Over the past several years, the suffix “pocalypse” has been used for just about everything under the sun. Aside from the ever-popular Zombie apocalypse genre, we have seen Clown-pocalypse, Tik-Tok-pocalypse and now, most relevant, the Cookiepocalypse, also known as the end of third-party cookie tracking as we know it. Queue the theme song from “The Walking Dead.”

Hyperbole aside, the Cookiepocalypse , as I am sure you have grown to understand, is a well-covered topic that will be impacting the healthcare marketing universe in a material way, most prominently in how marketers are able to target audiences and measure impact and the return on investment (ROI) dollars spent.

With the sea change cresting, it is important to become familiar with what is happening, the timeline, and most importantly, how you could potentially gather more impactful insights than ever before.

According to a study by Adobe performed earlier this year, only 37% of marketers define themselves as “very prepared” for the upcoming privacy changes. With 2023 quickly approaching, the time to prepare is now.

How Are Third-Party Cookies Used – The Modern-Day Identifier

Without being too simplistic, first we should rehash how cookies are used today before specifically outlining our ability to drive ROI without them. That said, I have broken the use of third-party cookies into three major functions:

1. Audience targeting: Cookies have been used for everything from the type of content someone is consuming to web visits and past purchase behavior. In healthcare, there are companies that focus solely on propensity model targeting using anonymous, de-identified data to isolate likely sufferers or specific disease states just as insurance and automotive companies are looking for those who have an intent to purchase a product or service. Some cookies enable identification down to the individual level as part of the privacy policy and opt-in path allowing their browsing and content consumption to be tracked. Not all cookies carry with them the same permissions and not all publishers and websites have explicit consent from the audience to track and re-identify audiences.

2. Ad Personalization: Third-party cookies are being used for personalization, utilizing audience data to recognize consumers and help provide the “ideal experience” based on online behavior. Personalization will become even more paramount to engage healthcare professionals now that face-to-face rep access has plummeted to all-time lows. While obtaining data via registration-based or first-party sources can offer marketers the ability to personalize, there are also still many third-party players who aggregate professional audiences based on contextual content consumption without a registration or permission path. These companies will undoubtedly face data loss once all changes take effect, from what has recently been implemented by iOS and what’s to come through the Chrome browser.

3. Measurement: Third-party cookies enable you to track and measure your ads in a way that helps you understand overall impact of a campaign.

Why Are Third-Party Cookies Being Removed? – The Major Milestones

While audience targeting, ad personalization, and measurement all seem very useful to us marketers, the general public has rightfully increased their attention toward data privacy. Over the past 10 years this increased focus on data privacy has accelerated the need for intervention, with actions put into place by the U.S. government through the passage of CCPA, ePR, and GDPR, to name a few.

In addition to government intervention, tech giants such as Apple (Intelligent Tracking Prevention [ITP]), Firefox (Enhanced Tracking Protection [ETP]), and Google have begun to focus on protecting their users’ data, with Google looking to phase out third-party cookies by the end of 2023.

Note: Apple has been doing this quite loudly since 2013, which you can read about at https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/03/tech/apple-iphone-privacy-ad/index.html.

The result? A very different world for healthcare marketers.

What Does This Mean for Measurement? – Building on Web Analytics

Although companies such as Google are actively removing third-party cookies, they are also aware as to how this will impact the advertising community, especially when it comes to campaign measurement. This is why, companies like Google and Amazon, are creating platforms to continue to help markers retain their web analytic metrics from the third-party cookie era.  Cookies won’t disappear entirely, we’ll just see a consolidation in who has been empowered to collect data against them, namely, Google.

That said, there is a limit to the amount of ROI one can quantify through web analytics alone, such as click-through rate (CTR) and bounce rate, especially with an increased appetite for deeper insights across healthcare marketing.

Fear not, as the solution to this may just be defining true ROI the way it should be—measuring new-to-brand starts.

How to Drive True Quantifiable ROI with Less Cookie Data

The answer to driving ROI in a cookie-challenged world may rely on the personalization of media, with studies showing that HCPs want to increasingly receive digital messaging to support treatment decisions with more than half of those surveyed (55%) stating they actually have more time to research new therapies. Of these HCPs, 69% are actively seeking digital patient education and are up to 5x more likely to engage in those messages which are personalized.

With the right tools, marketers will actually be able to continue to reach their priority audience and better impact patient outcomes through probabilistic modeling linked to the following assets:

  • Data Ownership: Having the capability to reach a consented and verified audience is key to reducing any drop off of targetability and provide in-house data on your priority audience. Also known as “closed loop,” tapping into a verified or permissioned, registered userbase will allow for more data to be measured, returned, and greater insights to be gleamed.
  • Omni-channel Strategy: The ways in which you reach your target audience will be key in adding value to your message. Channels such as Connected TV (CTV), Email, Native, EMR, as well as display should be used, while paired with first-party data and strategically aligned with your customer journey, in order to further personalize your “non-personal promotion” to the right audience, the right way.
  • Predictive Analytics: A deeper understanding of your first-party audience behaviors inclusive of device, content, message, and channel affinities will allow targeting of HCPs when and how they desire to receive information. The ability to optimize performance in real time will help you stay on top of your priority HCPs and patient populations and measure the impact down to new-to-brand starts in a way that is not currently provided through aggregate-level site visits, page views, and other commonly tracked web analytics.

Utilizing the above, measurements can tell more of a user journey and provide more insight to physically drive scripts among your audience and push for positive patient outcomes.

The Evidence

How do we know that the answer to driving ROI in a walled garden comes from personalization and powerful insights? We at TI Health have seen it ourselves.

During a digital display program we ran during 2020, we were able to see that our campaign drove 197 new-to-brand starts for a leading multiple myeloma drug during a six-month flight period. After doing some analysis we were able to include a 158:1 ROI or $24M in lifetime patient value. The results are impressive; however, it is important to understand the methods that drove the return.

Using first-party data we were able to target Oncology, Hematology, as well as relevant diagnosing and prescribing professionals in the multiple myeloma space. Further, based on both content and device affinity, we were able to serve ads only on the most relevant non-medical content in addition to the preferred device during time periods when they were at their point-of-care using messaging around awareness and efficacy. Understanding these details allowed us to not only expand our target audience, but also personalize the messaging down to the creative—increasing our ability to create impact and drive true ROI.

The Cookiepacolypse should be in full effect within the next year. While it will indeed pose a number of challenges to marketers across industry, it will also inspire a needed shift in focus as to what truly defines a successful campaign as well as how we strategize to create the most impact. With a limited ability to target your priority audience, the way in which you do so will be dependent on what you know about first-party data, coupled with the ability to predict behavior in real time.

After all, it is possible that lessening our dependence on cookies altogether will prove healthier and more informative for the marketing industry and the HCPs and patients we serve.

  • Devin Kanach

    Devin Kanach is an up-and-coming healthcare digital marketer, with experience across the agency, publisher, and data branches of the industry. Serving as the Marketing Director at TI Health, Devin marries his medical education and industry experience in order to synthesize streamlined communication with leading pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, along with their respective agencies, around key solutions needed to further promote positive patient outcomes.


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