Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Identity crisis: first-party data and beyond

In the second half of our roundtable discussion on the future of identity within digital advertising, conversation turned to the strengths and weaknesses of first-party data and the confusion surrounding alternative identity solutions on the marketplace.

NDA editor Justin Pearse was joined by Felicity Bowen, Managing Partner in Strategy, Spark Foundry; Bede Feltham, Managing Partner, Martech and Data Strategy, Havas Media; Matthew Rolfe, Sales Director at Permutive; Mathieu Roche, Co-Founder and CEO, ID5; Oliver Poulsom, Headof Audience Solutions at Group M; Matt Pollington, Director, Marketing, MADE.COM; Christopher Hogg, Global Head of Platform Sales at Lotame; and Sarah Baumann, Managing Director of VaynerMedia, London.   

Bede Feltham of Havas Media laid the foundation for the conversation by stressing the fundamental importance of ‘first–party data’ to whatever happens next in the world of digital marketing.

He said: “The message we’ve been giving to our clients is, if you don’t already have one, to get a first-party data strategy in place as soon as possible. For a lot of clients, in the first instance, that means establishing where customer data actually sits within their organisation. So we may be talking to the media team over here,  but it’s actually the CRM team over there who own the first-party data. That’s where things like customer data platforms come into their own, helping to unify all those data sets, then in starting to build out machine learning, ID graphs, whatever it is that’s going to help you adapt and survive.”

Spark Foundry’s Felicity Bowen commented on the huge spike in recent above-the-line ad campaigns pushing major brand loyalty cards. She said: “Boots Advantage Card launched a big campaign recently and Tesco Clubcard ran a huge campaign earlier this year, as did M&S for its Sparks card. Brands with strong existing relationships with their customers are doing whatever they can to renew and strengthen those valuable relationships. They understand the nature of the exchange taking place, that the brand has to offer the customer some kind of reward in return for their loyalty.” 

Despite the challenges and short-comings of email-based strategies, argues Lotame’s Christopher Hogg, everyone has got to find a way to do them: “A verified, consented email address gives you a real core base of data to work with, but, obviously, it’s limited as not everyone is going to login using their email address every time they do something online. As a result, there’s always going to be a valuable customer base that you’re just never going to get with an email address or even an email identity product alone. We’ve invested very heavily in machine learning and predictive modeling capabilities, looking into how we extrapolate the learnings from our first-party data across the estimated 80-85% of ‘unknown’ users on the open web. As marketers, you need the right kind of data, and your first-party data alone won’t provide you with the insights you need to find more of your best customers and set yourself apart from the competition. To get the quality information your company needs, you can use data enrichment. ” 

First thoughts

MADE.COM’s Matt Pollinton commented that when we talk about ‘post-cookie’ measurement, one of the big missing pieces for brands is often the very specialist skill set required to meet the challenge ahead. He said: “The sort of econometrics required today isn’t just a case of an analyst running off a few general reports. That sort of talent is in very, very high demand at the moment, so getting the right people to support any new identity-based marketing strategy is going to be crucial for brands and agencies. 

“What I see emerging across the industry is that, as first-party data becomes super important, we need to see it within the context of customer experience. How do we deliver an experience for the consumer that gives them a reason to have an ongoing ‘data-sharing relationship’ with us as a brand? My gold standard for that sort of relationship is Adidas. They do some really cool stuff, getting customers to opt in and provide their consent for a variety of interactions with the brand. 

Sarah Baumann of VaynerMedia, London agreed that Adidas is a great example, but believes that there are other reasons why the sportswear giant has been able to get such great levels of consent on their first party data. She said: “ In the first instance, they make content, rather than simply serving ad after ad. More than that,though, they’re reaping the benefit of being a recognisable, decades-old, marketing-led brand that people actually want to have a relationship with. Brands that have invested in understanding their audiences and their consumers, understanding the different segments and the different cohorts within their customer base, I think those brands are really well placed for what comes next. The ones who are now just starting from scratch, they’re gonna be hard pushed to suddenly build a relationship with customers they showed little interest in before now.”

Permutive’s Matthew Rolfe believes that heightened emphasis on first-party data should lead to greater collaboration between media owners and advertisers. He said: “Historically, there’s been a lot of tech in the middle of the advertiser-publisher relationship. Those gaps between advertiser and media owners are being bridged now, thanks to the collaboration required to successfully leverage first-party data, whether the data belongs to the brand or the media owner.” 

It’s not about data?

Mathieu Roche of ID5 made the point that, while we’re collectively rediscovering an interest in first-party data, it has always been a good business strategy to know your customers and that by focusing too heavily on data, we may be missing a trick. He said:  “I think there’s a lot of confusion around what it is that we’re trying to fix. Identity is not data. Identity is an enabler. It’s an infrastructure that enables us to do data collection to connect the dots between an advertising action and a commercial action. For example, has a user already seen an ad, and if so, how many times should they see it again? It’s not a data discussion. It’s an infrastructure discussion about how we can do those things technically and continue to provide value to brands and publishers. Anyone looking for a single ‘magic bullet’ solution to the identity challenge is going to be disappointed.”

Oliver Poulsom of Group M agreed that a first-party data strategy is merely a means to an end and how that data is ultimately used will become a much more complex task in the near future. He said: “The technology is available today for marketers to deliver a personalised creative message to me while I’m watching on demand TV, reminding me that I forgot to add nappies to my shopping basket, like I normally do. The question for marketers is whether I, as an individual, would welcome that message or whether I would feel it was too intrusive. Marketing is still about using the right channels to deliver relevant and helpful messages to the right people in a way they are comfortable with. Having a customer’s consent to communicate is really just the start of the things marketers need to think about.”

The first part of the writeup of this roundtable is here.