What is First-Party Data? How Can Marketers Use It?

by John Tyreman | June 22, 2021

In the wake of data privacy laws and device settings, marketers are learning the importance of first-party data. It can be incredibly valuable when used properly. But many marketers do not have a cohesive strategy for collecting, organizing, and activating such a useful resource. What is first-party data? How do you use it? Let’s dive in.

What is First-Party Data?

First-party data is information you gather directly from your audience. This kind of information can be collected both online or offline, manually or automatically. Examples include:

  • Customer profile data in your CRM
  • Behavioral data from your website
  • Data from social media profiles
  • Survey data you collect
  • Subscription data
  • Purchase history

Why is First-Party Data Important?

After marketers have identified digital marketing objectives and mapped their lead-to-sale journey, they are in a position to leverage the power of user data. When used right, first-party data can fuel digital marketing campaigns through lookalike audiences, analytical insights, email segmentation, and dynamic content. It can provide insights that influence creative elements like copy and imagery, making marketing messages more relevant and impactful.

However, the landscape is shifting. Marketers need to evolve their tech and systems to adapt to this change. The clock is ticking, thanks to regulators and big tech companies.

New data privacy laws like CCPA set off a chain of events leading tech giants like Apple and Google to introduce new privacy settings on iPhone and Android devices. You may have seen Apple’s advertisement about their new App Tracking Transparency feature:

As more users take advantage of privacy features like this, it will make it harder for marketers to analyze audience behavior on ad platforms like Facebook and Google. This is due in part to new privacy settings, but also because third-party tracking pixels, or “cookies,” will eventually be blocked.

While blocking third-party cookies has been delayed by Google to 2023, it is still important for marketers to have a plan for addressing this shift to the advertising landscape. No longer having access to this kind of third-party data will make companies prioritize their own first-party data if they want to analyze audience demographics, personalize messages and target niche segments. 

How to build and scale a first party data strategy

We developed a comprehensive guide for marketers to help them build and scale a first party data strategy. In this PDF guide, you’ll learn:

  • Shifts organizations need to make to prepare
  • Best practices for keeping consumer data safe
  • Action items to start your shift to first-party data strategy

Download our free eBook titled "How to Build and Scale a First-Party Data Strategy"

What’s the difference between first-, second- and third-party data?

The primary difference between first-, second- and third-party data is the source. Companies have historically relied on other sources to build out their datasets.

Second-Party Data

Second-party data is first-party data one company receives from another. For example, a hotel chain wants more information about its customer base, so it purchases customer data from an airline or local travel agency. Second-party data is still high-quality because it comes directly from consumers, and it can help you increase your dataset. 

Third-Party Data

With third-party data, there is no direct relationship between your company and the consumer. Third-party data is typically gathered via cookies on global platforms like Facebook and Google. These platforms then aggregated that data into audience segments, which they used to target ads and generate reports.

Zero-Party Data

Technically a type of first-party data, the term “zero-party data” is information volunteered by customers. For example, a prospect completes a contact form on your website with fields for name and email, plus a comment box. There they mention their business is located in Virginia. Since their geographic location was not explicitly asked for, the volunteered information is zero-party.

How to collect first party data

Consumers are waking up to the importance of their personal information. Marketers will need to examine the value of their content and promotions offered in exchange for personal identifiable information (PII) like names and email addresses. Here are examples of how companies can collect this kind of data from their audience:

  • Make it easy for users to accept first-party cookies on your website
  • Offer discount codes or coupons in exchange for email address
  • Create quizzes or other game-like experiences for users
  • Allow users to create an account profile on your website
  • Offer rewards programs for repeat customers
  • Offer high-value content behind a form
  • Ask users to participate in a survey

How to activate customer data

Marketers can use customer data to enhance their marketing campaigns and funnels. Here are a few ways to activate customer data.

Conduct Customer Research

If you know which users have engaged with your brand or have made purchases, you can reach out to conduct customer interviews. This is a way to activate customer data to uncover new information and insight.

Email Marketing

Email has been a mainstay in marketing mixes for decades now, and it’s not going away. With fewer channels to target direct-response advertisements and offers, email will be more important for revenue conversions. It will be one of few channels marketers will be able to use to personalize messages and build niche audience segments based on demographic information.

Paid Media Marketing

You can use data in your CRM to inform machine learning on paid media marketing platforms like Facebook to build lookalike audiences. However, with more users filtered out from ad targeting due to privacy settings, marketers will need a higher volume of contacts for machine learning technology to match lists to cohorts of similar users. This means campaigns targeting highly niche audiences will likely become ineffective. Instead, campaigns may need to be consolidated to account for shrinking audience sizes available to target.

Dynamic Content

Depending on how robust your dataset is, your website can showcase dynamic content based on fields like geographic location, industry, or even specifics to the account. This is especially useful for B2B organizations with an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy. Imagine if a prospect at a target account visits your website and is served content showcasing relevant industry expertise or case stories of how your company helped a company like theirs. This would be a powerful way to leverage data to create a more personalized user experience.

Build and scale your own first-party data strategy

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for collecting and using first-party data. Each company is in a different phase of their growth and serves unique audiences. If you’re a marketer who wants to get serious about building and scaling a data strategy, there are a few ways Silverback Strategies can help:

Or, if you have a specific question, fill out our contact form or send me a message directly on LinkedIn.

John Tyreman

John is Director of Marketing at Silverback Strategies and hosts the Digital Marketing Troop podcast. His natural curiosity and background in market research help him make sense of marketing topics, which he shares with a community of marketers. Connect with John on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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