A cookieless world can seem a daunting prospect for companies in the financial services sector who rely on data and testing to build extraordinary customer experiences.
Google has officially released their timeline for the complete removal of third-party cookies in Google Chrome. Originally quoting 2023, the transition is now expected to complete in 2024, meaning companies have two years to prepare.
In this article we look at a brief history of cookies, what their removal means for financial institutions, and what they can do to stay ahead in a rapidly changing digital landscape.
The purpose of cookies
Browser cookies were created in 1994 by Lou Montulli, a programmer at Netscape Communications. He applied for a patent in 1995 and, whilst cookies were primarily for use on ecommerce websites to keep track of customers’ shopping carts, advertisers quickly saw the potential.
Even back in the mid-1990s some were sceptical of cookies’ conflicting nature with data and privacy, but it took 23 years for Apple to become the first company to put them in the spotlight and remove their use with their Mac Safari browser update. In 2020, they further changed the digital environment with their iOS 14 tracking changes, and accompanying marketing strategy, which further highlighted the importance of customer privacy.
Banks and other financial institutions need to be customer obsessed to grow and compete in a competitive market but, due to Apple and now Google, customers have also become much more knowledgeable about their own data and privacy and how companies can use their data.
This culminated with Google putting an end to cookies in Chrome and it is extremely likely others will follow.
The three key areas these changes will effect are:
- Website tracking (will my website tracking stop working?)
- Digital advertising (how will this affect my paid media performance?)
- Customer personalisation (must I rethink my personalisation strategy?)
Will my website tracking stop working?
Google has created Google Analytics 4 (GA4) as the replacement for Universal Analytics as it’s known currently. GA4 is designed to combat the removal of cookies as it can operate fully without them using machine learning to fill the holes left by the absence of session cookies.
The main difference between UA and GA4 is GA4 uses event parameters rather than a session cookie to track visits and actions on the site. As the way things are tracked has changed there may be slight differences in reported user numbers. A reported difference of around 10% when comparing GA4 directly with UA is nothing to worry about.
The downside of this is that the quality of the data received is directly correlated with the quality of your account set up.
Having a GA4 account set up, and building an effective measurement strategy, is key to the success of ensuring your website tracking is accurate and useful.
Our recent webinar further explains why Google is sunsetting UA, what GA4 is offering instead, and how to migrate your data.
We also provide some extra insights later in this article on how you can ensure your GA4 account is optimised to collect the most important data for your business.
How will this affect my advertising performance?
Digital advertising is highly important to financial services companies with eMarketer estimating that financial services will represent 12.9% of total digital advertising spending in 2022. This shows no signs of slowing in 2023.
We just discussed the session-based cookie which Google Analytics uses to track users as they browse the site, but what of ‘persistent cookies’?
Persistent cookies are used for remarketing and remain in a user’s browser after they leave a website. This allows individuals to be remarketed to as they continue to browse other parts of the web, and is a key part of reengaging existing users early on in the buyer’s journey.
Google made $209billion from its ad platforms in 2021 and will want that growth to continue in 2023. To achieve this, they developed targeting methods to negate the need for cookies. This works by placing users in groups of similar people as opposed to using cookies or fingerprinting techniques to identify customers.
These groups are split by:
- Affinity segments – based on what users are passionate about and their habits and interests.
- Custom segments – custom segments help reach your ideal audience by entering relevant keywords, URLs and apps.
- Detailed demographics - reach users based on long-term life facts. Like life events (e.g. a wedding) or in market audiences (based on purchase intent).
Google also recently announced it’s ending ‘similar audiences’ in August 2023, which can create lookalike audiences from data provided to Google.
This change does show Google’s faith in their audience segments. Customer match audiences from CRM data like emails can still be used on Google’s platforms to target individuals directly.
The ability to upload CRM data is also an option across other digital platforms and similar audiences are still working on Facebook and LinkedIn for now.
The tracking changes in IOS 14 mentioned earlier have impacted the interest audiences on these platforms, so similar audiences may work better in these circumstances – as long as you have good quality data.
The other change this may bring to digital advertising is a focus on the creative. As audiences become larger and less precise, having creative that stands out will be key in gaining results longer term. Testing multiple variants will be crucial to see what works.
Will I have to rethink my personalisation strategy?
Coveo suggests the next financial service trend will be going from personalisation to hyper-personalisation. Whether you need to rethink your strategy depends on analysis of where you believe you are as a company.
Forrester believes that using the right technology and aligning this with a strategy is crucial to future proofing personalisation solutions in a world without cookies.
Having an effective data strategy is the first key part of this, but personalisation needs to be a core business goal tied directly to customer outcomes.
Coveo also suggests that acquiring data should be easier for financial services firms going forwards, as people are more likely to share personal information with them.
Financial services firms need to be particularly careful in this regard as it’s likely that governments and regulators will make further changes in how customer data can be used, and the permissions needed for this.
Organisations need to stay tuned closely to these changes to make sure they don’t breach guidelines or even inadvertently break the law.
Three ways you can ensure you’re prepared for the removal of cookies
Developing customer personas
Understanding the customer is essential for financial services firms when it comes to building a great experience for them.
And cookies provided a simple way to identify, personalise, and remarket to them as individuals.
But, as we explained earlier with Google’s advertising approach, grouping potential users will be the future of advertising. So having detailed personas will make this targeting much easier over multiple digital platforms, as well as linking with a cohesive marketing strategy.
These personas will also tie into measuring the effectiveness of personalisation strategies.
The more accurate your personas, the more effective this approach will be.
You can watch our webinar on how to run a successful persona workshop to start creating your customer personas.
Optimising your GA4 tracking with user journeys
We mentioned earlier that GA4 can be quite limited with its out-the-box reporting, so you’ll need to set up reporting manually.
But having accurate personas means you can link this to your event tracking to see how these users move through the site so you can set up funnels for each customer profile.
Whilst this will take a bit more work than the basic GA4 setup, this solution will be much more useful as custom reports can show you how different groups perform overall and where groups may be dropping off, so you can make improvements to the site or app.
Refreshing digital advertising plans
With the changes in Google’s targeting discussed earlier, there’s a possibility that your campaign targeting may need to be updated.
Revisiting plans in line with personas will ensure digital campaigns reach the right people and those who end up visiting your site or app will be tracked effectively.
As remarketing will be limited without cookies, having your data strategy confirmed and in place will give lots more options in reengaging interested users.
If your current campaigns are performing well, A/B testing with the new targeting may be a better option. You don’t want to disrupt your best campaigns but not testing new audiences holds the risk of not having solutions to performance problems in the future.
Change is problematic for those who are not prepared for it. The removal of cookies is something that will disrupt the digital world over the long-term, but there is still time to plan and prepare for it.
The key takeaways here are:
- If you haven’t already, set up your GA4 account and develop your data measurement strategy
- Review or create your customer personas so they align with your GA4 audiences
- Update your digital advertising to use your own data and align with you GA4 audiences to make targeting and tracking more effective