First-Party Data, the Death of Cookies, and Why Marketers Should Pay Attention Now

| By Ian Joyce

First-party data—if you’re not already reading about it, you soon will. As technology evolves to meet growing expectations regarding online privacy, first-party data will be an important factor in how successfully organizations can target their marketing messages. Unfortunately, many marketers aren’t prioritizing or directing the right resources to collecting first-party data.

Illustration of the word "Cookies" with imagery of data tracking and security.

A bit of background

If you aren’t familiar with first-party data, it’s data that organizations collect directly from their customers and leads. A common example is email addresses collected through a company’s website for their newsletter list. Those email addresses become a marketing asset, and because they were offered voluntarily the person sharing the data has demonstrated a basic level of trust in the company and is probably willing to receive marketing messages.

Despite the obvious value of first-party data it’s often a lower priority for marketers than it should be. That’s because third-party data—data that’s captured by other organizations and sold or used to facilitate targeting—has offered the ability to efficiently identify and target new advertising audiences at scale. Today, if you run ads using Facebook, Google or other digital advertising marketplaces, you’re relying on third-party data for the precise targeting you expect. But privacy-focused changes on tech platforms and applications are about to disrupt this practice.

Why this change is a big deal

Web browsers, starting with Safari and Chrome, are moving toward completely blocking third-party cookies, which are a core component of third-party data collection. Cookies track users’ digital footprints and allow publishers and platforms to collect information about interactions with online content. Without these cookies, the kind of third-party data that’s been vacuumed up for ad targeting—pages visited, videos watched, products purchased, and more—won’t be available.

Apple is moving in a similar direction with the iPhone. iOS 14.5 will require app developers to request that users who download their products give permission to be tracked. Industry observers expect no more than 25% of users to opt-in to tracking. Given the ubiquity of iPhones, potential audience numbers for third-party targeted ads will go down.

The march toward greater user privacy presents a challenge for marketers: When third-party data can’t deliver the targeting needed, what are the alternatives? There are options including contextual and geographic-based targeting, but the highest priorities should focus on first-party data collection, protection, and use. Collecting first-party data, not only from the first touch with a lead, but throughout the customer lifecycle; managing and storing it safely and accessibly; developing trusted networks of first-party data partners; and having strategies to leverage it effectively will provide a competitive advantage when the cookie finally crumbles.

Want to learn more about adapting to accelerating changes in online marketing? Check out Privacy and the Post-Cookie Future of Marketing, a webinar addressing key questions about privacy and a new era of online marketing. 


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