Now is the time for first-party-data to shine


April Mullen, Director of Brand and Content Marketing at SparkPost, discusses the ongoing concerns and challenges for marketers when it comes to data privacy.

Many might argue that 2021 was a good year for marketers. The bounce back for the global economy after the dip of 2020 led to an expansion in marketing activities. Yet, at the same time, marketers have been battling with perhaps the most seismic changes to the way they operate since the introduction of GDPR in 2016.

Concerns around consumer privacy that have been in the shadows for years finally resulted in two world’s global tech superpowers, Apple and Google, making changes to the way they operate, which will have a significant impact on the day-to-day processes of marketers.

Apple’s iOS 15 updates, which were rolled out in September 2021, allied with the ongoing industry-wide phasing out of third-party cookies, meaning it is getting harder for marketers to find information about their customers. These two initiatives are possibly the beginnings of a paradigm shift that will drive marketers to rethink data collection and usage practices.

With massive changes on the horizon, marketers have to adapt the way they collaborate with customers, which means making significant changes to how they have been working for years. A recent report titled Email in 2022: The trends, behaviors, and benchmarks driving email forward discovered that 82% of marketing leaders are actively preparing for privacy changes and that 67% of practitioners say they’re concerned with how privacy changes will affect their ability to perform.

But it’s not all bad, and there are ways marketers can get ahead and prepare while giving themselves a new marketing strategy that will see them through for years to come.

Apple makes significant changes to customer privacy

Apple has responded to increased concerns about privacy with a series of changes over the last few years. It was one of the first web browser developers to limit access to third-party cookies. In June last year, it announced that Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) would be coming to its Mail app on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey devices.

MPP’s key initiative prevents senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. Essentially senders cannot tell if a person has opened an email, depriving them of one of the key methods of gauging the effectiveness of their communications. MPP also masks the recipient’s IP address, so it can’t be linked to other online activities or used to determine their location.

Here are some impacts that have already been seen as a result of MPP:

  • Open rates are inflated
  • Open times are random and unreliable
  • Device information is unavailable
  • User location is approximate

George Schlossnagle, Founder and Distinguished Engineer at SparkPost, said recently, “The privacy landscape has been changing for years as users have been clearer about their displeasure with marketers peeking into their private lives. This has taken the form of both regulations – CAN-SPAM, GDPR, CCPA – and moves by industry leaders to protect user privacy. Apple’s MPP is a significant advance in the latter, and with Apple’s wide reach, it will likely have impacts beyond Apple customers. It will change how the industry looks at email engagement, along with many aspects of email workflow that will impact.”

Google puts an end to third-party data.

Third-party tracking has historically been a staple of the marketing/advertising world, enabling marketers to collect data so they can serve ad content based on previous behavior. Until recently, Google announced it would be ending third-party data access from its web browser. Google web browser has a market share of just under 70%.

It’s a controversial move that some pundits think will be catastrophic for the adtech industry. It has also sparked a response from German publishers who recently vowed to fight it in the European courts.

What is most likely to happen is that a compromise will emerge before the plug is finally pulled on third-party cookies in 2023. Google has been working on a series of alternatives and recently unveiled a concept called Topics that learns about a person’s interests by logging their moves around the web. The company categorizes the sites the user has visited and segments them into one of 300 topics. Advertisers will then be invited to display ads on one of the three topics, allocated based on a user’s browsing history.

What are the next steps for marketers?

These changes highlight the importance of zero-party and first-party data to marketers. Now is the time for marketers to hone in on these aspects and ensure they have a strategy in place that capitalizes on these previously overlooked methods of data collection.

Zero-party data is data that an individual proactively and intentionally shares with a company – the most obvious example is buying intention. First-party data concerns data collected directly from interactions a customer has with a channel – for example, visiting a website or responding to an email.

In the ever-changing privacy landscape, getting access to third-party and second-party data will become increasingly complex – first-party and zero-party data will become the gold standard.

For this reason, marketers should renew their focus on email and other channels powered by zero and first-party data. Brands need to know their audiences as well as possible, but far better to work with consumers to create better profiles that drive longer-term loyalty and engagement.

The gateway to first-party data

Naturally, email can be the glue between consumers and brands. Everything from promotions to educational content to retargeting can all be done using your most precious first-party data asset: email.

In the coming years, as much as 50% of open data will become unreliable and no longer useful as a success metric due to ever-increasing consumer privacy measures. It’s time for marketers to focus their attention on first and zero-party data given willingly by consumers.

An email has always been a highly useful tool for marketers looking to build meaningful relationships with their customers. As the tech giants continue on their path towards higher levels of privacy, email and the data it generates will become ever more valuable.

The demise of third-party cookies puts a tailwind behind channels that leverage first-party data – email being the most pervasive channel using first-party data. We should all be gearing up for more investment in email and SMS because owned data is about to be more valuable than ever.

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April Mullen

April Mullen, Director of Brand and Content Marketing at SparkPost

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