Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Dora Michail-Clendinnen: Looking forward to the first-party data future

Dora Michail-Clendinnen is Chief Strategy Officer at The Ozone Project and NDA’s monthly columnist.

While it’s been hard to escape the negative headlines about the death of the third-party cookie, the scale of the opportunity this creates for those generating their own first-party data through their interactions with consumers hasn’t yet been explored very much.

Since Ozone’s inception, we’ve been emphatic in our belief that this shift in ‘data value’ is a positive move for both advertisers and professional content producers. The data signals brands and publishers create through their customer engagements – be it to sell, inform, educate or entertain – can provide incredibly valuable insights that help us understand our audiences more.

This data in itself isn’t something that’s particularly new – many advertisers and media owners have been mining insights from their own customers’ actions and behaviours for years. Yet thanks to constantly evolving technology we have an increasing capability to make these first-party signals truly actionable. And when it comes to maximising this first-party data opportunity in digital advertising, compliance, collaboration and control are going to be key. 


While it’s vital we have the correct marketing consents and that we do things lawfully, it’s equally important that we act ethically and sensibly with our customers’ data – just because we can use or collect something, doesn’t mean we should. Rather than focusing on building treasure troves of data, more emphasis should be placed on understanding what creates the most value, in the most responsible way. Being good stewards of data will reap rewards over-time for those who take it seriously.

I recently took part in The Marketing Society’s global conversation centred on a future post third-party cookie. My fellow panellists were senior marketing leaders from the Society’s global network and the idea of consumers taking greater control of their own data profile – and how it’s used – was seen as a real driver of the need for brands to act with more morality when it comes to data use. However, this needn’t be a barrier; as one of the panellists pointed out, a shrunken customer database post the introduction and application of GDPR actually left them with a more loyal and open audience for their first-party communications.


During this same debate, the marketers talked a lot about collaboration in the form of finding others with equally rich first-party datasets that would allow their brands to continue customer conversations outside of their own environments. This type of audience matching, carried out in a compliant manner, presents an exciting opportunity for advertisers to remarket to their existing customers or even exclude them from prospecting campaigns. It also naturally brings the two parties who care the most about consumer relationships – the advertiser and the publisher – closer together in the digital advertising chain.

Collaboration is also critical for enhancing the advertiser offering from media owners. Ozone’s individual publishers sit on some of the richest first-party data-sets thanks to the deep brand-led experience they offer their readers. In addition to this, Ozone’s cross-publisher view of these consumption habits provides further, additive insights to help advertisers reach nationwide audiences.


As the pandemic wreaked havoc for the travel industry, Ozone was able to see major spikes of travel content consumption correlating with the regular Government advice on travel and subsequent restrictions. This has allowed us to forecast patterns of behaviour in advance of formal announcements, such as last summer when a predicted interest in short-haul destinations materialised after the Government advised against all non-essential travel to Spain and readers sought alternative travel plans. Fast forward to the latest announcement on the green-lighting of twelve locations for international travel and the anticipated reading spike equated to a +44% increase in page views overnight. 


While the first-party data future is certainly one to be optimistic about if you’re a brand marketer or publisher, it’s equally important that both parties avoid repeating the actions that have caused many of the issues we have in digital advertising today, particularly around privacy and hyper-localised targeting. The interactions and engagements each has with consumers provide a rich tapestry of data value and over the years many ad tech businesses have been built off the back of it.

Both advertisers and publishers spend a huge amount of time nurturing and curating relationships with consumers that will ultimately lead to them spending more time – or money – with them. As anyone who’s been in a customer-facing role knows all too well, this takes a lot of effort, time and care to get right – and any reward for doing so should squarely sit with those that built and are the custodians of these relationships.

The wisest and most successful players in the first-party game will be those who keep their own data secure and realise the full value of its scarcity. It’s time to start re-writing the rules of digital advertising and real-time bidding, and reconsider what’s appropriate to broadcast in each bid request. Let’s not re-architect the past. Let’s re-imagine the future.