Third-party cookies are disappearing. We’ve accepted that as digital marketers. In the beginning, it felt like a shock, and a little kick to the gut. We were all left asking ourselves how we are supposed to run our retargeting campaigns and other cookie-dependent marketing activities. How can we solely rely on first-party data?
Now, as we move into the phase of acceptance, we can start to see this shift as an opportunity rather than doomsday.
It’s an opportunity to build trust between you and your customer base while still creating well-targeted and impactful ads. So today, we’ll cover some of the basics of first-party data and how to start implementing it into your marketing strategy. Let’s get into it!
What is considered first-party data?
First-party data is the information your company collects through prospect and customer touch points. It’s data that hasn’t been shared from any external sources. It’s important to note that first-party data can still involve cookies. These are cookies dropped by your own website analytics software, and they are used to provide a better user experience. For example, saving your information when signing into an account so you don’t have to do it each time, your language preferences, items you added to your shopping cart, and so on. First-party cookies are only generated by the site you’re on.
What are some first-party data sources?
There are lots of first-party data sources that can be incorporated into your advertising and marketing automation. Some examples include:
- Phone numbers
- Purchase history/products used
- Analytics traffic on your website
- Product analytics
- Survey data
- NPS/customer feedback
- Social media channel analytics (like demographic information of where your followers are, and what content is the most engaging)
Any data from customers or prospects in your CRM or product is considered first-party data, which can come from online or offline sources.
What is the difference between first-, second-, and third-party data?
For a quick overview, watch our Funnel Tip on the topic.
- The data that you have collected yourself is called “first-party”
- Second-party data is first-party data shared with you by another company, usually a trusted partner
- Third-party data is data collected by a business or company with no relationship with you or the customer
A short note about the term 'zero-party data'
While you are working on your first party data strategy, you might come across the term zero-party data. This can be very confusing. Is it really a thing?
Some people argue that the data your customers voluntarily share with you after they became your customer, are zero party data. So for example, when customers share their email address with you because they sign up for your newsletter, you collect first party data. If you later ask them to share additional information (which product categories they are interested in, or if they want to receive mens or woman's fashion tips) that is zero-party data.
However, since both examples are about you are collecting directly from your client, we will not make this distinction in this article. We consider both types (data people need to share, and data people are willing to share) to be first party data.
How to start collecting first-party data
Our recommendation is to start with an audit of the data you are currently collecting. You probably have a lot of useful data that can be used in your marketing activities. Once you understand what you have, then you can determine what gaps you need to fill and how to improve your outreach.
Consider at which points in the customer journey you can ask questions about what your audience's interests are, their preferences, and what their challenges are related to your product or service. A classic one is to ask a new visitor to your website to subscribe to your newsletter in exchange for a discount code. We’ve all seen this one.
Also read: What does 'data model' mean?
If your service requires a login, you can ask new users about what their role is or why they are using your service. Or, if you’re hosting a webinar that’s closely related to your product offering, you can ask a question like, “Are you currently using software to help with X?” That way, you get more information about where they might be in the buyer's journey, instead of having to guess.
One of my favorite examples is the Fabletics account registration survey. They ask you what you’re shopping for at that moment, then they ask what your color preferences are, fit preferences, and a couple more quick questions.
This survey at the beginning of the customer journey is not only a great way to collect information about what your customers want from you (which you can use to retarget them in the future) it’s also adding value to the customer. The key is to add value.
A disclaimer: don’t go data-collection crazy. Ask yourself what data is actually useful, how will it provide a better experience to your prospects and customers, and what is the goal for that data? It’s also a good idea to be open about what data you’re collecting and for what purposes.
How to start using first-party data in your marketing strategy
There are several ways you can begin working with first-party data strategies. We cover a few ways below.
Keep privacy top of mind
The move away from third-party data was born out of the desire for increased privacy on the web, so don’t forget this when collecting first-party customer data and utilizing it. Collecting the user’s consent is just as important as collecting their email address.
Also, make sure you’re following GDPR best practices and are keeping up to date with the latest privacy-related news.
Double down on email marketing and SEO
With the end of cookies in sight, non-paid channels may become increasingly important. Especially email marketing. First party customer data like the products or brands customers have bought previously, can make your emails extra effective. A data management platform, such as a data warehouse, can be used to collect and store this data.
Another way to reach your target audiences, is with content marketing. And when you decide to focus on content, make sure your content gets the attention it deserves. How? By sharing the content on social, distributing the content with email and using SEO best practices when creating the content.
What are your hobbies?
Retargeting won’t work the same, but there are other ways that you can reach your audience. It’s an old axiom, but a goodie – meet your customers where you believe they are.
Context is important
Similar to the above, but more automated, is contextual advertising. These are ads placed by using variables like specific keywords, or the website subject matter. Again, very similar to the above tactic, your ads can be placed on websites where the topic is related to your product or service, but this is automated.
For example, if you sell cute dog bandanas, you can place your ads on a site or blog post that gives dog training tips. If the prospective customers are looking to train their dog, why wouldn’t they also want a cute dog bandana?
As the name implies, it’s still a tag on your site. However, it’s one script that’s yours and that sends data to your cloud or on-premise server. This is a cool new way of working with tags on your website to gather first-party data and feed only the data you choose into the advertising platforms for optimization. How cool is that?
So instead of the platforms being a black box that hides what data points they collect and how they use it, you’re able to ensure only certain chunks of first-party data are fed into the algorithms.
With server-side tagging, you deploy a server-side cookie on your website. We chatted with our friend Ted Solomon, CEO of CTRL Digital, which is an agency that specializes in helping companies set up their server-side tagging.
Some of the benefits he mentioned with this way of working are:
- You have better campaign follow-up for users that have taken certain actions on your site. This is becoming harder due to the 24-hour expiration on the cookies the ad and tracking platforms drop.
- The HTTP-only cookie somewhat circumvents this.
- You can feed your algorithm with the data you know is valuable, so that your ad platforms are optimizing for those conversions.
- Your site’s page speed performance (and thus customer experience) improves because you’re not running as many scripts.
If you want to hear Ted do a deep dive into server-side tagging, you can watch our interview with him!
Our Final Thoughts
Start creating your first-party data strategy sooner rather than later, because we know the end of third-party cookies is close. There are more ways to collect and utilize this data than you may think, so don’t let this feel like a limiting factor. There are more opportunities in first-party customer data than you may think.
Start implementing some new strategies like surveys, interest-based placements, contextual advertising, and server-side tagging, but remember to always keep privacy top of mind.
And if you want to dive deeper into what’s happening with third-party cookies, and how to further prepare, read and watch more here.