Why Marketers Should Shift Focus Beyond Just First-Party Data

Pre-COVID-19, digital advertising followed a pattern. Marketers relied on a familiar set of audience definitions.

Creating those definitions took work. First-party data was the foundation for marketers to learn the basic habits and preferences of their audiences, but they still needed third-party data to fill in the gaps. They’d gather their disparate data sets, build a working model, test the results to see if they worked, and start all over again. The process had its rewards.

Before the global pandemic, we could make some assumptions about how people lived based on available first-party data. We could guess how the preferences of a 30-something female with a suburban postcode might differ from those of a man in his twenties living in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island. But COVID-19 changed all that.


As marketers, we know that consumers’ lives have changed profoundly on every level. People are shopping differently, preparing and cooking in new ways, taking up new hobbies, and even exercising more or less than they did a few months ago. First-party data alone simply cannot capture the myriad changes in these daily habits.

Here’s an example.

A female consumer in her forties visits a news site in December 2019. She lives in a Tokawan in Kowloon. She browses top news and the cooking section. When that same user logs on in the spring of 2020, her behavior hasn’t changed that much. She may visit more often and consume more content. Yet her life is very different.

There’s no way for a publisher’s view to indicate those life changes. She may have simply enjoyed reading about cooking before, while now she cooks three meals a day. She may be shopping to improve her home with plants and new linens.

Marketers need third-party data to truly understand what consumers’ lives really look like now. It isn’t hyperbole when I say that there is simply no way for digital marketers to make the connection between discrete behaviors without relying on third-party data.


What does third-party data do? Third-party data reveals valuable insight for marketers. Pre-COVID, you could expect that a consumer who shopped regularly at a high-end retailer was likely in the market for work attire. Today, as many consumers continue to work-from-home, someone visiting that high-end retailer might be better served with ads for casual clothes suited to social distancing.

It isn’t hyperbole when I say that there is simply no way for digital marketers to make the connection between discrete behaviors without relying on third-party data.

Engaging customers in relevant and respectful ways that take into account how their lives have changed in these past few months can have a big impact. Third-party data is the key to unlocking the right insights of ever-changing consumer behaviors.

Marketers across all industries are facing the biggest challenges of their careers. Many businesses are in survival mode and looking for ways to turn around any opportunity to attract new potential consumers developing a clear view of your customers and how they’ve changed and embraced the ‘new normal’ can give you the competitive edge you need.

First-party data will always be valuable and have its place in the marketer’s toolset, but that’s never enough. Like all of us right now, we count on partners to lift us up and help us see our blindspots. Third-party data is that essential partner every digital marketer needs right now, especially as we continue to live in this critical moment.


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