Why the End of Cookies Is Good for Events

Skift Take

Companies will soon be doubling down on events as their main source of data. Events that can break through data privacy concerns and continue to attract relevant attendees will win out.

In 2002, moviegoers were first alerted to the dystopian potential future of commercial privacy invasion in the film Minority Report. This science-fiction portrayal of real-time delivered advertisements based on pervasive 3rd-party amassing of personal data created a shocking reaction in the early Internet era. Unfortunately, adverts based on personal data have become the norm over the last 20 years, and most of us didn’t consciously realize it was happening. Finally, Internet users are fighting back against this type of data collection which will create new opportunities for marketing budgets that events could benefit from significantly.

What Are Cookies and Why Do They Matter

You spend a significant percentage of your life on the internet. While online, you go from website to website, app to app, all while using email and messaging platforms. Often, you pay nothing for those experiences. So who is footing the bill and lining the pockets of some of the largest corporations in history? Advertising makes much of the internet possible, including social media, email, and content publishing. But, on the other hand, advertisers love this technology. It provides them with valuable data to target the right groups with their messaging. 

“Cookies” are a technology used to track users that uses small blocks of data saved to your browser that track your browsing activities. There are various types of cookies, including authentication cookies used for logging into a site, first-party cookies, which only track activities the user has accomplished on the server it originated from, and many others. We’ll focus on the most used, controversial, and impactful variant – the third-party cookie

Third-party cookies are tracking cookies that collect long-term data on a user across their entire browsing history. The data collected includes activities such as all the websites you’ve spent time on, what you’ve purchased online, and biographical information you may have filled out online. Using third-party cookies gives advertisers a clear picture of who you are and what interests you. However, these types of cookies have also given rise to a growing movement against their use by users who believe they are invasions of privacy. 

What’s Changed for Cookies? 

Cookies have become less and less popular as their widespread use became more apparent. When users realized the culprit behind ads that follow them around the internet, the third-party cookie became a visible threat.

Now browsers have started blocking third-party cookies, beginning with Apple in 2020, which released its Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) that blocked third-party tracking via cookies by default. Mozilla Firefox followed in 2022 with its “Total Cookie Protection” and Google’s Chrome browser plans to eliminate this tracking form by late 2023, impacting over 3 billion internet users. All this adds up to being one of marketing’s most valuable tools, where they spend an estimated 566 billion U.S. dollars annually.

Event Can Gain From the Loss of Cookies

The end of third-party cookies opens the door for first-party data collection to be the new standard. First-party data collection is a form of a 1:1 relationship between an organization and a user. While there are online use cases for these types of relationships, they more closely mirror the relationship between an attendee and an event than third-party cookies ever did. First-party data collection at events includes registration information, RFID, tracking, facial recognition, and even post-event surveys. 

“With events, you get to know your audience really well. You get to know what makes them tick not just what gets them to click,” said Dahlia El Gazzar, founder of Dahlia+ Agency.

Since relationship-driven first-party data collection will soon be the most robust paradigm for marketers, events will be on more of an equal footing with online investment opportunities. As users fight back against the invasiveness of online advertisers, events become more and more appealing. At least with events, attendees enter a social contract of visibility by registering, wearing a name badge, and being willing to network. 

“Events are a fantastic way to engage people to learn more about their motivations and intent. Third-party cookies are only assumptions on motivations and intent. Events are more direct in their ability to gain true signals from buyers, prospects,” said Mark Kilens, CMO of Airmeet.

Position Your Events for This New World

There are many significant takeaways for planners to learn from as online user behavior changes. One of the more powerful lessons is how important data privacy has become to the world. This shift towards better data privacy has impacted the primary source of revenue for giant companies like Facebook. It has also meant browsers from companies like Apple and Google needed to adapt. With some of the largest companies in the world forced to make significant changes, this could also mean that your event’s use of data and its data policies may require updating to align with current standards. Data privacy is both a liability and an opportunity to differentiate yourself in the market. From variations in local laws to on-site photography to how you acquire and store attendee data, now is the time to address your policies and procedures to be transparent, consistent, and safe. 

Event Tech Refresh Needed

Now that the fight between third-party and first-party data collection seems to be over, the next hurdle for event planners is tech stacks. Events planners who want to increase their relevance and get out of a small silo within their organization need to prioritize data collection that integrates easily with their tech stacks and the tech stacks of their external stakeholders. This will likely involve a full integration with CRMs and Martech tools that provide a unified source of truth for sales and marketing teams and the basis of all their decision-making.

“We’ve been so reliant on 3rd party cookies but events offer deeper understanding of preferences because they are right there in front of us. We just have to pay attention,” said Greg Bogue, chief experience architect at Maritz Global Events

Data Enriching Options

Data collected the right way and connected to the right technologies are a planner’s foundation to increase the amount of data they collect from attendees. This means going beyond registration data and post-event surveys. To truly take advantage of what events can offer to insights-starved marketers, planners have to design an event that results in the most usable signals. By giving attendees choices and tracking their actions data collected paints a richer picture of attendees preferences.

Badge scanning and other tracking technologies can collect valuable data about attendee preferences. However, all these technologies only give you actionable information if events are intentionally designed to learn more about audiences. 

Savvy planners already understand the value of event data to help create iteratively better events. What’s next is to realize that all their stakeholders benefit from this first-party data to reach their goals. There’s never been a better time to double down on collecting data at your event and sharing the insights you’ve gathered with your partners.