Industry forecasts for marketing technology in 2017 will come fast and furious with the year’s end. But as we look ahead, a persistent issue confronts digital marketers of every stripe: data ownership.
Why is this topic at the top of the agenda for 2017? Owning your marketing data seems simple at first blush. But with every new channel, platform, device, and the combinations thereof, data ownership becomes more strategic and complex.
Consumers continue to expand the customer journey as a mix of interrelated touch points. As Forrester forecasts, for example, cross-channel sales are expected to grow to $1.8 trillion by 2018, more than four times larger than online sales by themselves.
By “cross-channel,” Forrester means the large numbers of sales influenced online but completed in-store. Deloitte chimed in with research reporting that 76 percent of respondents in its “Digital Divide” survey interact with brands before walking into a store.
To win in this game of buyer agility, marketers require a rigorous approach to data ownership delivering high-quality intelligence for marketing and advertising initiatives. First-party data drives customer acquisition and revenue, along with the analytics to optimize actions and defend budgets. It’s also essential to ensure data security and compliance with increasingly strict privacy regulations.
Yet closed marketing suites typically restrict access to data. And marketers and advertisers routinely dump their first-party data into third-party martech and ad tech vendor systems designed to work with third-party cookies — and then lose control of it.
Moreover, third-party data collection is notoriously inaccurate because browsers may block third-party cookies or delete them within days. Even more frustrating is that these third-party cookies do not distinguish a unique individual as he or she switches from one device to the next, inflating data and making it difficult to track a single customer across the ecosystem.
Given these conditions, it’s critical that marketers deploy new technology and processes enabling them to control the entire life cycle of data across every customer touch point. Let’s look at some of the challenges to data ownership and possible remedies to look at in the new year.
What is first-party data?
The simple answer is that first-party data is data that a brand or publisher owns as a result of users accessing brand-owned websites, social platforms and mobile apps — combined with data in a company’s internal systems like customer relationship management (CRM), point of sale, call centers and so on.
The data is collected via a direct relationship with the consumer. It may also be collected via website cookies, registration forms, brand surveys, social data or any other activity on the brand’s web properties.
Nonetheless, the ways first-party data is often used can be confusing for the marketing team. If you place your first-party data into a third-party marketing or ad tech system (think digital ads or retargeting systems, for example), do you retain ownership? Do you retain control?
First-party data shared with a martech or ad tech application or platform is typically made anonymous and associated with a third-party ID stored in the vendor’s third-party cookies. Remember, cookies are snippets of code that sit on a user’s computer and make it possible to recognize that user and his or her preferences. You may be able to retrieve a copy of your data, but you’ve still lost control of that “anatomized” version accessed by a cookie you’ll never have in your possession. Here’s how this works.
Cookies as key rings
Think of cookies as keys on a key ring, with every website owning its own key ring. When you want to access your personal data stored by a given website, you pass them the associated key ring and all of the keys on it, and they check to see if your key will unlock the data you claim is yours. When you log in, a new key is given to you for use later (This is why cookies are required for the “remember me” feature on website login forms).
For these purposes, third-party marketing systems represent just another website, even though the user never goes directly to those sites. When you land on a website that uses such tools, you’re asked to send your third-party key ring associated with the marketing platform. The information shared with that marketing platform is still owned by the website, but now you need a third-party key ring to access it. In short, you’ve lost control of the data, regardless of whether you kept your own copy.
Data management platforms (DMP) are good examples of this. The brand gives the DMP first-party data to build audience segments in digital advertising to reach single people who are not yet customers. In exchange, the DMP makes that data anonymous, then sells it to the next client, even your competitors. As long as you’ve kept a copy of the data you share with a DMP, you maintain ownership even though you lose control.
The problem many digital marketers face today is that they will use a DMP as if it’s their own database, while failing to keep a copy of the behavioral data they feed into it. If the relationship with that DMP vendor is terminated, the digital marketer loses both ownership and control of the data.
The heart of customer marketing
These issues are why I put data ownership at the top of my wish list for companies in 2017. True data ownership is not just about the ability to put first-party data into a third-party marketing or advertising system and then pull it back out. Instead, marketers can now deploy new technology to control the life cycle of data using first-party cookies across all touch points.
Here are some key areas required to assure data ownership:
- Collect and own first-party data on any channel or device. New technology using programmable pixels enables the enterprise to collect and own data generated on third-party marketing technology websites. In short, you maintain ownership and control of data even as it passes through third-party marketing vendors, DMPs and digital ad exchanges.
- Stitch data into first-party customer profiles. Marketers need to understand what customers want as individuals, not just at an audience level. That requires stitching multi-channel, cross-device data into user profiles using high-quality first-party data that can be continuously updated.
- Activate the data across the marketing technology stack. First-party data profiles can then be fed into any of the various marketing technologies deploying to your site, including personalization tools and key analytics and BI systems, to improve the speed and quality of marketing decisions.
- Personalize on the first visit and thereafter. Before a visitor lands on a brand’s website or other digital properties, marketers can now use data defining the journey in advance to serve personalized content and offers on the very first visit forward.
Complete data ownership is the only option for the enterprise that wants to engage individual consumers with relevant and timely experiences, as well as solve for security and privacy requirements.
Remember, you can own a piece of data, but unless you also own the keys (i.e., the cookies) to that data, you cannot retain control of how it’s accessed and used. It’s worth the effort to get this right in 2017.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.