Personas in a cookieless world

The following is a post from the APG Team’s summer 2020 intern, Jaad Mohammed.

In January 2020, Google announced that they are going to phasing out support for all third-party cookies within the next two years. This decision comes in response to growing concerns over data privacy, including transparency, choice, and control over how online data is used, which matters greatly in a day and age where a lot of information is digitalized.

What are cookies?

Cookies (also known as internet cookies, http cookies, browser cookies or web cookies) are small text files made by websites and stored accessible to your web browser so that these websites can log in some of your preferences and activities, such as your saved user ID and password, personalized theme settings or the items in a shopping cart of an online store, etc. These cookies are generally known as first-party cookies, in that they are from the website the user is visiting.

However, there is also something called third-party cookies. Third-party cookies are ones from a website other than from the domain a user is visiting. Third-party cookies are a way for marketers to analyze online behavior by tracking our online movements and preferences, enabling them to do things like creating personalized ads. Ever wondered how your mobile started showings ads for new shoes as soon as you looked at new shoes, now you know.

Google’s decision to join its competitors, Safari and Firefox, may soon end third-party cookies. With that in mind, brands will need to start thinking of new alternatives to gain insights about the customers. This is where advertisers can start utilizing web analytics methods, such as personas, to understand their potential customers.

So, it’s not a totally cookieless world, as first-party cookies will still be around!

What are personas?

Persona profile in persona system
This functionality enables the client to generate personas from his chosen data source (currently, following platforms are supported: YouTube, Facebook, Google Analytics). The client can choose between 5 and 15 personas.

Personas are imaginary people that serve as a representation of a brand’s users, audiences, or customers based on real market research data. With personas, organizations get answers to questions such as: “Who are the customers?” “What do they want?” and “What are their goals/interests?” etc. all presented in a manner that most people can relate to – another person!

A typical persona profile will contain information like the user’s age, gender, location, topics of interest, etc. This information is then given a name and photo so that stakeholders can empathize with their customers by thinking of them as real people.

Though the blocking of third-party cookies does not create issues with logging in on websites (which can be an issue after blocking first-party cookies). It will result in advertisers facing difficulties in identifying a user’s behavioral attributes (preferred content). This may ultimately result in users receiving fewer ads, or worse, receive ads that pester users about something they would never want to purchase/engage in.

Here’s one way to tackle the cookieless world. Do things the persona way!

  • Create personas on existing customers or users. As these are the people a company is most successful with. By making personas based on existing customers, brands can get an idea of the user-archetypes attracted to their product. They can then focus on marketing campaigns around other users exhibiting the same characteristics. This can be done by conducting online market research.
  • Create personas on using first-party cookies: You can still create personas from visitors, potential customers, to your own website, as first-party cookies will still exist.
  • Create personas from social media analytics platforms: Most social media analytics platforms offer user analytics from which one can create personas.

A comprehensive guide to creating personas can be found at How to create a persona?.  If brands don’t wish to create personas themselves, they could subscribe to handy tools like Automatic Persona Generation (APG) to create personas automatically for them, which has the added benefit of being data-driven.

Some other strategies brands and advertisers may use to tackle the upcoming cookieless world are discussed on Artefact and HubSpot .

APG is data-intensive! APG is fast! APG personas are rich! 

Want to read more about APG?

Jung, S., An, J., Kwak, H., Ahmad, M., Nielsen, L., and Jansen, B. J.  (2017) Persona Generation from Aggregated Social Media Data. ACM Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2017 (CHI2017). Denver, Colorado. p. 1748-1755. 6-11 May.

Jansen, B. J., Salminen, J., and Jung, S.G. (2020) Data-Driven Personas for Enhanced User Understanding: Combining Empathy with Rationality for Better Insights to AnalyticsData and Information Management. 4(1), 1-17.

Contact me to get going w/APG!

Dr. Jim Jansen, email:

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