415-579-3004. James Robert’s team will answer for you on an upcoming podcast episode.