Eliminate 3rd Party Dependency & Improve Your Marketing: Our Step By Step Playbook

“The current environment isn’t really ideal for the consumer or advertisers. Innovation is needed.”

Jonathan Halvorson, VP of Consumer Experience


Google delayed deprecating the 3rd party cookie. This led to hundreds of quotes and articles from industry insiders over the last few weeks. Most everyone publishing these pieces has some stake in the legacy data model, so you never read the one thing they should all say, but never do.

The 3P Data Ecosystem Is Horrible For Advertisers

Businesses need to wean themselves off 3rd-party data dependence not because it violates users’ trust (it does), leads to broken incentive structures (it does), or rewards frequent fleeting attention (it does). They should stop because that system sucks at making them money. 

When you turn over advertising investment decisions to your advertising network, it can’t help but consider it’s own monetary interests alongside your interests as the advertiser. This means some of your money goes to drive your business outcomes, and the rest of the money goes towards optimizing the advertising networks own yield. Does this sound strange? It should.

Imagine if your payroll software told you what you’re employee’s salaries were going to be, and set the payment cycle based on how it increased it’s own payroll management revenue. Imagine if your restaurant served your entrée based on what the kitchen hadn’t yet sold. Imagine if your Uber driver took you to where the next riders were waiting, instead of back to your home.

You probably can’t imagine this, because it’s preposterous. Other industries aren’t permitted to operate this way. We’ve grown accustomed to digital marketing that grades its own homework, serves ads based on identity information harvested from advertisers, and spends budgets based it’s own yield optimization.

You know the system is broken when 37% of data leaders think their organizations are prepared for a world without 3rd-party cookies, but 76% of them do not think their removal will have a negative impact on their revenues.

At Bonsai, we’ve routinely come in and improved business outcomes from digital marketing and media by avoiding 3rd party data collection like the plague. Clients who reduce third party data dependence experience less waste and better business results. You could say our business model is to come in and help our clients stop doing things. The fact that it works so well is amusing.

Why aren’t more businesses doing this? One concern repeatedly resurfaces: uncertainty about how to purchase and allocate digital media without third-party cookies. Your team might have years of experience managing digital marketing, but these strategies have been powered by third-party cookies for so long that despite a plethora data capability there’s likely never been an informed assessment of how you should be using each respective platform to reach and convert new customers without that cookie.

Let’s change that. Any business can wean themselves off of 3rd party data collection and make more money in the process. Learn what to do by following our step-by-step playbook:

Assess your dependence on third-party data tracking, targeting and measurement.

If you are one of the 7,000+ domains that Bonsai measures, you are in luck. Check out our free assessment page to get a specific analysis custom to your business. We will let you know what technology your business leverages, what functions are present, how much 3rd party data are being collected, and what level functional overlap exists.

If your business isn’t in our database, request it today and analyze your tech using free browser plug-ins from companies like Tag Inspector.

Link your business to your digital customer experience.

You can analyze and measure your current customer behavior while targeting and closing new prospects by connecting your first-party data to your digital customer experiences on websites and apps. You can do this in three steps:

Track your digital assets

Warehouse your business data

Connect your data to your assets and marketing endpoints

Step One

Track your digital assets using web and app analytics. Practice 1st-party data collection with consumer consent.

You can utilize Google Analytics. Or Adobe Omniture. Don’t want to give Google or Adobe control? That’s fine, you can build your own analytics in a few hours with a cloud environment.

If you are thinking “What’s consent?” – that’s okay, there’s tools to help.
Read up on consent management platforms and find an expert on CCPA, GDPR, and the new laws in Colorado, Virginia and other soon-to-be state regulations. If you are really serious, go out and find a chief data officer and prioritize a customer data privacy policy and data governance.

Step two

Warehouse your business data using one of many cloud and hybrid-cloud environments.

Google Cloud has native integrations to Google Marketing Platform. Amazon Web Services have a myriad of high-performing, low cost storage, processing and connectivity options. Microsoft Azure, HPE or many other options offer a combination that can work for your business requirements. In terms of what data, use two rules:

Does the data reflect what my customers engage with in my business?

