What is a first-party data strategy?

Here at Thirty-One Circles, we do a lot of reading. A common topic on our reading lists is how different organisations are approaching the depreciation of cookies. In nearly every guide we have read about the end of third-party cookies, we have encountered strategies for first-party data and even zero-party data. Yet, we have noticed a breakdown in communication between the data-savvy people who write these articles and the informed advertising audience reading them. So here goes our attempt to rectify that.

To start with let's see what these terms actually mean:

  • Third-party data - data collected by a company that is not the one your customer is interacting with (e.g. Facebook collecting data when your customer is on your website.
  • Third-party cookies - cookies stored under 'facebook.com' rather than 'yourwebsite.com' - This is what is/has been depreciated depending on your browser.
  • Second-party data - your first-party data matched with someone else's data on the same person in order to augment it. This is the foundation of data sharing
  • Second-party cookies - do not exist
  • First-party data - any data you collected yourself (not just at a customer level)
  • First-party cookies - cookies under which you store data from your website
  • Zero-party data - data supplied directly by your customers
  • Zero party cookies - do not exist

So, as you might have picked-up, it is unfortunately quite jargon-heavy, and even worse, sometimes terms are confused or used in place of each other. 

data transformation

The good news is there is a pragmatic way to approach this, we recommend not getting caught up in the technical meaning of everything and instead focusing on the spirit and value the data will continue to have. 

To this end we group any data that you will continue to have access to AND that doesn't rely on third party cookies as first-party, and everything else as third-party. To us this is the most useful definition when making business decisions and therefore the classification we use day in day out.

Sources of first-party data to us therefore include:

  • Data collected next to a stable customer ID, including website behaviour, geographic location, shopping patterns and more. This might be supplied by the customer; collected by others like Google Analytics; or collected yourself through a loyalty program
  • Aggregate data from media platforms, such as engagement with ads you may have running on these platforms
  • Data that you collect on aggregate about your customers, for instance, footfall, daily sales revenue in-store and online

While this may seem like a short, uncomplicated list, it has everything you need to form an effective and first-party data strategy.

So, what is a first-party data strategy? Put simply, this is an organisation's plan to make use of their first-party data, but in which area and exactly how are completely flexible.  

Common themes in the first-party data strategies we have seen:

  • Personalisation 
  • Tracking and attribution 
  • Performance and testing
  • Commercials and revenue streams  

However, these are just a guide. Uses for your first-party data are almost limitless if you are creative enough. So, think about what will make the biggest impact to your organisation, regardless of if that uses customer level data or not.