News & Insights

Leveraging Data Sets Through Print in a Post-cookie World

25 January 2022

Join the Dot’s Head of Media Planning, Clare Arndell, addresses the print challenges brands will face with the end of third-party cookies.

For brands which have previously been reliant on cookies for targeting and measurement, what are the best alternatives looking ahead?

In August 2022, Google delayed its plan to end the use of the third-party cookie, instead planning to phase them out entirely by 2024. This gives advertisers a bit of breathing space and time to plan for when cookies are no longer available.

As this is going to have a serious impact on how advertisers target their marketing activity and measure its effect, we’ve put together an overview of some of the best alternatives available.

What alternatives are there to cookies?

There are (and have been for some time) alternative online targeting options such as contextual advertising which allows for targeting, using keywords and page content.

This can work seamlessly as you can tap into people’s interests and intent rather than just grouping people demographically, but it can be harder to measure this at a granular level in the same way that you could with cookies. Advertisers won’t have the same levels of insight into the role display advertising has played in creating online conversions or assisting on the journey to conversion.

Whereas cookies allow advertisers to set limits like frequency caps to stop someone being over-exposed to a message, this isn’t possible with contextual advertising. This means the media spend may become less cost-efficient as advertisers incur higher levels of wastage through over-exposure.

By comparison, understanding first-, second- and third-party data sets and leveraging them through print and digital media channels:

  • Improves accuracy as it is based on actual customer data
  • Is easy to attribute (both direct and assisted conversions) because we can match-back responses
  • Is GDPR-compliant
  • Drives better results, as there is far less wastage in the targeting which drives higher response rates

Join the Dots specialises in this type of targeting – that’s why we have won over 20 new clients in the last year.

Here are some examples of how we target using data sets and print channels for different sectors:

For our insurance clients:

We buy postal data for people who are coming up to the end of their annual insurance policies and target them with renewal offers via direct mail.

For our charity clients:

We profile their donor data and use it to build a model which identifies new donors (excluding existing donors) and targets them with partially addressed mail (around 150 times more targeted than door drop campaigns).

For our utilities clients: We buy ‘homemover’ data for people who are in the process of moving house and target them with introductory or switching messages via mail. 

For our retail clients:

We use transactional and emotional data to create distinct personas and target each one via their corresponding insert genres.

For our subscription clients:

We use existing first party data and profile it to understand who their new prospects should be and target them with “new customer” offers via door drop.

Measuring the return from print channels helps prove their value

With measurement we can attribute responses in various ways:

Direct mail

Using direct mail, we can attribute coded postal responses to individual data sources and match-back online responses to individuals within the list of data that was purchased. This allows us to understand overall performance as well as performance by data source for future campaign optimisation.

Partially addressed mail

When we use partially addressed mail, we can do the same at a postcode level, and then at a postal sector level for door drop.

Whilst coded postal responses can be directly attributed, we can also match online responses at address, postcode, or postal sector level to show that print contributed along the purchase journey.


We can track individual titles or genres with codes via postal reply, and where possible run offers specific to inserts only to look at overall uplift via the channel.

The re-emergence of QR codes within print has also helped increase levels of attribution for all the above channels. Advertisers can now even create their own customised QR codes in their brand colours and incorporating logos which drive higher levels of usage.

But at what cost?

Whilst print channels may have higher media CPTs and there are print costs and possibly postage added to this, the return on investment is often better than for channels where the costs are lower.

We can clearly understand what results have been delivered due to our targeting being so accurate.

If you would like to discuss your media strategy in a post-cookie world, contact the Join the Dots team today. We are an award-winning media agency that strives to turn our clients dreams into reality, no matter the challenges of a cookie-less world.

Our team of superstar planners work with you to create a bespoke plan for your business, dedicated to driving results through both print and digital media. Get in touch with us today to learn how we can help you.

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