There has been a data revolution quietly going on in the background that some might not even be aware of. Many were too busy to take notice with their noses to the grindstones to navigate businesses through the pandemic. The Great Resignation and large-scale supply chain headaches only added to the many fires that had to be put out. Most are just thankful to have survived the last couple of years. But the coming changes in data gathering will have a profound impact on your business. And that impact can be a negative one if not fully understood.
The move away from third-party data is imminent. In 2020, Apple’s iOS 14 update allowed users to select which apps could access their data. Google announced that tracking cookies will be phased from its browser Chrome in 2022 (later delayed to 2023). Major online privacy laws, like the EU General Data Protection Regulation and the California Online Privacy Protection Act, have already been enacted, with more in the works. Third-party data is on life support, and its role in future marketing efforts will be significantly diminished if not eliminated. This means that first-party data will play a much larger role in growing your business and sales. Let’s look at why first-party data is so important and how to capture it.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF DATA
To avoid confusion, a quick explanation of the different types of data is in order. Third-party data is any information collected by an entity that doesn’t have a direct relationship with the subject it’s collecting data from. Websites track visitors as they navigate the internet through cookies and other means. Apps like Facebook gather data on everything users do while on the app and the internet with pixels. They then use that data to build your digital profile, including your interests, shopping habits, and whatever else they can discern. The same sites and apps sell or use that profile to provide highly targeted ads or a more personalized shopping experience.
First-party data is a lot simpler in nature. It is any information that you gather directly from your customers. Email addresses, physical addresses, demographic information, purchase history, what products they viewed on your website, and whatever else you can gather from your customers directly is first-party data. It belongs to your company, and there is no need to engage with a third party to access it.
There is also second-party data which is information that comes from a trusted partner. Unlike that from a third party, data from a second party isn’t openly sold to anyone making it more valuable. Instead, companies achieve greater scale by forming strategic partnerships and exchanging their data. For example, a hotel chain might pair with an airline so that both can serve advertisements to each other’s customers.
WHY IS FIRST-PARTY DATA VALUABLE?
One of the biggest reasons first-party data is becoming extremely valuable is the demise of third-party data. The window to easily gather third-party data is rapidly closing. Once it does, tapping into the information collected by third parties won’t just be more difficult but also less effective. As laws, browsers and operating systems limit what information can be gathered, digital profiles become more incomplete. That makes it harder for social platforms and other online services to target your ads to the right consumers. First-party data can help get a clearer picture of your customers as third-party data fades away.
Another reason first-party data is valuable is that your company owns it. You don’t have to rely on or pay a third party to access or interpret it. There is no figuring out how to target potential customers since the data comes straight from actual customers. It is also instantly available, and you can control how to capture it and what data is more critical. And, since your company is the sole owner, it is not data available to anyone else. Gathering and incorporating first-party data into your marketing efforts can give you a significant advantage over any competition hanging on to third-party data streams. Check out this Forbes article for even more details on the importance of first-party data.
HOW TO GATHER FIRST-PARTY DATA
Newsletters, e-books, and web request forms are well-known ways of gathering first-party data. They are effective and proven routes for data collection but also have limits. Most companies are already employing them, so they are reaching a point of oversaturation. And they typically only gather limited data such as email addresses and little else. Depending upon the needs of your business and the customer profiles you are trying to build, that may not be enough. Thankfully, there are other effective ways to capture first-party data to garner more information without being too intrusive.
ONLINE QUIZZES AS PRODUCT GUIDES
Acquiring first-party data is a fine line between getting the data you need and not being too intrusive. Not enough information won’t help your marketing efforts. But pushing for too much will often be viewed as prying, making customers avoid your attempts. Online quizzes are sometimes seen as thinly veiled attempts to mine data. But an online product guide can often gather the same information and is better received by the customer because it is helpful.
For example, if you own an off-road suspension company, you could ask a potential customer browsing your website how they use their vehicle. Do they tow with it? How many miles do they drive a year with it? How often do they take it off-road? Are they looking for performance gains or just trying to fit a larger tire? Once done with those questions, the product guide helps select the right suspension system. And those answers are captured by you, helping build a more detailed customer profile.
