Saturday, July 20, 2024

Brand Building Reborn: The Evolving Strategy in a Post-Cookie World

By Joe Zahtila, CRO, Upwave

The advertising technology that created our modern communications ecosystem is reaching an inglorious end. I’m talking about third-party cookies, of course, which enabled the rise of a blossoming advertising environment, ensured audiences were subjected to fewer unnecessary ads, and launched many successful brands. 

Cookie depreciation affects all marketers, but especially those in pure-play performance marketing who need to track potential customers who have been exposed to ads across multiple channels to finalize the sale. Such advertisers are rightly concerned about how it impacts the efficacy of their efforts. 

While privacy advocates have pushed for the removal of cookies, everyone should agree that going back to untargeted advertising is a non-starter. Campaign Monitor found that 74% of online consumers get frustrated when ads have nothing to do with their interests.

How advertisers plan, execute, and measure their campaigns will be incredibly important in a cookieless environment. With an explosion of new channels and less reliance on social media/walled gardens, more interest in working outside of the garden, brands have more choices than ever. Media sellers need to be more proactive in helping companies achieve measurable brand-building success.

But even without the fall of cookies, brands known for a performance marketing-focused approach have recently gotten, or reacquired, the brand-building gospel. I’ve heard from several brands known for direct response and performance marketing that they have a renewed excitement for, and interest in, brand building. Here’s why:

Same audience produces diminishing returns

Performance marketers have done a great job of creating demand within their core audiences, but returning to the same well over time produces diminishing returns. At some point, targeting customers who already know about your brand and or previously made purchases not only is an inefficient use of funds, frequency can turn them from advocates to foes. 

The need to plant seeds for tomorrow

Even performance marketers need growth beyond their core audience. All companies need to expand awareness and interest among new potential customers. It’s one of the reasons why you see so many direct-to-consumer companies running billboard ads in subways. They need to clearly promote their services to a new cadre of potential customers to identify the customers of tomorrow. It’s clear that they need to step off the direct-response-only-treadmill and focus on future lead generation.

Software-based brand measurement enables real-time optimization against on target reach and brand performance

While the performance marketing industry has long been driven by optimizing specific metrics such as calculating cost per acquisition, brand-building measurement has historically been a little more difficult to enable changes to live campaigns. I should know – I’ve worked in the brand-building measurement space for 25 years. 

Brand building historically focused on the creative and not enough on the media. We’ve all seen the stats hypothesizing how important creative is to driving sales. And while creative is important, we can’t ignore where that media is placed. The job of the media partner is to get your ad in front of the right person, ideally at the right time and in the right context.

Thankfully, new software, and technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) have arrived to claw back some of the targeting and measurement capabilities lost to the cookie demise and make the premise of brand building even stronger. AI can reproduce audience segments far beyond age, gender, and income, based on some combination of alternative IDs and first-party data.


Smart brands are putting increased pressure on their media agencies and media partners to justify their marketing spend. Agencies will have to demonstrate the power of their technology and tools to confirm they are reaching the right audience profiles. Those agencies, in turn, are putting pressure on platforms/publishers to deliver the audiences they claim to have, either through first-party data or alternative identifiers.

It’s incredibly important for brand advertisers to know whether they increased people’s awareness, consideration, and interest in their brands, in campaigns, so they can course correct if necessary.

Therefore it is more important for agencies to have expansive media plans, and for publishers to have greater granularity of their audiences. Brand building built for AI is a huge opportunity for all marketers as segmentation continues to improve and come closer to approximating the recent cookied past on which every advertiser depended. 


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