What Will The Web Do Without Cookies?

It’s a question that pretty much every business on the internet is asking. However, most of them are asking it very quietly for two reasons: First, they don’t want anybody to panic. Second, they don’t know the answer.

Just in case you think I’m talking about Oreos or Chips Ahoy (which used to be like eating chocolate flavored sawdust back when I was a kid), let me be clear. Cookies are tiny chunks of data that are created by a web server to indicate which website on that server you have visited (along with what pages, how long you visited, etc.). As with so much of human history, they were invented with good intentions. For example, nobody wants to have to log into their social media account every time they return. A cookie on your connected device can save you the hassle by remembering you.

Soon, folks like Google discovered that cookies could do a lot more, like tracking the things you search for and even purchase. Things got a little carried away, and before you know it, the folks in Silicon Valley decided that cookies could be used to customize our entire online lives. Which sounds good until you realize that in order to make it happen, Google, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. need to keep an eye on your entire online life. 

A decade ago I used to ask college students if they cared about the fact that the awesome benefits of these internet services came at the cost of their privacy, and the answer was universally a shrug and the classic quote of the early web, “meh.” They just didn’t care.

That was then. This is now, and things have changed. Thank Facebook for looking like Elmer Fudd with a shotgun in his hand that says “Cambridge Analytica” on its splintered barrel and Apple for hitting on the idea of flipping the script and changing privacy into a profit center. Now Europe and California (which are a long ways apart geographically but surprisingly close together ideologically) are on board, and cookies are becoming an endangered species. Now websites and apps need to ask our permission to track our movements, something that probably should have been happening all along.

Unfortunately, this means that statistics on your website are shifting back toward more general metrics. You can tell how many people visit your site or read your post, but you can’t easily tell exactly who those folks are or where they live – unless they give you permission. How many people will click “yes, go ahead and track my internet usage” when asked remains to be seen.

But at the very least it changes metrics like “women who visited your website” into “women who visited your website and agreed to allow cookies to track them.

Depending on your target audience, those two metrics might be significantly different numbers.

You see, companies like Google used to follow a user around the internet via cookies and see that they went to a lot of sites that are popular with women, then make the educated guess that that user was, indeed, a woman. Without a cookie on board, that assumption is nearly impossible to make.

So what do we do now? Take heart. Instead of needing to understand what makes cookies tick to build a brand on the web, now you just need to understand what makes people tick to build a successful brand. Fortunately, this has always been the case for those who understand marketing and sales. Remember those fundamentals you learned back in college about identifying target audiences, building customer personas and then developing customized messages? They still apply.

In fact, without cookies, the fundamentals of brand building are infinitely more important. Know your customer. Know the benefits of your product. Understand the strengths of the medium. Create a memorable message. Mix well and watch sales increase.

To quote The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, don’t panic! Transparency is a good thing, and instead of relying exclusively on technology to sell our products, we just need to use good planning to sell our products. That means giving your customers value instead of just a pitch, and building awareness and goodwill instead of just databases and algorithms. Without the crutch of tracking cookies, we can go back to making content that users actually want to consume.

Interested to know more? Contact Anchor Marketing, and we can tell you how we use everything in the modern marketing toolbox to build brands.