Making Data Talk: How Marketers can Humanize their Campaigns through Zero- and First-Party Data

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Without a comprehensive U.S. consumer privacy law, U.S. state and federal lawmakers have been looking toward Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to serve as inspiration as states begin to introduce data privacy laws in 2022. But this year, roads are being paved. Now on the heels of the E.U. announcing their Digital Markets Act to combat Big Tech’s hold on the world, the U.S. is working to pass the Choice Online Act and the Open App Markets Act, on top of the already existing state-led legislation like the California Consumer Privacy Act. For example, Massachusetts announced its intent to pass Massachusetts Information Privacy and Security Act (MIPSA) in late 2021, a digital-privacy bill that would protect the residents’ safety and privacy, giving them more autonomy over personal information in the digital world. If the bill passes, Massachusetts would be the fourth state joining Colorado, Virginia, and California to enact comprehensive data-privacy legislation.

And with Google announcing a slew of privacy updates following increased privacy concerns with another new cookie replacement and new features on Android devices to limit user tracking, marketers are anxious to see how the data-privacy battle unfolds.

While it may seem like these laws and regulations will limit the personalization capabilities of marketers, zero- and first-party data remain key to humanizing digital interactions and experiences.

Personalizing campaigns through existing data

The first step to creating digital experiences that satisfy the human experience is for companies to get to know their customers. Think about your interpersonal relationships: you take the time to understand your friends and family’s needs and wants, and humanizing digital experiences requires the same effort. Zero-party and first-party data, which customers share voluntarily, or marketers collect through behavioral patterns, can create personalized marketing experiences without sacrificing customer privacy.

By leveraging this customer data, marketers can develop campaigns that inform customers of relevant information such as the closest physical store’s hours, cart reminders, or product suggestions that anticipate customer needs. These tactics improve customer experience by putting the customer first. There’s an important and understood value exchange between consumers and marketers. Consumers willingly give brands information about them and their interests, and marketers leverage it to build a seamless shopping and browsing experience.

Humanizing the digital world through the omnichannel

Digital can also help bridge human connection. For example, if your friend is making a recommendation on a TV show, workout, or pair of jeans, that “social proof” is valuable information that we use as cues in our everyday lives. Digital experiences can achieve the same thing. At a pivotal moment in the consumer journey, companies should show consumers the social proof in the form of ratings and reviews or how many other shoppers are engaging with the product they’re viewing. This connects other people’s behaviors to their own, making the experience feel more personal than transactional.

Zero- and first-party data have been and always will be fundamental components of marketers’ toolkit to create personalized marketing campaigns. As the consumer path to purchase becomes increasingly non-linear, however, brands now must incorporate and prioritize omnichannel strategies to level up the overall experience.

For example, estimates show that consumers now check their phone between 52 and 80 times a day. Consumers use their phones for new product discovery and identifying brick-and-mortar locations for in-store purchasing, creating a heightened need for more seamless omnichannel communication strategies. Consumers don’t shop Brand X in Mobile, Brand X in email, Brand X in Social – they shop Brand X.

Once marketers collect first-party data, they can then leverage the consumer data when focusing on personalizing the omnichannel experience. With 71% using multiple channels to start and complete a single transaction, we’re continuing to experience rapid growth in mobile commerce.

A first-party use case that became very popular during COVID-19 and remains a core tenet of retailers’ strategy is BOPIS and curbside pick-up, i.e., leveraging zip codes to drive consumers to in-store availability (and not just at-home delivery).  Similarly, as COVID-19 closed borders and brought long distance travel to a standstill, travel brands were able to leverage first-party data to surface hotel destinations within driving distance (using zip codes).

Lastly, 68% of marketers gained new customers during COVID and loyalty programs became a key trend for many marketers where they can leverage first-party data to communicate the value of their brand and elevate the role of loyalty in their communications with consumers. We expect the importance of loyalty programs to continue growing as retailers begin leveraging their existing troves of data to personalize their marketing.

To provide digital experiences that satisfy and personalize human experiences, the experiences need to be connected regardless of channel. Failure to do so would be akin to texting with your friend about upcoming plans, and then you call them “not knowing” what you’re talking about. The experience can’t be siloed.

Embracing the legal landscape with data 

This is uncharted territory for marketers. However, it needs to be recognized that a push towards greater privacy is a good thing for the consumer and the marketer. Brand marketers will have to earn each customer relationship and deliver value. For years, our most successful customers have been personalizing content from zero- and first-party data from data stores like internal APIs, CDPs, and CRMs, solving the content bottleneck to realize the 1:1 personalization that customers have come to expect from the brands they trust.

But the legal landscape on data privacy is just beginning to develop, making many industry experts nervous since data is the fuel marketers live on. However, this is why knowing how to leverage existing customer data to produce valuable business results is so vital. By establishing the right data strategy by leveraging zero- and first-party data, the overall digital experience will improve.

When Apple rolled out its new privacy measures last fall, marketers were signaling the doomsday bells. In Movable Ink’s analysis of iOS 15’s content caching, we found that 45% of consumers use the Apple Mail client. According to Wired, the new caching protocol routes tracking pixels “through a relay that strips out (recipient) data gathering.” Contextual personalization was thrown for a loop after this update.

For marketers trying to navigate the new data-private world, the challenge and opportunity is to devise new modes of data collection through existing zero- and first-party data. Data is something that needs constant attention. How marketers collect and integrate data with other systems and how they measure it should be under constant review and optimization, especially with the fluctuating legal landscape.

The future of marketing has always been data, but now that third-party sources are dwindling and more consumers are fighting for control of their data, it’s time to work smarter. The next two years will be a turning point in how marketers collect data and build personalization campaigns.

Instead of focusing on what brands cannot do with all the new laws coming to fruition, this is an opportunity to evolve what marketers’ can do.  Balancing personalization with consumers’ increased demands for more privacy, can–and if dont right, will–ultimately lead to more personalized, scalable campaigns that drive revenue and build better relationships with customers.

Julio Lopez

Julio is Senior Director of Strategy, Retail Practice Lead at Movable Ink. He has worked across multiple Mar-Tech SaaS companies whose integrated solutions focused on driving digital innovation for retailers, including Cheetah Digital, RevTrax, and Eversight. During his tenure at these organizations, he worked closely with brands like Men’s Wearhouse, Cost Plus World Market, Hallmark, Sherwin Williams, and Carrefour. While at Experian CheetahMail (now Cheetah Digital) he worked on strategic email program development and deployment. At RevTrax he worked closely with the executive team to manage the evolution of the product, define go-to-market strategies, and led the Customer Experience organization. Julio also helped establish and lead the penetration into the European market for Eversight, whose software helps drive pricing and promotion strategies for retailers.
Julio’s expertise and passion for retail has kept him focused on the vertical. He joined Movable Ink as an Associate Director focusing on Retail, continuing to add to his 10+ years of experience in Retail Services. He was also one of the founding members of the Strategy Team.

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Making Data Talk: How Marketers can Humanize their Campaigns through Zero- and First-Party Data

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