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Dan Buckstaff, CMO, LiveRamp

It’s important to understand the distinction between first-party relationships and first-party data. There is nothing more valuable for a brand or publisher than providing the experiences consumers expect and welcome. First-party relationships are not transactional, but flow from value exchanges over time. If done 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. 

Retailers have many touch points they can use to foster first-party relationships

The idea of “value exchanges over time” is not unlike the marketing funnel. For example, for a retailer, a consumer might click on an ad, they might visit the retailer’s website and decide to follow them on social media if they like what they see. If that retailer has a brick-and-mortar location, the consumer may stop in, peruse the aisles and ask a salesperson questions. These would all be considered upper-funnel engagements that mark the beginning of the retailer-consumer relationship. Every touch point matters — marketing is not the only team building that trust or relationship. 

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), whose members include marketing leaders from such brands as E*Trade, Unilever, Hershey’s, Peloton, Samsung and T-Mobile, among others. 

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

Continuing with the retailer example, deepening first-party relationships requires delivering valuable experiences across all interactions. They should provide opportunities to move customers down the relationship funnel, such as allowing them to create a wish list or favorite items they enjoy. They could also use a newsletter to alert customers when a favorite topic is posted or a text message when a coveted item is back in stock. Consider this mid-funnel — the point at which retailers can obtain an increased level of authentication or “hand-raising.” Continue to nurture the relationship by always creating value. 

Over time, if a brand has done its job well, the consumer will move to the bottom of the 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 is hopefully an enduring relationship. 

Publishers foster first-party relationships through personalized content delivery

For publishers, the principle is similar but building the relationship looks a little different. A consumer may find an opinion piece on a publisher’s 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 the publication or author and/or engage on social channels. 

It’s critical to continuously test and iterate on when and where it’s okay to ask consumers to authenticate and provide some level of first-party data. Whether it’s the website or a mobile app, be sure to take every opportunity to offer compelling content before prompts like Apple’s ATT are 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. This is understandable with so much focus on collecting data, but it can also cause a poor experience for customers early on in their engagement.

From there, publishers can nurture a relationship by providing content recommendations on the same topics or from similar authors the consumer might enjoy. Provide a weekend edition or wrap-up newsletter each week that encourages further engagement. For those registered on the publisher’s site, tailor their viewing experience and emails based on what they’ve indicated in a preference center or through their activity on the site.  

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

With tectonic changes impacting how brands and publishers use data to know and serve their customers, creating a new data strategy is essential. Building first-party relationships will be the critical foundation for success for brand marketers, retailers and publishers.

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