Zero-Party Data: It’s Not About Data Points, It’s About Context

By Jennifer Choo


The marketing community is abuzz with discussions about zero-party data and the sunsetting of the third-party cookie. What isn’t being focused on is zero-party data and how teams should collect and leverage it. It’s not just about building out forms, it’s about engagement and context.
A critical element of leveraging zero-party data is understanding and interacting with your audiences so that you can serve them what they want when they want it. Savvy publishing and media brands caught on to this long ago and have implemented strategies to deeply understand their audiences and utilize them for monetization strategies. These publishing and media brands have honed their zero-party data collection skills amidst ever-changing data privacy regulations while engaging with their audience bases at a deeper level than ever before.
The key to zero-party data collection and utilization is developing ways to let audiences and consumers tell you, the brand, where their interests lie and what types of content and information they want from you. This not only gives the modern consumer control over the digital property that they are calling for, it also allows brands to aggregate content and messaging in a more personalized way.
The most agile publishing and media brands have not only perfected their zero-party data strategy through personalized engagements. They have also included their audiences in that process by leveraging their data to create highly personalized experiences that lean heavily into context. But how can the rest of the marketing world catch up and dive head first into the world of zero-party data?

Understand Zero-Party Data

In order to create a successful zero-party data strategy, you must first understand how it differs from first-party data. Zero-party data is information given directly and willingly to a brand in exchange for value, meaning your existing or potential customers provide you with information about themselves to be granted access to something only your brand can provide, be it a discount code or a downloadable guide. 
Zero-party data is the most direct and true form of data in contrast to first-party data gathered by inference via behavioral or transactional data. For example, a marketing team can leverage a first-party data strategy by looking at a consumers browsing preferences and purchasing behavior to market correlating products and services. In comparison, a zero-party data strategy would be driven by a customer telling a brand directly that they are interested in a product or service, guiding the brands marketing team to serve them content that is directly related to that product or service. 
In terms of modern marketing success, it is important to include both first-party and zero-party data within a brands strategy. Leveraging both types of data collection to create hyperpersonalized marketing for your consumers is the key to developing the customer relationships that increase revenues and promote longterm loyalty.

Build Out That Preference Center

Nearly every marketing team leverages forms and landing pages to collect zero-party data. However, many of those forms are simplified requests for information (email address, name, company name, etc.) that don’t really enable brands to learn much about their potential customers. While these simplified forms are a critical element of inducting customers into a marketing nurture journey, there are additional ways to gather information about your consumers, like preference centers. 
Preference centers take a user to the next level of engagement with a brand. Once a user has engaged at a high-level, many marketing teams drive them to a preference center to confirm the data they already have and enable them to willingly provide more based on their individual preferences. This ensures they are served them the most tailored, personalized content possible.
The bottom line is that there is no better way to learn more about what your audience wants and needs than to ask them directly. Building and implementing a well-thought-out, userfriendly preference center is a great way to do just that. Allowing customers to access their data and indicate their preferences on their interests, content, and frequency of interaction with your brand is an excellent way to gather zero-party data to drive your marketing strategy. Not only that, but preference centers also allows consumers to have the control over their data that they want while ensuring compliance with the ever-changing regulations in the market. 

Create Interactive Experiences

User experience is the basis of all modern marketing. Developing exceptional user experiences with your brand means engaging consumers when, where, and how they want through a robust omnichannel strategy. How does this tie into zero-party data? It’s simple: through engagement.
Successful omnichannel strategies include a variety of channels and mediums to engage consumers with your brand. As many brands are discovering, the most engaging content is of the interactive variety. From shoppable social media posts to customer reviews and surveys, you can provide your consumers with various interactive experiences to help bolster your zero-party engagement strategy. 
Let’s start with social media, a bevy of channels that allow you to reach your customers with relatable, interactive content that puts them in the driver’s seat when it comes to sharing their data. In the wake of the pandemic and ever-changing data privacy laws, many digital commerce brands have evolved their interactive social media strategies to learn more about their customers via zero-party data exchanges. As an example, many brands encourage customers to leave product reviews on their social media channels and/or partner with social media influencers to review their brands to drive engagement. This not only enables potential customers to gather information on products and services from their peers or trusted sources, it also allows brands to directly communicate with their audiences when and where they spend their scrolling time. 
These direct interactions with brands are critical in terms of building relationships with customers and humanizing your brand. Modern consumers want to buy from brands that relate to them and make them feel seen. Answering comments directly, commenting on reviews, and engaging with users who ask questions and tag your brand on social media buildtrust and loyalty while collecting zero-party data. 
In addition, many brands are leveraging popular platforms like Instagram and TikTok to poll their audiences and customers. These polls engage consumers and get more zero-party insights to build out your marketing data. Utilizing the responses from polling enables marketing teams to construct more robust customer profiles, get direct feedback to leverage for understanding consumer wants and needs, and optimize your products and services. 

Lean Into Diversity & Inclusion

In recent years, diversity and inclusion has taken center stage among marketing trends. While brands work hard to understand their customers and build out profiles and personas that reflect their ideal target markets, many fall short when it comes to understanding the diversity of their consumers and developing marketing materials and messaging that is fully inclusive. Fortunately, newly emerging user experience based technologies like the metaverse are changing the game and will enable more diversity and inclusion than ever before.

The truth is, creating a robust zero-party data strategy goes hand in hand with building out a method to optimize diversity and inclusion across your brand marketing, which widens your customer pool and boosts your bottom line. Allowing consumers to interact with your brand in a way that they openly tell you what they want and need provides teams with a better view of who their ideal consumers really are.

Aggregating that data back into a centralized system that allows you to create robust profiles will inform your marketing team on how to build out messaging and content in a more diversified and inclusive way. At the end of the day, all marketing teams want the same thing: high levels of engagement across their brand marketing initiatives that results in increased ROI, brand loyalty, and customer retention. 

In Short

Data collection and utilization strategies are a key element of modern digital marketing success. While the industry is flooded with talk of the end of the third-party cookie, and how marketing teams can overcome this hurdle, the majority of the narrative isn’t focused on the heart of the HOW. It’s not just about understanding first-party and zero-party data collection and utilization as concepts, but rather the root of their success through engagement and context.

In a modern market where feeds and inboxes are flooded, brands have to create unique user experiences through robust engagement and personalization strategies. In order to do this, they must leverage the tools at their disposal to ensure they are building relationships with their consumers when and where they spend their digital time. Robust omnichannel strategies that include interactive content, leverage preference centers, and lean into diversity and inclusion will enable brands to create a deep understanding of and the personal relationships with loyal consumers they need to develop a free-flowing exchange of zero-party data.  


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