Amid the impending death of web-tracking cookies and platforms such as Google and Facebook taking more control over third-party access to their subscribers, the idea of “owning audiences” is becoming a new priority of every marketing organization.
Facing a future in which accessing “third-party” databases will be more restricted or highly costly, many Fortune 1000 companies are focused on developing their own first-party databases, finding more effective ways to reach the consumer. And with the new focus on first-party data comes the benefits of rich data insights into customers.
“With the rush to build first-party databases, brands are regaining control over the customer relationship for the first time in decades,” says Jil Lohnes, VP at Salt XC. “Once a consumer feels like they’re valued by a brand, there are higher chances that they become exceptionally loyal. We’re going back to old-school marketing in its infancy—when your grandparents would go the local butcher and they’d know their name and favourite order. Brands are starting to wake up to the idea that they have thousands of customer profiles to communicate to, versus just one or two. First-party data helps unlock the information brands need to better communicate and deliver effective communication for their audiences.”
When mass media and mass marketing took over 60 years ago, personalization suffered. And while tools across search engines and social media have made big promises and helped brands “reach” audiences with targeted scale, ultimately, the deepest insights from the data don’t belong to the marketers. With the move to building first-party data comes the move to getting more data and understanding the insights within.
THE BIG SHIFT
Consider how the pandemic leveled the playing field for direct-to-consumer brands with their premium, personalized and seamless transactional experiences. The big budgets of the mass-produced brands? No problem. Indeed, your competitor is no longer sitting next to you on the store shelf. It’s sitting comfortably within a niche space, leveraging e-commerce platforms like Shopify and harnessing first-party data to keep consumers within their brand orbit.
Consumers themselves are evolving as rapidly as the tools they’re using to engage with brands anywhere. That broad stroke treatment marketers have relied on for decades—the tried-and-true segmentation strategies—are no longer effective. At their worst, they’re insincere and exclusive.
“We live in a world where if I want to watch 15 hours of niche esports content or videos on the retro sneaker resell market, I’m going to be able to fill my weekend without turning to mainstream content,” says Matt McCoubrey, VP at Salt XC.
“We live in a niche passion era. It’s not the ’90s where being cool meant everyone followed pop culture, bought the same sneakers and listened to the same music.”
Instead, the internet has enabled consumers to go down passion points rabbit holes. They aren’t “gamers”—they can be a PC gamer or a console gamer. They aren’t “beer drinkers”—they can be into IPAs or lagers. In that vein, marketers can’t expect all audiences to show up at an event and go through the exact same experience everyone else goes through.
As McCoubrey puts it: “You won’t win with audiences if you deliver one linear storytelling experience within the event.”
In an age of building first-party databases, the shift to an Experiential Commerce model is key in that it leverages behaviors over attitudes and creates stepping stones across offline and online that ultimately result in valuable transactions. Building a first-party database that goes beyond reams of names and emails—and offers insights into location, demographics, interests and time spent with a brand—feeds marketing strategy, audience engagement and ROI.
“Once you have a first-party database, you can build your own actions that allow that database to tell you when and what they bought from you—and maybe that data triggers you to create direct-to-consumer opportunities for them, taking your brand out of the retail landscape where the retailers own the data,” says Jeff Rogers, President at Salt XC.
Investing in first-party data may replace traditional research initiatives. It could help marketers check off a litany of boxes to become extremely competitive. And it’s going to make planning more complicated when a brand manager has to consider 100 consumer profiles, as opposed to two. But in embracing a brand orbit model and leaning into data to map out the actions you want consumers to take and the experiences that will trigger them, you’ve secured a spot as a leader in a new frontier.