Apple’s move to kill cookies isn’t a crisis — It’s an opportunity
Columnist Mike Sands believes Apple's cookie restrictions will encourage marketers to take a new approach to building customer data sets and identity, giving them a more holistic customer view.
Once again, Apple’s got everyone in a tizzy — and no, I’m not talking about the $999 price tag on the new iPhone X. I’m referring to its latest iOS mobile operating system update, which takes cookie-blocking to a whole new level and will drastically impact a brand’s ability to maintain direct relationships with its customers.
As you may remember, early this summer Apple launched Intelligent Tracking Prevention, a feature for its Safari web browser that blocks third-party cookies by default. With the new iOS 11, first-party cookies take a hit, too. They’re now restricted to a tiny 24-hour window for retargeting, and after 30 days, they totally depreciate, disappearing into a veritable customer data black hole, never to be found again.
The update brings Apple one step closer in its decade-long quest to make cookies obsolete — a perilous development for the 91 percent of marketers that still rely primarily on cookies to identify users and build customer profiles.
But while six industry trade groups are up in arms over Apple’s move, it poses a real opportunity for brands that have a persistent identity resolution strategy in place. By eschewing fragile digital identifiers in favor of rooting customer profiles in durable, deterministic identifiers, such as email addresses or loyalty member IDs, brands can maintain continuous connections across all touch points throughout the customer life cycle, not just a campaign.
The ‘sandbox’ effect
Think about all the limitations facing first- and third-party cookies for desktop and mobile web regardless of browser, or application IDs and advertising IDs (e.g., Apple’s IDFA or Google’s Ad ID) for mobile apps and tablets. Cookies have never functioned well within most smartphone or tablet browsers, and their functionality is restricted, or “sandboxed,” within each app (where people spend nearly 85 percent of their mobile time).
With app IDs, the “sandbox” effect again comes into play: As the name implies, an app ID is specific to the app being used, meaning it will not offer a pervasive ID for all marketing communications with a user.
Of course, both Apple and Google thought of this when designing their respective advertiser IDs. Available across apps and often exposed within them, advertiser IDs (or “device IDs”) are unique to an individual and offer a single and relatively permanent ID source. However, consumers typically use only five apps on a daily basis. So unless a brand’s app is one of those lucky few, most marketers will not see an ad ID.
The cumulative effects are staggering. Given that the average US adult uses more than four connected devices to research, interact and transact (mostly within the mobile environment), it’s hard enough to keep pace with people as they move among channels, platforms and applications.
But the minute a brand commits to building any customer data sets around just one digital identifier, it creates massive identity gaps. Brands may see one person as many, or not recognize a known customer at all, leading to misattributed conversions, misinformed strategies, misappropriated ad spend and, ultimately, missed opportunities for engagement.
While it’s still essential that brands collect and connect digital IDs to fill in the holes in customer identity, it’s equally critical that marketers not use them as the foundation of their customer identity asset. Facebook doesn’t. Neither does Amazon. Nor any number of the newer, smaller yet massively disruptive brands that are able to recognize their customers on a 1:1 basis, not as a cookie file or device type, but as someone who has logged in or authenticated via some type of transaction. (You know, like buying a $999 iPhone.)
To get the same perspective on consumer behavior that Amazon or Facebook has, brands must take a new approach to data and identity, and implement a strategy that allows them to pull together their many fragmented glimpses into a holistic customer view. If they don’t, this latest move by Apple will undoubtedly lead to an identity supernova — a massive explosion that turns the brand’s customer data asset to vapor, hurtling customer relationships into a colossal black hole from which there is no escape.