Goodbye Third-Party Cookies: What the Changes Mean for Automotive Dealers

Kevin LeSage headshot, Director of Digital Marketing at Autotrader
Jun 15, 2021
Kevin LeSage, Director of Digital Marketing
Consumer on laptop reading cookie terms and conditions page

One of the many benefits of digital marketing is the ability to track and measure. Tracking has always allowed marketers to optimize the consumer experience and better understand behaviors to deliver more relevant messages. There are changes coming to how we track and measure online behavior, and you may have already heard about the “cookie-less future” and “updates to third-party cookies.”

What are browser cookies?

When you hear the term “cookie,” think tracking. Technically, cookies refer to files stored on a user’s computer designed to hold data. They are two types: first-party cookies and third-party cookies. First-party cookies are unique to a specific website, and user data can only be collected and activated on that one specific website. 

Third-party cookies are added to your device by other parties in agreement with the website you’re visiting. Third-party cookies allow marketers to follow users around the internet to learn about their behaviors, and, in many cases, retarget them and build custom audiences. Think relevancy: As a marketer, the more I know about your behaviors online, the better and more relevant ad I can serve you.  

What’s changing with third-party cookies and how will it affect dealership marketing?

As consumers have expressed increased concern over personal privacy and data, and as new regulatory laws have been passed, companies have had to adjust. Apple sparked the beginning of the end when it started blocking third-party ad tracking to protect its users. Google followed suit, announcing it will end support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser by 2023. The new changes to stop supporting third-party cookies are designed so the consumer wins. 

I’m excited for these changes for one main reason: Although audience size may decrease, audience quality will increase. Slapping third-party tags all around the web, to make a bunch of guesses about human behavior, is a poor way to build an audience. This practice creates a lot of marketing waste — in dollars, time and effectiveness. Of course, it’s never sold that way, but I have seen it many times over the years.  

I’ve vetted many automotive data companies over the years. When I started peeling back layers and asking questions, I couldn’t believe the lack of credibility in the data. There was a lot of guesswork happening to build marketing audiences that were being resold. This system doesn’t help the car shopper or the marketer and can waste a lot of money — quickly.

Businesses need to lean into their first-party data now more than ever. By leveraging your own data and partnering with high-quality data partners, you can be successful. 

Developer's hands on keyboard

Leverage your own data: The most important asset you have right now is your own data. For car dealers, first-party data is the personal records in your CRM. Real people coming off lease, or declining service in your service bays. You can build an audience from YOUR data! 

With each day that passes, your data increases in value and will become your competitive advantage. It is for Cox Automotive, parent company of Autotrader. Regardless of privacy laws or the crumbling of third-party cookies, we touch 75% of all U.S. consumers shopping for a car.? We connect the dots between our online websites, measuring consumer behavior down to the hour. We’re doing that through our first-party data stitching, tracking device IDs and IP address, then mapping all that data down to the person and household.  

Read more about how Cox Automotive is partnering with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to scale our digital personalization. 

Find a high-quality data partner: Data providers with meaningful partnerships and integrated technology are the ones who win in the very near future. Look for data partnerships with companies who allow access to their walled garden and “share” first-party cookie information. Companies with large, impactful first-party audiences like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook can resell consumer behavior on their own platform; they’re referred to as “walled gardens.” Cox Automotive has one of the highest-quality walled gardens of data in the automotive industry. We track car shopping behavior down to the hour with the ability to identify “ready-to-buy” shoppers who are 15 times more likely to buy than the average person in-market. We’re also able to correctly predict which make the shopper purchases over 91% of the time.? That’s the power of building meaningful, quality audiences specific to the auto industry.  

Your dealership’s marketing strategy is all about using smart data to build high-quality audiences. Build first-party audiences and activate on them across Facebook, Over the Top (OTT) platforms, bid modifiers with Google, YouTube, etc. Then, build a conquest audience. Find new market share not currently in your CRM. Get them in your CRM. Add them to your first-party audience strategy. Keep feeding the machine! 

And as you’re building out your audience strategy, there are some important questions to ask your potential conquest/big data partner. If your potential partner can’t answer these questions with facts, stats and deep knowledge, it may be time to reassess what they can really do for you, especially in the ever-changing world of digital marketing.

  • How are you collecting or buying data?
  • How are you activating on an audience?
  • How are you identifying in-market car shoppers?
  • How often are your consumer insights updating?

The cookie-less future is coming. Is your dealership ready?