Like it or not, big changes are coming to the way marketers can use third-party cookies online. And while a shift away from these cookies has long been in the works, that hasn’t necessarily made it easier for pharma marketers to identify replacement strategies for targeting, context and measurement.
But while the end of the third-party cookie era may spell doom for some tactics, there’s one space it won’t affect: point of care marketing. And in fact, in a world without cookies, marketing at the point of care may just be a key way to ensure messages are exposed to qualified audiences for pharma and health products.
PREPARING FOR A COOKIELESS FUTURE
While some may argue the writing has long been on the wall for the use of third-party data-tracking with the advent of privacy laws such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, it was Google that delivered the death knell in 2020 with an announcement that it would begin phasing out cookies. While it wasn’t the first web browser to declare its intent to block cookies—Apple-owned Safari, for its part, began restricting cookies in 2017 and did away with them last year, and Mozilla Firefox began blocking cookies by default in 2019—it was certainly the biggest, and the one that set off alarm bells for marketers across the industry.
With the move away from cookies, many websites, companies and marketers will no longer be able to track users as they surf the internet. While sites will still be able to use data that they themselves collect—a.k.a. first-party cookies—gone will be the option to use data collected by another party.
That’s a big problem for marketers who rely on that data to target and re-target potential customers, as well as those who rely on it to measure the effectiveness of their ads. Without third-party cookies, for instance, pharma marketers won’t be able to serve up drug ads to someone who’s searched online for info on the disease that drug treats—at least, not in the way they’ve been able to in the past.
Right now, companies are scrambling to find a 2.0 solution to the loss of third-party cookies, but currently, the available information about what these solutions might look like or how effective they’ll be is sketchy at best. On the other hand, the point of care space—which uses effective tactics for both targeting and measurement—won’t see its capabilities impacted by the forthcoming changes.
TARGETING WITHOUT COOKIES
Imagine a marketer looking to advertise a psoriasis drug. With a third-party cookie, that marketer can identify people who have looked for psoriasis information online and then place a drug ad in front of that audience. In the absence of cookies, marketers will be limited to using contextual targeting and advertising with publishers that have first-party data; putting a psoriasis drug ad on a webpage about psoriasis, for example, or on a webpage that requires users to be logged in.
The point of care industry, though, is already targeted by nature. That same marketer, if going the POC route, would have psoriasis ads appearing in dermatologists’ offices—on a wall board, for example, or on an iPad or mobile device as part of the check-in process—where relevant patients are ready to receive them. POC companies’ access to patients at critical moments—and, in some cases, access to first-party health data—sets them apart and shields them from the disruption that’s about to hit programmatic digital advertisers.
BRINGING CONTEXT TO MESSAGING
Third-party cookies have traditionally been great at targeting, but they’ve also helped marketers reach patients at the right time: shortly after a patient has expressed interest in a particular product or disease. That immediacy gave context to the marketing messages, even when they appeared on an unrelated website.
In the context department, though, point of care companies have always wielded the ultimate advantage by appearing in front of patients at a key time for healthcare decision-making. Because patients receive POC messages just before meeting with their doctors, those messages often become a part of doctor-patient conversations.
POC’S MEASUREMENT ADVANTAGES
Every company that spends money on advertising wants to measure its return on investment to determine the effectiveness of its ad program. POC tactics, because they can be measured by third-party companies and employ test vs. control methodologies based on medical and pharmacy claims data, can measure with a degree of precision that others can’t.
Consider a marketer placing an ad on Instagram. That marketer may be able to see who clicks on that ad and what they do next. But even now, that marketer doesn’t know about those viewers’ offline behaviors—whether they went to the doctor and got a prescription after seeing the ad, for example—and there will be even less visibility after cookies disappear.
THE WAY FORWARD
While it may not yet be clear what marketers can do to effectively replace the capabilities provided by third-party cookies, it’s clear that in the meantime, they’ll have to change their tactics to adapt to a cookie-free landscape. And with tactics like those available in POC already out there, they’ll have readily available options.
One way or another, once cookies are history, marketers will need to shift their focus from frequency to better targeting and tailored content, two areas where POC has a leg up. And in doing so, they can not only continue to reach patients, but improve the experience for patients and physicians, too.
Carly Helfand is the associate content director at Phreesia Life Sciences. Previously, she was the executive editor of Fierce Pharma and Fierce Pharma Marketing.
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