3 questions to ask yourself in the sprint to scale first-party data

The slow march to widespread adoption of first-party data became a full-on sprint last year—and it hasn’t slowed. Originally driven by consumers through privacy laws and regulations, the deprecation of third-party cookies and mobile ad identifiers has required marketers to take stock of their first-party data assets. Thankfully, the majority of marketers we surveyed last year (61.9%) were focusing on first-party data strategies to meet the pending changes.

While marketers seem to be on the right path with prioritizing first-party data, they must be able to honestly answer these straightforward, but often challenging, questions to be successful:

What first-party data do I have, and how am I organizing it?

Unorganized first-party data isn’t an asset; it’s a nightmare. That’s why data platform technologies, like customer data platforms (CDPs), are having a moment, so to speak. CDPs support the creation of a unified, optimized profile for each consumer. In the race to build better marketing journeys and outcomes, CDPs are essential to gain accurate insights into your consumers’ behaviors, and power intelligent, real-time decisioning and personalization across all your channels.

Once your first-party data is optimized for activation, data clean rooms then offer brands secure, privacy-by-design platforms to connect their anonymized data from multiple parties. By onboarding first-party data into a clean room, a brand has a comprehensive set of anonymized consumer profiles for audience identification, activation and measurement across media channels. Clean rooms also provide the security and governance that enable brands to leverage second-party data—another company’s first-party data—to enhance and power effective marketing efforts.

What first-party data do I want, and do I have a solid strategy to collect it?

After you’ve identified and organized the first-party data you already have, it’s time to fill the gaps. If you’re a brand marketer, loyalty programs offer a clear, mutually beneficial value exchange between your brand(s) and customers. Loyal customers are willing to share information in exchange for unique rewards and experiences, and data consistently shows the breadth and value of strong loyalty programs (and Epsilon is consistently a leader in loyalty marketing strategy).

Preference centers are also a proven way for brands and publishers to collect data on consumer interests and are vital to ensuring relevant conversations. Think about your own behavior. If you registered for an account on Adweek, did you opt in to receive updates about events and newsletters? Preference centers can be easily overlooked, but they are vital to ensuring relevant dialogs.

It’s also important that publishers and brands provide consumers with clear data privacy policies and transparent terms and conditions. Consumers are trusting publishers and brands to engage them with relevant content and messaging. If that trust is violated, consumers will disengage with your brand.

Am I still reliant on third-party cookies? Do I have a plan in place to phase them out by end of year?

Unstable identifiers like third-party cookies and mobile IDs were flawed from the beginning. They’re not person-based, persistent or consistent across platforms—not to mention the lack of transparency for consumers. Unfortunately, nearly 80% of the marketers we surveyed indicated they were “very” or “moderately” reliant on third-party cookies. If you’re still reliant on third-party cookies, it’s essential to start planning to replace mission-critical solutions with future-proofed identifiers like Epsilon’s CORE ID to ensure you can still drive business outcomes once data deprecation occurs. With Apple’s IDFA already in place and information around Google’s third-party cookie deprecation evolving as 2022 approaches, too many marketers are looking at end of year to figure out their solution. The time is now, you can’t afford to wait.

Ultimately, focusing on and scaling first-party data is an opportunity for brands to free themselves from their reliance on external identifiers and restore balance in the marketing ecosystem. An ecosystem where there is a clear and equal value exchange between brands and consumers.

Answering and having a strategy for all three of these questions is a marketing imperative. Although brands have the power to collect and organize their first-party data, consumers are the ones with choice and control. Brands that don’t respect individual preferences or who do not engage customers with personalized messages will find themselves stuck at the starting line while others are sprinting to long-term success.

This article was originally published on Adweek, June 2021.