Does the data inform how I’m doing against our customer goals?

For most businesses, this might be sales data, product and inventory data, anonymized customer data, competitive benchmarks, time, geo, weather data, media spend data, promotions and fiscal calendars.

Step three

Connect your business and marketing cloud to your digital assets and marketing touchpoints.

A fairly new marketing tech category has emerged that does precisely this: the customer data platform (CDP). Should you buy one? You can. What CDP should you buy? There’s a myriad of options, all with more than enough capabilities. You can buy Segment. Or Lytics. You can buy Simon, or AWS partner Tealium. If you want to buy, pick the best based on personal taste or price. None of them are magic, most do the job.

Can your build your own?

Of course you can, and it’s not as hard as you think. Follow one of the many publicly available playbooks online.

Unify measurement and apply value-based investment across every signal, not just identity.

Digital marketing’s design lends itself to value-based buying. We’ve previously published simple examples, such as how to make Google ads and Facebook ads a profit center.  Apply learnings from that to an entire portfolio of cross-channel digital marketing platforms and executions. Depending on the platform, you can programmatically calibrate your media spend to the most valuable ad impression to serve based on a user’s intent, context, geo-location, behavior pattern, device, demographic or interest (although the mechanisms that assess these signals vary in accuracy – dig into each before committing). How should you tune those signals? Utilize your customer data to see which ones are value driving for your business.

Many will look at the above and think “This is too much for our business to take on by ourselves.”

That’s okay. Owning and operating your own marketing technology and data strategy doesn’t require you to do everything by yourself. The right partnerships empower your business data strategy to work for you throughout marketing, sales and customer engagement. The wrong partnerships usurp your strategy, or at best undermine it.

When you don’t own your data strategy, you not only end up with an execution system that’s deprecating, your outcomes are optimized to businesses somewhat like yours, but not yours. How can you know your partnerships are confiscating your data strategy and limiting your business performance potential? Here’s some situations you might recognize:

  • Need better qualified calls to your call center?
    TOO BAD. The 3rd party data can only measure calls in general, so you’ll get bad with the good.
  • Need higher margin items promoted?
    TOO BAD.
    The 3rd party data can only measure price and revenue, so it will prioritize items and revenue volume, not margin.
  • Need to adjust marketing to optimize against sell-thru capacity?
    TOO BAD.
    Your 3rd party bidder will optimize your ads under the assumption that you can fulfill unlimited orders.
  • Customers’ location critical to understanding future lifetime value?
    TOO BAD.
    Your 3rd party data only collects things like browser type, internet speed and esoteric tech specs.

In each example, your business data could be empowered to supercharge growth. Instead, it’s ignored or overridden by the data priorities of your partners or platforms. How do you solve for this? Here’s a simple approach to knowing what partnerships are right for you.

Ask your partners

“We’re moving on from 3rd party tracking. What’s the plan for our digital marketing program?

The Wrong response

“We’re not sure this is the right thing for your business, can we talk about a multi-phased testing plan?”

The Right Response

“We’re ready!”

If you don’t yet have marketing technology partnerships, or if your business doesn’t know how to get started, there’s plenty of companies out there who will give you the right response. We’re already doing this for our clients at Bonsai. But we’re not the only ones. There’s great companies like Chalice. Or K2DQ. Or D4t4. Any firm that’s willing to point you in the right direction is one you should get to know.

Well, that’s it. That’s the playbook. Let us know how this helps you, what it’s missing, and what you’d dispute in the comments. Need deeper answers? Continue the conversation with us.

About the Author

Matt Butler
Ex-Googler of 12 years, Matt was a founding member of Google’s analytical consulting team, developing analytics, statistical forecasting, auction modeling, and machine learning for companies such as Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Kohl’s, Best Buy, and many more. He went on to lead global technical partnerships before leaving to found Bonsai in February, 2020.