Why we need the why: Understanding audience behavior without cookies


We know a lot about the what but not a lot about the why. As third-party cookies are set to crumble and disappear, it’s time to dig deeper into consumer behavior.

In recent years, those of us within the marketing industry have been guilty of one thing in particular. And that is relying too heavily on macro-data sets for making important strategic decisions. The danger here? We know a lot about what” audiences are doing, mainly from third-party cookie data, but we don’t truly understand why” consumers behave the way they do.

So what?

Most marketing campaigns have a primary objective to change an attitude, or to change a behavior. But in order to change consumer attitudes and behaviors, first we have to understand their attitudes and behaviors. We must push beyond what the behavior is and instead explore why that behavior has occurred, and what attitudes are underpinning it.

This approach is more crucial than ever. As we continue to lose third-party cookie data, the need for understanding the why will continue to grow in full force.

Are we blinded by the data revolution?

I’m a data addict, so I get it. Over the last decade or so, we have seen incredible developments not only in the type of data we can gather but also in the huge amount of data that is so easily accessible for marketing agencies.

It’s been an intoxicating revolution. Possessing the power to track the online movements of millions of people has provided invaluable insights to inform media optimizations. At Dialect, we have been able to apply the latest developments in technology to further our understanding of consumer behavior, at scale.

Sounds perfect, right?

No. Because the truth is… Big Data is limited. The problem is that we’ve been missing an important piece of the puzzle, and when I say “we”, I mean the media sector. Lulled into a false sense of data security, we’ve been so focused on Big Data, that we forgot the little guy. We dismissed the quiet yet powerful voice that is qualitative research. That’s right. Good old-fashioned focused groups and in-depth interviews – oh and ethnography, facial recognition, eye tracking, and much more tech-based disciplines designed to understand behavior at a more human level.

Qualitative research methodologies such as these allow us to dig deeper into audience attitudes and behaviors, forming the basis of any behavior change strategy. Without it, you’re simply stabbing in the dark and hoping for the best without clear direction. Behavioral insight is fundamental to being able to tap into the hearts and minds of consumers. Especially in today’s unpredictable world. 

I don’t need to tell you that the world is changing at a rapid pace. Triggered by technological advancements, global pandemics, an imminent energy crisis and war. This means the cultural context in which brands operate is changing almost daily; and understanding how this impacts consumer behavior and attitudes is key for any brand operating in an ever-evolving market, world and society. However, discussing the importance of cultural context is definitely for another day!

The “POST-cookie Apocalypse” is imminent

A world without third-party cookies.

We’ve been hearing about it for years and it’s slowly beginning to happen. Now, it may not feel like the shit storm predicted by some catastrophists, but cookies are actually crumbling away.

Already, we’ve experienced the effects of the loss of Amazon attributions and the change to iOS data privacy settings where around half of iOS users blocked cookies almost overnight. So, we’ve had a taste of what is to come.

Consumers are waking up. They’re recognising just how valuable their data is and how it’s been exploited for the gain of profiteering corporations. They are becoming more aware of how their personal data can be handled and are increasingly protective over it. Consumers are closing their data doors and windows meaning that brands are losing (in)sight. 

Where does this leave us? No longer can we rely so heavily on sets of Big Data, when they are becoming increasingly patchy. Don’t get me wrong, the data remaining is still valuable. We can continue to gather behavioral insights that aid our decision-making and measure campaign performance. But the shortfalls are now twofold; we still don’t understand the why and the quantitative data is becoming less and less reliable.


We need a deeper understanding of consumer behavior – we need to understand the why.

Behavior is complex to understand. It’s driven by deep-rooted attitudes which are subconsciously formed over time. Attitudes are shaped by our experiences which come from infinite touchpoints of influence. And there are so many influential, offline touchpoints absent from large data sets. For example, word of mouth, in-store experiences, traditional media channels such as TV and radio. The reality is, we don’t have the full picture of a customer’s purchase journey.

The solution? As a sector, we need to be doing more explorative and qualitative research. It sounds simple, but we need to speak directly to consumers and observe their behavior to get closer to understanding why they behave the way they do.

Psychologists, sociologists and neurologists devote their lives to understanding some of this. I won’t lie, research or even qualitative research won’t provide us with all of the answers. But, it will certainly get us several steps closer than large data sets alone.

The future is mixed-methods!

The crumbling of cookies will have a monumental impact on how brands evaluate their performance. They will adapt to lean more and more on primary research solutions.

In my opinion, we should be merging multiple sources of data for a more holistic understanding of what consumers do and why they do it. In practice, this means bringing together cookie data, quantitative data, qualitative data, secondary data and so much more.