James Arnold, Chief Digital Officer and Dennis Hecht, Chief Intelligence Officer, Rooster Strategic Solutions

In the summer of 1992, Mary Bandar from Winona, Minnesota received an invitation to join a local kindergarten class. The school’s computer, which abbreviated dates to save data space, recognized her as a four-year-old; Bandar, who was born in 1888 and had just turned 104, politely declined the invitation. This episode was one of the first warning signs of the “Y2K problem,” and IT professionals and programmers acted quickly. By the time the ball dropped on the new millennium, the Y2K problem was a virtual non-event.

Today, marketers are facing a calamitous future of their own: We have seven months until the third-party cookie deprecation takes place. And it’s not that we haven’t been warned. In 2011, the European Union updated its privacy laws to give individuals the right to refuse cookies. Google announced last January its intention to phase third-party cookies out from its Chrome browser, following Apple and Mozilla’s plans to “render third-party cookies obsolete.” But few marketers are prepared. Many who have grown used to the industry just figuring it all out are either unaware of the magnitude of the problem or are holding out hope that they can pick up a new vendor when things go awry.

This is bad for both consumers and companies. Brands used cookies to track personalized information … tracking the pages consumers visit to understand their interests and behaviors. This allows marketers to deliver personalized experiences, such as suggested products or videos. It’s an online experience that we as consumers take for granted. When that experience becomes more unwieldly, consumer ire will be pointed not at Google, but at the individual website creators. For marketers the changes will be even more dramatic. A world without cookies will force fundamental changes to the online advertising industry since third-party cookies are the foundation of many companies’ ability to track user behavior, personalize digital ads, and measure campaign effectiveness.

This is a big deal. And we’re not ready.

Google is recommending its Privacy Sandbox as the solution. Privacy Sandbox is a series of proposals that promises to eliminate improper tracking while allowing ad targeting within the Chrome browser, which has 47 percent market share. However, most of the specifics for this initiative, as well for similar Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), are still up in the air.

The Trade Desk Originated Unified ID is another proposed solution. In this, a consumer logs into a website with their e-mail address, creating a unique identifier. Consumers are notified at login why the website is creating this identifier and what value is returned; they are also allowed to set preferences on how their data is shared. It’s not exactly seamless, and Google has already stated it has no plans to support e-mail-based identifiers or any similar system that mirrors the functionality of cookies.

Herein lies the rub; where the Y2K fighters were aligned in defeating a common enemy and pooled resources, none of the proposed solutions for third-party deprecation are aligned, so quality scale will significantly diminish or disappear entirely.

It’s time to get your data house in order. No matter which – if any – of the proposed solutions leaps to the forefront, one thing is clear: The lion’s share of data aggregation and identity resolution work is going to fall on individual companies. Instead of purchasing a set of cleansed data on an audience to use for retargeting, for instance, companies will have to create it. This means integrating first, second, and third-party data into a single customer data platform (CDP). This is a monumental task for many companies. It means digging out data that’s stored in varied departmental silos, then cleansing, storing, and making it accessible to multiple stakeholders. However, once that step is completed, you’ll enjoy better, stronger, direct relationships with customers.

We believe that this is a critical juncture for our clients and other marketers. It’s time to have serious meetings with your data and onboarding partners if you haven’t already. And to help get the ball rolling, look to this space for a 5-part series with actionable intelligence to help your business move forward.

With some hard work, we can all look back on this with the same satisfaction with which we view the events around Y2K; yes, it was complicated, but we made it a non-event.