BLOG | Cookieless? Personas instead of cookies!

Into the "Cookieless Future" with data-based personas

A future without cookies? We show how you can work at least as successfully with personas instead of third-party cookies.

What are cookies?

Anyone who visits a website in the EU must usually first agree to "cookies" or adjust the cookie settings before he or she can continue surfing in peace. Cookies are small text files that are stored on our end devices when we visit websites. They contain information about our on the website, including pages visited, length of stay, clicks and preferences, but also the stored user ID and password for an online store, personalized theme settings or the items in a shopping cart, etc.. This data is collected by the website operators ("first-party cookies") or third parties ("third-party cookies"). But why the effort?

Targeting for sales success

Based on this collected data, advertisers can create targeted advertising campaigns. For example, when we search for shoes on the Internet, a cookie will store this information. We are then presented with personalized shoe offers on our favorite channels with shoes that roughly match our tastes. This targeted or personalized advertising is called "targeting." The goal of targeting is to increase the likelihood of a purchase. It helps minimize wastage and use the marketing budget more efficiently, namely targeting people who advertisers know already have some interest in the product.

There are different types of targeting, which can also be used in combination:

Demographic targeting: The target group is defined based on demographic characteristics such as age, gender, income, education level, marital status, etc.

Geographic targeting: Targeting specific geographic regions, such as countries, cities, or even neighborhoods.

Behavioral targeting: Takes into account behaviors and activities of the target group, e.g. online activities, shopping habits or search behavior on the Internet.

Interest-based targeting: Addressing people who have certain interests or preferences, e.g. hobbies, sports, music, movies, etc.

Psychographic targeting: This takes into account the personality, attitudes, values and lifestyles of the target group.

Behavioral targeting: Based on past interactions or buying behavior of the target group. In this way, people who have already purchased from a particular online store are lured again with targeted offers from that store.

Contextual targeting: Advertising is targeted according to the context in which it appears: advertising for sports equipment is placed on sports pages.

Of course, not all potential customers "bite" the same way: Some don't have any money at the moment, others just wanted to "have a look" or don't need the product urgently at the moment. The advertising industry reaches these people with what is known as "retargeting": they repeatedly address the interested persons at intervals with targeted ads to persuade them to return to the website or to complete a purchase. Retargeting is only made possible by cookies.

Cookies and privacy

Due to concerns about user privacy, data protection laws have been enacted or tightened in many countries in recent years. The best example is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union. It sets rules for the use of cookies and requires users' "voluntary, informed and revocable" consent before cookies can be set. Significant fines can be imposed for violations of the GDPR.

Web browsers have also begun to adopt more restrictive cookie policies. Safari and Firefox, for example, have been blocking so-called third-party cookies by default for years unless users enable them. Google will block third-party cookies in Chrome starting in 2024. So, given the huge market share of these three providers combined, the days of third-party cookies are numbered.

Even though first-party cookies will continue to exist, this is a problem for advertisers because it makes target group analyses more difficult. They get less insight into what users are interested in and what ads appeal to them. For services and companies that collect information about your target audience through third-party cookies, the question in the future is how they will continue to get relevant data and how they will reach their target audience with content that is relevant and interesting to them.

Personas instead of cookies

However, the "Cookieless Future" does not mean the end of targeting. Rather, it opens a new chapter and creates room for new technologies. First-party cookies will continue to exist; we agree to them almost every day when we visit websites.

An important technology to be able to realize effective targeting without third-party cookies are data-driven personas: Buyer personas, based on available data such as user registrations, surveys, or shopping behavior, help advertisers and website operators gain a deeper understanding of their target audiences. This data, from high-quality and non-invasive data sources, is accurate and trustworthy because it is provided by users themselves. At the Persona Institute, we enrich this data with others, from surveys, public statistics, market research, and interviews, and can create and "bring to life" a statistical twin for almost all audiences in many different countries.

Personas therefore not only provide demographic data, budget and surfing behavior, but in contrast to conventional targeting via cookies, they also provide information about the values, beliefs, fears, wishes and challenges of the target group: You get to know a complete "person", the persona, which accurately depicts the target group. If you know your target group so precisely, you can play out the right content with the right wording and even the right color selection on the right channels without violating anyone's privacy or requiring cookies.

Buyer personas are delivered by the Persona Institute in "persona playbooks," which contain not only the "hard facts" but also their entire world of values, emotional world, consumer behavior, and environment. Such data-driven personas can help address the challenges of cookie-free targeting by enabling personalized and relevant advertising based on commonly available, perfectly prepared information. This helps create personalized advertising experiences across the full range of targeting types while respecting and protecting user privacy.

With data-based personas, targeting is no problem even without cookies. This applies not only to Buyer Personas, but also to Candidate Personas: without cookies, they help to find the ideal candidates and ensure that they stay.

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