Topics: Google, Attribution, Measurement

It’s Time to Stop Looking for a Cookie Alternative

Detective investigation board with fingerprints, images, and string

Last week, as we were all placing bets on how dire Meta’s Q2 earnings would be, Google announced that the elimination of browser cookies would be delayed until at least 2024. By the next morning, there were 809 news articles about Google’s surprise decision. All of them warned advertisers that it would be dangerous to use the extension as an excuse to put off finding a cookie alternative.

I get it. Unexpected announcements from the world’s largest ad platform are worthy of a headline, and sprinkling in a little nightmare fuel about the uncertain future makes for good reading. But, maybe it’s time to stop obsessing about a workaround for cookies, or Apple’s ATT, or the next privacy mandate from regulators. Even if Google or the hundreds of other organizations working on a privacy compliant “alternative” to cookies pull off a miracle, we still have to contend with the ever-expanding laundry list of other issues that make click-based measurement a waste of time.  

It’s time to move on.  

Every marketer dreams of a holy grail solution, but advertising measurement is not something to be solved just once. There will never be a Ronco Rotisserie “set it and forget it” version of marketing attribution. It’s why, for decades, every cross-channel measurement solution that has been proposed – whether it was multi-touch attribution (MTA), media mix modeling (MMM), experimentation, or some other methodology – has been so darn difficult to land and scale. Media measurement has to be solved for, over and over and over again, every time something changes. And things change all the time. 

The marketing ecosystem is complex, convoluted, and sometimes a little cagey. Every channel, every ad platform, and every publisher has unique traits that are prone to change – from delivery, to the underlying technology, to the audience, the targeting, segmenting, tracking, reporting, taxonomies, devices, and much more. Solving measurement for just one of these channels is a herculean task. Making any kind of accurate comparison across an entire media portfolio seems completely unattainable for many marketers. 

Now that I have brought everyone to the brink of despair, wouldn’t it feel good to just leave all the disappointment and frustration behind? It’s hard, especially for people who have been thinking this way for 20+ years, but we have to let go of the notion that the only way to calculate media impact is to connect ads to individuals and individuals to conversions. 

Sometimes saying “to heck with it” and starting over is the only way forward. Let’s start simple.

Every marketer wants the same thing – to connect media spend directly to business results. While there are infinite variables that can impact how an ad campaign plays out on any given channel on any given day, the desired result remains consistent. Brands buy ads expecting an incremental contribution to sales. Incrementality is the universal currency for measuring the true impact of advertising on business outcomes.

Sounds great, but how do we measure incrementality?

The answer is testing. It’s what measurement was anchored on before we were distracted by tracking people around the internet. We don’t need to know what individuals are doing. We just need to know if what we did caused a purchase or not. 

It sounds simple because, in theory, it is. It’s the test and control scientific method we learned about in 5th grade science. But, when we introduce all of those variables outlined above, testing for cross-channel media measurement becomes infinitely more difficult. Designing a scientifically sound experiment with this much complexity is really, really hard. And then it needs to be redesigned every time anything changes. 

Here’s the good news:  WE DID THIS FOR YOU.

Six years ago, my cofounder Madan and I did what I am asking all of you to do now. We freed ourselves from the endless frustrations of multi-touch attribution and started over. Madan developed a plan to make ongoing incrementality testing, at scale, a reality for all marketers. Then he brought in some of the best brains in the industry to help us build it.

DTC brands have been using Measured to optimize their media spend, based on incrementality, since 2017. Our existing customers were well prepared to navigate massive shifts caused by a global pandemic and the challenges brought about by the privacy movement. Others are now coming to us to lead them back out of the dark.

Today, we have data from seven years of running tens of thousands of experiments for more than 120 brands. This data is so rich that new clients can optimize their entire media portfolio for incrementality within four weeks, without having to run any of their own in-market tests. They then can start running ongoing experiments to continuously improve efficiency and drive more growth.

There will never be a solution for advertising measurement. There is no destination.  Stop looking for the best “alternative” to cookies and start thinking about measurement as a continuous process of discovery. Test. Learn. Optimize. Repeat.

Ready to get started? Contact us today.

About the author

Trevor Testwuide

Expert in business strategy and marketing measurement.

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