Why B2B Has Different Challenges in the Post-Cookie World

December 13, 2021

By Erik Matlick

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Alarmist takes on privacy changes and policy updates have equated these changes to an apocalypse for digital advertising. While no company will be immune to any of these changes, the impact will be felt differently across the ecosystem.

Case in point is the loss of cookies, which will be experienced quite differently by different companies, and even in different sectors.

Cookies are already used quite differently in B2B advertising than they are in B2C. High-frequency, return-to-your-abandoned-shopping-cart retargeting is simply not in play for B2B companies, not because they're unaware, but because it simply doesn't align with the B2B purchase funnel.

B2B marketers will fare quite differently in a post-cookie world, largely because they already face different challenges than their B2C peers.

Small differences, big impact


One of the biggest differences is that B2B purchases are commonly made by committee, not a lone decision maker. Effective "targeting" in this case looks quite different from the way it's been defined in the B2C space.

A cookied approach that aims ads at an individual who is lumped into a "business decision maker" audience, for instance, is not going to have the same performance impact as a campaign aimed at "auto intenders" or "new parents."

The advertiser does not need to identify prospective users – they need to identify interested companies. There is a lot of talk in the B2C space about transitioning to publisher-centered models, because publisher first-party cookies will remain in place after the transition away from third-party cookies.

This is even more true in the B2B space, because publishers themselves may have logins with corporate emails, allowing them to build targeting pools at the company level, while also leveraging contextual signals.

"Controlled Circulation" has served as a cornerstone of B2B advertising for more than a century. Implementing "Controlled Circulation" requires an audience member to supply professional demographics (such as company, employee size, title, seniority.) in exchange for content. Traditionally, this content was industry-specific newsletters and magazines. Today, the content has become digital, but the dynamic remains the same: There's more leeway for publishers to require B2B audience data in exchange for content.

Other forms of publisher identity will remain as well, including Single Sign On (SSO) identity options from Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others, which supply minimal information on an individual. Publisher first-party cookies can be used to append data to email addresses, creating a business profile that is built only on an email address.

The marketing opportunity


The ability to continue targeting B2B companies is important because the sales cycle itself differs dramatically. On the consumer side, a single website may serve as both research hub and the point-of-sale. In the B2B buying process, customers advance nearly 60 percent of the way through a highly-considered buying process before they engage with a direct sales team.

There are obviously several stages of the research and intent occurring within that 60 percent of the journey and savvy B2B marketers are going to engage with potential customers differently depending on where they fall in the funnel.

One key difference here is in how ad messaging may feel to a prospective buyer. B2C messages are rarely additive, and may even feel intrusive, which is why they turn off so many consumers.

Looking at a pair of shoes does not signal that a consumer wants to buy them right this minute, and the same is true of the B2B buying committee. One site visit does not mean someone wants or needs to speak with a sales rep.

A B2B ad or marketing asset, when timed correctly with where a buyer is in that 60 percent run up, is more likely to be greeted warmly. Content and foundational information is helpful in the very beginning; more detailed how-to's and case studies can help a committee get the internal buy-in they need to proceed to the next stage of the sales process.

Fortunately, these are the kinds of signals that will remain intact without third-party cookies, thanks in large part to the publisher data signals that will remain. If companies want to grow, they will continue to need goods and services, and the only space will remain a vital channel for reaching these prospective buyers.

While collecting data and targeting may look different in the near future, the ability to break through that clutter will still be paramount. B2B companies that can help their prospects on their journeys are likely to succeed in the long run.


Erik Matlick is the CEO and co-founder of Bombora.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


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