The Cookie-pocalypse: Interview with Kat Warboys

When Google announced the decision to phase out third-party cookies from its Chrome browser by 2022, it caused a considerable stir in the marketing community. Whether digital marketers are rejoicing or panicking, there is no denying the move will change how online targeting, ad tracking and privacy will work on the web.

In August Google announced that they were building a ‘Privacy Sandbox’, a set of open standards that it is says will enhance web privacy whilst still allowing advertisers to circulate ads to the right audiences. The solution sounds win-win but some have questioned Google’s motives and what it all actually means for digital marketers.

We sat down with HubSpot’s ANZ head of marketing, Kat Warboys to talk about the ‘cookie-pocalypse’ and how it will impact marketers in the future.

What is your take on Google’s ‘Privacy Sandbox’ and what does it mean for digital marketing?

While it is still early days for Google’s Privacy Sandbox, if it does proceed as planned, marketers can expect to benefit from it. Pitched as Google’s alternative to cookies, it in theory will offer marketers a more secure environment for personalisation while protecting users’ privacy. This is good news for marketers who have relied on the information cookies have traditionally provided to target consumers and create hyper-personalised campaigns as they’ll be able to tap into similar data sets without the privacy concerns associated with cookies.

Regardless, when using consumer data in any way, it’s important to remember to be respectable. The HubSpot Customer Code outlines a shared list of principles and beliefs on how to build a company that customers love, and one of the core tenets is to “use my data, but don’t abuse it”. In essence, it means data should only be used when the end result is a customer’s life becomes a little easier or convenient. Spammy emails. Sloppy data storage. Eerily targeted ads — they’re all no goes.

What does a ‘cookie free’ web look like for consumers? 

While some have argued a ‘cookie free’ web would mean consumers will receive less relevant ads, marketers who have a multi-media marketing strategy and who aren’t heavily reliant on ads, will be ahead of their competition.

We’re seeing a shift in strategy, with marketers using first party data and contextual advertising to create personalised and relevant content for consumers.

The industry has seen a lot of pressure from lawmakers and consumers to protect the privacy of users data over the past couple of years. Why do you think we are seeing these significant shifts?

It’s been driven by consumer demand. As more and more data is shared and collected, there is an increasing demand from consumers for lawmakers and companies to have a greater emphasis on protecting their personal data. It’s why we’ve seen moves like GDPR roll out in recent years — it’s all in an effort to protect consumers, which is a positive step forward.

For marketers, it’s an important reminder about doing right by customers, especially when it comes to respecting their data. Data is a powerful tool that can be used for good, evil, or just general annoyance. Companies that choose to abuse customer data can certainly grow, but in the long run, that growth will cost them their customers’ trust — that’s not really growth at all, it’s debt. But companies that protect data and use it thoughtfully to make customers’ lives just a little bit easier will be the ones that do well.

Google has had a collaborative approach with publishers in this move. What is some of the industry feedback in response to the developments?

The reaction has been mixed. Many have questioned the motives behind the move, asking whether it is really to improve privacy for the end-user or if it is to gain a further grip on the ad market by forcing the adoption of Chrome’s own first-party cookie, which would likely result in spend being moved to Google.

For others, however, they’ve tackled the challenge head-on and are getting creative with solutions.

How will the demise of cookies impact planning, activation and measurement for digital publishers?

It’s true, Google Chrome’s third-party cookie phase-out could heavily impact some areas of the marketing and advertising space, but many tactics will still stay pretty much the same.

If you have thrived on third-party data for pinpointed online audience targeting strategies, you might be worried about how you’ll navigate this pivot. But new data-driven alternatives are emerging and innovative marketers will be able to come up with more clever alternatives and ads that identify with the masses.

We’re already seeing data management platforms look to create alternate tools that help advertisers track data in a way that makes the most out of the third-party cookie. While these options might be different from third-party cookie solutions or require some new strategising, they would still allow marketers to target and learn about relevant audiences without getting intrusive — critical for businesses to grow better.

Google has promised a solution which still supports a “healthy” ad-supported web, but do you think marketers will shift budgets towards other streams in response to these changes?

While enhanced online privacy is welcomed, there are still many unknowns about Google’s new approach. It is crucial that any approach taken by internet browsers continues to facilitate healthy competition in advertising and media spend.

Are there alternative solutions for retailers who once relied on third-party cookies?

Retailers can consider strategies or software that can better leverage first-party data like contextual advertising. While third-party data allowed you to place ads directly in front of people who matched certain user profiles, contextual advertising allows you to circulate pay per click (PPC) ads on websites that rank for similar keywords as your ad. This way, if you’re selling sports apparel, your PPC ad could show up on sports-oriented websites.

As our CEO Brian Halligan eloquently puts it, “It’s not about what you sell, but how you sell.” Outside of alternate solutions to cookies, retail should also be focusing on creating a delightful experience for their customers.

At the end of the day, the end customer doesn’t care about a company’s martech stack. They only care about their experience across these touch points in what they perceive as one continuous flow in their day. Did we serve them well? Did we meet or exceed their expectations? Did we go so far as to truly delight them? That’s why it’s important businesses focus on customer experience and the customer journey above any one specific tool or tactic. But a holistic experience is going to inevitably leverage a ton of specialised technologies to deliver that.

Kat Warboys is the ANZ head of marketing at HubSpot. 

Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash.

Jasmine Giuliani
BY Jasmine Giuliani ON 27 April 2020
Jasmine Giuliani is the Editor of MarketingMag