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The Path to First-Party Data Is First-Party Relationships

  • - Tom Affinito
  • 4 min read

What do we want? First-party relationships! When do we want it? Now! 

Do you have a playbook for first-party data? First, consider the importance of understanding the distinction between first-party relationships and first-party data. There is nothing more valuable for a brand or publisher than scoring a touchdown by providing the experiences consumers expect and welcome. First-party relationships are not transactional, but flow from value exchanges over time. If you’ve done it right, a downstream result is robust first-party data and a deeper understanding of a customer—which can be an organization’s competitive advantage because it’s exclusive to them.

How do brands foster first-party relationships?

The idea of “value exchanges over time” is not unlike the marketing funnel. Say you are a retailer. A consumer might click on one of your ads. They might visit your website. They like what they see and decide to follow you on social media. They might even like, comment, or retweet your content. If you have brick-and-mortar locations, they might stop in, peruse the aisles, and ask your salespeople questions. These would all be considered upper-funnel engagements that mark the beginning of your relationship. Every touch point matters. Marketing is not the only team that builds that relationship or trust. In fact, this was one of the key discussion points during LiveRamp’s recent Data Strategy Institute advisory board discussion, which is part of MMA’s Data in Marketing Think Tank (DATT), and whose members include marketing leaders from such brands as E*Trade, Unilever, Hershey’s, Peloton, Samsung, and T-Mobile, among others. 

If you want to deepen a first-party relationship, you need to continue delivering valuable experiences across all interactions. Provide opportunities to move customers down the relationship funnel, such as allowing them to create a wish list or favorite items they enjoy. Perhaps it’s a newsletter, alerts when a favorite writer or topic is posted, or a text message when a coveted item is back in stock. Consider this mid-funnel—the point at which you can obtain an increased level of authentication or “hand-raising.” Continue to nurture the relationship by always creating value. 

The question to ask is, “How can I help this person with what they need,” not “How can I get this person to convert.” 

Over time, if a brand has done its job well, the consumer will move into the bottom funnel and willingly provide a greater level of first-party data. At that point, they’re converting into a longer term customer. For some brands, that might be the end game, however, for the leaders, that’s just a milestone in what you hope is an enduring relationship. 

How do publishers foster first-party relationships?

What if you’re a publisher? The principle is similar, but building your relationship looks a little different. A consumer may find an opinion piece on your website through a social share from someone in their network, via a Google search, or a direct site visit. They like the article and go down the rabbit hole of consuming other pieces written by the same author. Next, they may allow their browser to notify them of a new article by that author, sign up for notifications with their email address, or get an alert within an app. As with any brand, they might also choose to follow your publication or author and/or engage on social channels. 

When and where you ask consumers to authenticate (and provide some level of first-party data) is critical to test and iterate upon continuously. Whether it’s your website or a mobile app, be sure to take every opportunity to offer compelling content before asking for a conversation or a device prompt like Apple’s ATT is displayed. The critical point here is understanding when to make “the ask” to convert. Too often, gates or permission dialogues are forced early in the process. With so much focus on collecting data, this is understandable, but can also cause a poor experience early in an engagement.

From there, you can nurture a relationship by providing content recommendations on the same topics or from similar authors the consumer may enjoy. Provide a “weekend edition” or wrap up each week via a newsletter that encourages further engagement. If they’ve registered on your site, you can tailor their viewing experience and emails based on what they’ve indicated in a preference center or through their activity on your site.  

If you’re subscription-based and provide the content and experience the consumer enjoys, they may become a paying customer. Regardless of whether they pay or authenticate, you will be able to strengthen first-party relationships and deliver more relevant experiences to consumers.

With tectonic changes impacting how brands and publishers use data to know and serve their customers, creating a new data strategy is essential. Building your first-party relationships will be the critical foundation for success, whether you’re a brand marketer, retailer, or publisher. 

Want to know more about opening up opportunities in the post-cookie, post-mobile ad ID world of evolving regulatory compliance? Watch the video, “Own Your Customer Identity Strategy: A First-Party Approach for Now and the Future.”

A version of this blog originally appeared as a byline in Digiday.