Mar 25, 2022



How Will a Cookieless Future Affect Pharma Marketing?

By the end of 2023, all that will be left of cookies are the crumbs. For the past two years, Google has been working on removing third-party cookies from their Chrome browser to address rising privacy concerns among consumers and to better adhere to stricter security regulations.

While the original phase-out date was set for January 2022, Google extended this deadline to accommodate for what promises to be a lengthy transition. If your digital pharma marketing strategy heavily relies on third-party cookies, it’s time to rethink your approach. Here’s how a “cookieless future” may affect your business and what you can do about it.

Why is Google Removing Cookies?

Safari and Firefox removed third-party cookies in 2013, but companies are particularly nervous about Google joining in on the cookie-free trend since over half of the web browser market is dominated by the search engine giant. For pharma marketers, that means there could be a substantial drop in web traffic and revenue coming from users who peruse the internet via Google.

Google argues that intrusive access to personal data does more economic and reputational damage in the long run. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that 79 percent of Americans were “very or somewhat concerned” about how businesses collect and use their personal data. This general uneasiness may also account for the steady increases in ad-block usage over the past few years.

Cross-site tracking via third-party cookies picks up on the clothes, restaurants, and flight tickets consumers frequently scour. From these patterns, their interests, relative age, and general location are assessed and used to display relevant ads that might appeal to them. Although a majority of cookies don’t store personal contact information, consumers might be shocked to see hyper-specific ads following their every click. For the most part, on-site disclaimers let users know they’re being tracked, but many users either blindly accept cookies or don’t understand the fine print.

As an alternative to third-party cookies, Google is currently testing an interface called Topics. Instead of catering to the specific preferences of the individual user, Topics emphasizes anonymity by grouping visited sites into one of 350 subjects. On the marketing side, there are drawbacks to be expected, including a three-topic cap per site, vague and lagged traffic feedback, and a broader inability to effectively target low-funnel consumers. Topics are sure to be a win for privacy-concerned users, but a roadblock for marketers.

The Implications (and Misconceptions) of a Cookieless Future

While Google is closing the lid on the third-party cookie jar for good, others will remain open. For example, first-party and zero-party cookies will still be able to track users, but within the bounds of a single site. Google’s decision is actually restricting an ad tech agency’s ability to sell users’ individual data to marketers, not the marketer’s ability to gather information relevant for ad generation.

Interestingly enough, aggressive ad targeting through third-party data collection might not be as effective as originally thought. A 2019 study found that businesses heavily investing in over-targeting strategies aren’t seeing favorable outcomes, despite increased audience exposure and web saturation. With an increased number of faulty sites and bots circulating the web, quantity does not always guarantee that more ads will be clicked on.

In effect, removing third-party cookies shouldn’t destroy ad targeting so long as marketing structures focus on direct engagement with consumers instead of relying on discreet tracking tactics.

Effective Marketing in a Cookieless World

For pharmaceutical companies, discarding third-party cookies entirely may seem intimidating, but shifting your focus to brand building will yield better results by reinforcing existing and prospective consumer relationships. You not only want to attract new customers but retain them as well. If you’re genuine about your intentions as a brand, users will be more willing to open up and divulge the information you may be looking for, and will ultimately see you as a reputable partner.

Here are five tips you can use to smoothly shift into a cookieless model without compromising your marketing goals:

  • Keep Context King: After a while, visitors’ activity logs can resemble a hodgepodge of tangents. Therefore, ads generated from third-party cookies can seem out-of-place or irrelevant at times. It’s similar to finding a customer in the produce aisle of a grocery store and asking them if they’d like to get their taxes done. Make sure your ads are contextually relevant to where the prospect is in their journey and the information they’re looking for.
  • Focus on First-Party Data: Leverage first-party cookies currently in use as they’re consistently reliable. Unlike third-party data, they collect information directly from consumers who browse your website, so there’s no middleman involved.
  • Devise a Plan with Durable IDs: Durable IDs utilize an encrypted string of contact information (like an email, phone number, login credentials, etc.) that’s provided by the consumer themselves, and pairs it with the consumer’s browsing history as they use that same piece of information elsewhere. Data collection via durable IDs is more secure for the user and more targeted for the marketer.
  • Prioritize Partnerships: Elevate your brand’s relationship with consumers beyond surface-level impressions. Invest in natural SEO tactics like premium content to inform, educate, and engage readers with your company’s mission and goals. Network with like-minded advertisers and partake in data-sharing tests that will create a win-win scenario for all parties.
  • Integrate Intent-Based Media: Look into advertising on endemic sites, which use on-page keywords to discreetly show pertinent ads to audiences looking to purchase a product or service. This makes for more organic and logical ad placement and can sway consumers as they’re about to make a decision.

The end of third-party cookies isn’t the end of marketing as we know it. Reverting back to the basics can help us scrutinize tactics that are and aren’t working and nurture areas that promise success.

How Healthgrades Can Help You Navigate the Cookie Shortage

As tempting as they are to marketers, cookies are concerning consumers, and a future without them is fast approaching. It’s best to start exploring new ways of reaching potential customers without jeopardizing their privacy. Try finding online real estate that makes sense for your brand and nourish consumers’ curiosities and concerns as they approach you to solidify budding relationships.

A great place to start your cookieless journey is at Healthgrades, where our platform can help you find your target audience in a relevant health context. Half of all Americans who book an appointment this year will visit Healthgrades, making us the number one place to find consumers on the way to the doctor. Using HIPAA-compliant predictive models, we can also help you reach your target audience across the web, without needing cookies. Contact us today to learn more about how Healthgrades can help better build your brand.