Many companies solely focus on making a sale. But valuable information can be gathered post-purchase too. If a customer is excited about your product and satisfied with it, they will usually be happy to share some information. And the same is true if they are dissatisfied with any aspect of their purchase or your product. Negative feedback might be hard to hear, but it is valuable for spotting problems within your company or its products. While conducting an after-sale survey, you can also ask how they use the product, what they plan to purchase next, and similar questions to gain beneficial insight and data.
PRODUCT GIVEAWAYS OR DISCOUNTS
Customers know their data is valuable and many aren’t willing to trade it for nothing. But up the ante by offering them a discount or the chance to win something, and they will be more inclined to part with it. And the bigger the offer, the more data you can usually gather. More people are willing to fill out a lengthy questionnaire for the chance to win a car than a measly 5% discount. Larger sweepstakes are more legally complicated and challenging to manage, but they can harvest an impressive amount of data, especially if it is a lengthier and well-managed campaign. But you don’t have to go all out to get results. Even smaller giveaways and discounts can gain traction if correctly promoted on your website and social media channels.
A surefire way to scuttle your data-gathering efforts is to try to capture a lot at once and right away. Most first-time customers will be hesitant to share their personal information. Ask for too much, and they often abandon a purchase and go to a less-nosy competitor. Chasing away sales is never good, so progressively building up a customer profile over time is a better idea. You can also capture more data by easing customers into the process. Patience is a virtue.
There are several ways to progressively build a customer profile, and most involve combining the previously mentioned techniques. For example, you could capture email addresses by offering discounts or small prizes. Then ask more questions when a customer creates a profile on your website. Following up with an after-sale survey gains even more information creating a better picture of a customer. For a full breakdown of the benefits of progressive profiling, click here to read a lengthy explanation. Another layer of gathering customer information is through our next topic.
Third-party cookies are going away along with third-party data, but first-party cookies are less controversial, and there are currently no plans to get rid of them (Google’s phase-out of cookies only applies to third-party ones). What is the difference between the two? Third-party cookies track and gather your data across all the websites you visit, while first-party ones only track you across a single website. For example, if you visit your favorite shopping website, a first-party cookie will only follow you across that site and not others. They are less intrusive and seen as helpful as they personalize the site remembering things like items in your cart and previously viewed products. Check out this article for a full breakdown of third- versus first-party cookies.
Beyond helping customers, first-party cookies can also help you. They let programs like Google Analytics, Mixpanel, Woopra and others track customers across your site and build a more detailed analysis of their activities. How much time they spent on a page, what pages they visited, their purchasing history, what is in their shopping cart, how many times they visited your website, and a wealth of other valuable information can be gathered by these programs. And the best ones condense that information and present it to you in an easy-to-understand format.
Before your start gathering first-party data, remember all of it is worthless if you don’t have a way to manage it. And, no, we are not talking about an Excel spreadsheet. Data gathering processes need to be standardized and often across multiple teams. Different aspects of that data can’t live in separate silos. Instead, it needs to be gathered in one place to form a complete customer profile. And you also need a way to interpret that data and analyze it. This is where a Customer Data Platform (CDP) program plays a vital role. Recommending an individual CDP is beyond the scope of this article, but visiting the Customer Data Platform Institute is a good place to start. It is a vendor-neutral organization dedicated to helping companies manage customer data.
A BRAVE NEW WORLD
It should be apparent by now that the old ways of relying heavily on third-party data are no longer feasible. Figuring out how to transition to the brave new world of first-party data can be challenging for many companies. But the time to incorporate first-party data into your marketing efforts is now, as falling behind in this shift can cost you valuable sales. A powerful agency partner can make a difference if it is beyond your company’s capabilities. At Kahn Media, we are a full-service agency specializing in public relations, influencer relations, video production, photography, content creation and strategic guidance. We can also help with transitioning your brand to first-party data giving you an edge over your competition. Contact us to see what is possible.