How does your first-party data garden grow?

Maurice Riley

  • Chief data officer, Digitas Australia
Maurice is the chief data officer at Digitas for Australia and New Zealand. Each day he works to deliver better connections between brands and people through data-fuelled creativity and data and technology solutions for a broad set of clients including Tourism Australia, Arnott’s, Westpac and Maccas. Maurice has been working towards realizing the promises of 1-to-1 marketing before 1-to-1 marketing was cool. He started his career in New York at Nielsen where he launched the first US household-level consumer segmentation and created PRIZM-TV, a segmentation system based on TV viewing behaviors and lifestyles. Maurice has been named President of the Creative Data Cannes Jury 2022.

Aaron Montgomery Ward was a smart man.   

If you haven’t heard of him, he’s considered the inventor of direct marketing. He created his mail order business in 1872, launching with a one-page catalogue to sell directly to farmers, revolutionising the purchase of goods for agricultural communities who were previously at the mercy of local stores. Using his mailing list of customers, he helped consumers in rural regions buy attractive items at a good value just like those in developed cities.

So, why does it matter?

Because first-party data isn’t new. Companies have used it for more than 100 years to reach customers. And the fundamental truths that made it effective in 1872 are still true today.

That said, with tighter budgets, volatile changes in consumer spending and dread surrounding the ‘cookie apocalypse’, modern day marketers are being compelled to think more seriously about using first-party data as the cornerstone of an effective consumer engagement strategy.

The problem is the process involved in preparing or improving that data can be daunting – and downright scary. But just like other things that scare us – ghosts, zombies and Donald Trump at 1am on Twitter – the source of the fear comes from a lack of understanding. So, I’m going to explain the three things you need to know if you’re starting your first-party data journey inspired by Ward’s target customer, the Farmer.

Growing your own first-party data garden  

One of the most valuable aspects of first-party data is exclusivity – it’s the data you collect and control. It’s also the data you create and grow yourself. Put another way, it’s the produce you grow in your garden.  

It’s not second-party data that you get from partners, which is like buying produce directly from someone else’s farm. And it’s not third-party data that is aggregated from data vendors or brokers, which is like buying produce from a grocery store. Any of your competitors can buy this come-one-come-all data, so it doesn’t provide a data advantage.  

Marketers who are committed to being transparent, compliant and building trust with consumers can no longer rely solely on data providers for rich sources of consumer data. That means marketers must begin to sow the right seeds, nurture and harvest their own gardens of first-party consumer data to avoid being confined to the same sources used by their competitors.   

Just like a farmer who gets a bumper crop year after year, creating data that is abundant and useful is its own craft separate from interpreting and using data effectively.

Here’s how you do it.  

1. Planting consumer data that is sustainable   

Fertile land is one part of harvesting consumer data. But planting the right data seeds are essential to any brand’s ability to innovate how it attracts, engages and serves customers over time.  

Take Tourism Australia for example. As the world begins to consider travel again, they’ll need to create more personalised experiences, but they have few third-party travel data partners that can offer large amounts of data. Put simply, their travel data partners’ crops have died out due to the drought in travel spending and behaviour.  

So, we’re working with Tourism Australia to create a rigorous travel data taxonomy to gain deeper insight into what travel products people are interested in, as well as their intent to travel. Collecting and unifying those data signals means we can deliver event or intent triggered experiences to travellers to help move them past the consideration stage into planning and booking.    

2. Irrigating your consumer data to understand the whole person  

A proper irrigation strategy on a farm helps produce grow to its full potential, maintains soil quality and reinvigorates gardens throughout the season. Customer data’s full potential is also realised when it’s properly hydrated on a real-time or near real-time basis. That is, as a customer engages with you both online and offline, those signals are continuously collected and unified, ensuring the customer’s profile is up to date and actionable insights are always the most relevant.   

But unifying customer data doesn’t happen overnight. Brands typically have data silos between systems, departments and channels each with their own method of identifying customer records. Technologies like customer data platforms (CDPs) simplify the process by integrating multiple customer IDs into one platform allowing unification of demographic, psychographic, device data, online engagements and offline interactions into a single view.  

But a CDP alone isn’t sufficient without an adequate approach to identity resolution. Identity recognition is complex, time consuming and requires data management expertise that most companies don’t have in house. Without persistent customer recognition, providing a consistent cross-channel experience to your customers is nearly impossible.  

3. Growing your data crop through purposeful data experiences  

Many marketers begin their data journey without a proper data strategy. In the age of big data, there is a tendency to collect everything and ‘figure it out later’. But more isn’t always more.

Consider the most successful farmers, they’re intentional when they sow their seeds and don’t just randomly scatter all types of seeds across the field. If they did, seeds would fall in less than optimal soil, returning less than optimal results.  

Smart farmers are intentional about planting specific seeds in a specific type of soil to produce a specific result. And this is equally true when growing your consumer data. When you grow data on purpose, you create experiences that are designed to connect directly with consumers and capture quality consumer data that you can tie back to an individual consumer’s profile.   

This is exactly our ongoing ambition at Tourism Australia. Each component of digital content is optimised to extract the consumer understanding we need through interaction. Because we know the purpose and value of the data we are seeking, we can create a clear value exchange for people telling us a little bit about them, what they like and the immediate experiences they get in return.  

Every company’s starting point will be different, but one thing is certain: When used responsibly, first-party data can help modern marketers rapidly adapt to a changing consumer data landscape and deliver the experiences consumers expect.

Tags: digital marketing, data analytics, data-driven marketing, first-party data

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