Why First-Party Data Drives First-Class Content Experiences

Learn how to put the perfect mix of data-driven insights to work for your brand.

One of the greatest advantages that digital marketers have for their online marketing campaigns is the ability to integrate audience data to better target and deliver personalized messaging.

BCG reports that 9 out of 10 marketers say first-party data is important to their digital marketing programs, but that less than a third of marketers are consistently effective at accessing and integrating data across channels, and even fewer are good at using data to create better outcomes for customers. 

We’d like to close that gap to show marketers how to create the perfect mix of data-driven insights to improve marketing performance.

Virtually all digital and social media platforms allow advertisers to access and use customer data to add invaluable targeting and audience insights to their content delivery. Savvy marketers can use a mix of data from different sources, including owned data sources such as purchase history and customer relationship management insights; analyze their lists to find new look-alike audiences that are similar to theirs; and even purchase data from other platforms or data providers to develop totally new audiences. 

Finding the right combination of owned and purchased data that informs both the content and audience targeting can lead advertisers to achieve the ultimate digital goal: delivering the right content to the right audience at the lowest cost, every time.

Defining Data: 1P vs. 2P vs. 3P 

You probably have access to lots of data and don’t even know it. With the explosion of business intelligence, CRM and tracking tools now at a marketer’s fingertips, almost all companies have access to all three types of data. Defining each, and understanding where they come from, is your first step. 

First-party data (1P) is your owned data that you’ve gathered from online audiences or offline customer activity. This can include unique customer data, demographics, behavioral or affinity information, direct feedback or CRM data points. Any data that you collect, protect and own is considered 1P data. 

Second-party data (2P), by contrast, is 1P data that is collected by another party (such as customer lists, web traffic data or recent purchases) and used by your company for targeting purposes. The simplest example would be purchasing a list of email addresses for your e-blast from another site, such as your local newspaper’s customer list or attendees from an industry event who are also your customers. In this case, you as the advertiser are using another firm’s curated data to advertise your products and services. Second-party data is extremely useful if you’re looking to expand your existing 1P audience, as long as you can trust and verify that your source collected the data properly. 

Finally, third-party data (3P) is curated by a data aggregator and leveraged for your content or promotional efforts. The vast majority of available 3P data is supplied by large data firms, such as Oracle, Acxiom, Nielsen, Experian and Eyeota. Many times, these companies have a direct relationship with the advertising platform that you’re using, allowing you as an advertiser to just tap in and add their audiences into your media mix. Third-party data is extremely valuable and helps you to build vast but highly targeted audience lists that can be geared to a very specific set of purchasing habits, demographics or psychographic profiles. For example, auto manufacturers often work with data management providers to hone and target affinity lists of potential buyers for their new car models. These lists are distributed to dealerships at both the Tier 2 (association) and Tier 3 (dealership) levels to enhance their individual lead-generation efforts. The advertisers purchase access to lists from the data management provider and deliver content on their preferred ad networks. 

Combining first-, second- and third-party data is where you can truly supercharge your paid media and targeting efforts.

For example, Snapchat’s ad platform partners with Oracle’s BlueKai to allow advertisers to create affinity lists of users with defined purchasing habits (3P) and deliver ads to their users on the Snapchat platform (2P). You can also upload your customer list (1P) to further define your audience on that platform. This confluence of data, matched with highly refined content, drives real value for online advertisers.

Trends in 3P Data (Bye-Bye, Cookies)

Customers are demanding more transparency from companies in how they collect and use their customers’ personal data. In the wake of such recent events as the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal in 2016, more and more consumers are prioritizing privacy as they scour the web. In turn, companies like Facebook and Google are working to balance their use of customer data to deliver targeted content with giving their users the right amount of control over their privacy. Additionally, lawmakers are under pressure to regulate social media platforms and their data privacy practices. In short, no company has gotten it right just yet. 

To top it off, the data collector’s dearest (and most controversial) friend, the third-party cookie, is being replaced by newer, more proprietary web code. Many don’t know that the cookie is as old as the internet itself, developed in 1994 and first used on Netscape’s web browsers. Remember THAT? 

Cookies quickly became the internet’s most ubiquitous data collection tool, and they are found on virtually every website in existence. However, new targeting capabilities through mobile and browser device IDs along with third-party tools have taken center stage for data collection. Heading into 2021, we expect most platforms to move away from cookies and onto their own proprietary tracking platforms. 

Content Opportunities to Take Advantage of 1P Data

The need for first-party data has never been clearer. First-party data allows you to communicate with your customers without the need for a media intermediary and away from the company of other advertisers. Owned audiences, and the resulting first-party data, are built through first-class content, because there’s no data unless your customer engages with content. You need to do this fast because of the trend of diminishing access to third-party targeting. Marketers need to begin, or continue, to collect, organize and analyze their own first-party data. 

Because it’s your own audience, you can easily evaluate their behaviors and performance. This information can be used in a variety of ways to grow your audience, improve their experience and encourage them through the engagement or conversion journey.

  • Growing Your Audience. One of the more effective ways to grow your audience is to create a look-alike campaign based on your first-party data. You can leverage all of your owned audience or segment first-party data into specific behaviors, demographics or interests. Running a look-alike campaign against these audiences will target your message, ad or content to people who look similar to that audience (whether demographically, behaviorally or from an interest perspective), allowing you to grow your on-site audience, social following or CRM database with audiences that “look like” yours.
  • Improving the Customer and Content Experience. As you curate more owned, first-party data, you will have more accurate insight into where your audience members spend their time and what they are (or aren’t) engaging with. These insights create opportunities to optimize and even test your site navigation, landing pages, content topics and on-site conversion metrics to cater to your audience. 

While leveraging first-party data is commonly used in experience design, Manifest also uses owned data to drive the holistic content experience. For example, if we know that we have a large group of readers engaging with a piece about how content marketing can be used to drive e-commerce sales, Manifest can re-engage those readers the next time they visit the site with relevant content about conversion rate optimization approaches through email or other personalized results. 

Content sequencing across channels is another way to optimize your experience for engagement and conversion. As you develop your owned audiences, you can use first-party data to create sequential messaging throughout earned, owned and paid experiences based on what you know about your audience’s behaviors. So we could follow up with our e-commerce sales audience with a piece on how to accurately measure content’s impact.

Content to Drive 1P Data

As a data-driven agency, we know that content can be optimized and targeted more effectively with first-party data. Conversely, content can be used to grow your first-party datasets. 

The most obvious way is through gated content that requires a user to provide additional information, such as an email address or login credentials, to gain access to premium content. This approach can quickly grow your database and provide intel on what types of content or topics are considered intriguing enough for an exchange of data. 

But psychographic and behavioral insights can also be gathered through strategic content planning, and these can be just as valuable. Alternative headline testing, tonal approaches, related content suggestions and calls to action can help you understand your audience and their motivators further. Is your organic audience still in the information-gathering stage, or are they ready to buy? Does your social audience engage further into the website, or do they pivot back to their social feeds? 

These learnings, along with resonating content topics, subtopics and sentiment, are all specific data points that you can collect and categorize. Specific audience behaviors, values, interests and actions can be segmented and leveraged for the first-party data strategies we described above. 

Whether you still rely on third-party data or you’ve already transitioned to an owned data strategy, first-party data will continue to sit alongside content as king because of its accuracy, quality and depth, and its ability to move prospects and customers more effectively through their journey with your brand. 

If you’d like to learn more about how Manifest helps clients create, curate and leverage owned and first-party data strategies to drive audience intelligence and content performance, please email david.brown@manifest.com.

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