Email Targeting: How Not to Get Caught with Both Hands in the Cookie Jar

Jul 01, 2019

Article ImageWith Google’s recent announcement to restrict third-party cookies in Chrome, advertisers and publishers are reeling. Considering that Chrome’s share of the web browser market far outpaces all others by more than four times, there are literally millions of user data-gathering opportunities on the line.

While it’s true that the cookie has been crumbling for some time—they don’t work at all on mobile, and all the major browsers now allow users to opt-out of cookies—Google’s announcement is forcing the online advertising world to adapt. Faced with uncertainty, advertisers need to find an alternative to cookies to track user behavior across the web, while publishers are similarly seeking new solutions to monetize their traffic.

Email has emerged as the most effective alternative, allowing advertisers to reduce their dependence on third-party cookies and open new doors to reach highly engaged, precisely targeted audiences. How? By placing ads in publishers’ email newsletters, brand advertisers not only benefit from a captive subscriber audience, but they also get built-in tracking precision in an affordable CPC model.

What makes email-based advertising so attractive?

  1. It’s a precisely unique identifier. Part of the problem with cookies all along has been that they can’t distinguish between different users on the same browser. For example, if mom, dad and the kids all use the same laptop and browser, to a cookie, they all look the same. As a result, their tracking data becomes a mishmash, virtually useless to advertisers. Even new techniques of “browser fingerprinting,” while more accurate than cookies, still can’t duplicate the precision of email. No one shares an email address. It’s personal, and very often you only provide it to sites and brands that you trust. This makes email data incredibly valuable for tracking and engaging users.
  2. It’s persistent. A users’ email address is not a session-based or browser-based identity. It’s an actual individual identifier, and it works consistently across different platforms. Let’s say you visit a publisher’s site on a desktop, mobile phone, and a tablet all in the same day. In a cookie-based world, that looks like three different people. But, if you access all of those through an email newsletter, the publisher can connect those sessions together, recognize your usage patterns and offer more precise ad targeting as a result.
  3. It’s opt-in. As users become more concerned about privacy and the world shifts toward adopting more GDPR-based permission requirements, email is a safe bet. Because subscribers have willingly shared their address, they’ve raised their hands, asking for you to market to them. For advertisers, this means partnering with reputable publishers can get your brand message in front of a highly curated and engaged audience.
  4. It’s trusted. As trust in social channels has declined sharply in the wake of data breaches, privacy scandals, and fake news, email has become the trusted channel of choice for publishers and the brands who advertise within them. In fact, trust in the publisher is the #1 reason email subscribers open and read newsletters, and nearly two-thirds say trust is more important than the content itself in enticing them to open and read.  For an advertiser, that means your brand message has a greater chance of being seen by your intended audience.
  5. It’s engaging. Not only is email the preferred channel for brand communication for over 70% of consumers, their trust in the publishers they subscribe to translates directly to the brands who advertise within them. This notion of conveyed trust—trust in the publisher spawns trust in the advertiser—is tremendously valuable, and two-thirds of adults say they’ll click on an ad in an email if they trust the sender.
  6. It’s reliable. While browsers and users can block tracking cookies, advertisements placed in the email are essentially guaranteed to deliver. Not only are they impervious to browser-based ad blockers, even in webmail, but users are surprisingly tolerant of email advertising. Over half of subscribers say they aren’t bothered by ads in an email at all, and fewer than a third say ads in the email will cause them to unsubscribe. And, if you fear they’ll just hit the “spam” button instead, data shows that’s unlikely—only 25% say they’ll mark email they no longer want to receive as spam.

As audience expectations lean increasingly toward more personalized, just-right right-now content, precision targeting has become essential in attracting and retaining customers. For brands with a very specific demographic—certain geography, age range, income, behavior, etc.—a cookie just isn’t going to cut it.

With the precision targeting capabilities of email, and the inherent trust subscribers place in the publishers and their advertising partners, you don’t have to waste money on guessing things about the users’ identity or behavior. Email allows you to hone in and reduce dependence on browser-based cookies.  

Whether it becomes the de facto standard, or just another valuable input, investing in a robust email advertising campaign will drive engagement, traffic and brand awareness. Advertisers would be wise to seek out publishers who are leveraging email-based targeting to avoid getting caught with both hands in the cookie jar.

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Social media may be the star of digital marketing strategies, but email has long been the work-horse. Marketers know this, and it's time publishers follow their lead.