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Let’s Dispel Some Common Third-Party Data Misconceptions

(Credit: Getty Images)
(Credit: Getty Images)

Marketers’ jobs have never been as complex as they are today. As the world transforms around them, marketers are seeing all kinds of ripple effects due to the dramatic shift and acceleration of the digital customer journey over the past few years. Quite frankly, many marketers are just trying to keep their heads above water right now. 

This sense of reeling is understandable, given what’s going on with consumers today. Today’s consumers are researching and engaging with brands in more channels than ever — via websites, social media, email and more. All of this digital activity has driven the proliferation of data, and this proliferation presents a huge challenge for marketers. As they struggle to connect the dots and data points to get a full picture of their customers and their addressable markets, they’re simultaneously trying to wrap their arms around shifting data policies, practices and regulations. 

In such a complex landscape, misconceptions and misinformation abound. Let’s dive into a few areas where marketers can and should simplify their thinking around the data-driven future. 

The Personalization Conundrum

Today’s buyers have migrated increasingly into online channels. In those channels, they want marketers to show they are paying attention to them by delivering personalized messaging and offers. However, at the same time, they want marketers to respect their privacy and to be thoughtful and cautious about how their data is collected and shared. 

In other words, today’s consumers are sending mixed signals, which poses a tremendous challenge in the context of developing future-focused marketing strategies. In many cases, this conundrum, along with shifting data policies and regulations, has led marketers to focus on building stronger first-party data strategies. However, while first-party data represents a tremendous asset for brands, many struggle to obtain everything they need to know from their customers in order to provide the experience that they’re demanding.

That said, traditional third-party data strategies are also in flux, as marketers deal with some fundamental changes. First and foremost, there’s the looming deprecation of third-party cookies in Chrome. On top of that, Apple’s changes to IDFA have fundamentally altered the mobile identity space. And, last but not least, there’s the constantly changing data privacy landscape that becomes more difficult to track on a daily basis. 

These challenges are prompting marketers to ask a lot of questions about the third-party data they’re obtaining and activating. What data can be trusted? How can that data be made actionable? What will happen to this data in a cookieless world? Will I be able to apply the same strategies with that data once forthcoming changes take place?

In seeking answers to these questions, many markers are receiving incomplete or incorrect information. Let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions.

Misconception: Third-party cookies and third-party data are the same thing.

Out of the gate, let’s clarify a common misconception within the marketing world: Third-party data is not the same as third-party cookies. Yes, they both have the word “third” in them. But they are absolutely not interchangeable, and loose use of these phrases is causing a tremendous amount of confusion in marketing circles. 

So, what’s the difference? Third-party data is the actual data and attributes that are associated with a user, while the third-party cookie is only a single mechanism through which that data is exchanged. In other words, third-party data can be leveraged by plenty of other identifiers — ones that will continue to be viable following the deprecation of third-party cookies.

In short: Third-party cookies are going away. Third-party data is not.

Misconception: Third-party doesn’t apply to your existing customers.

Other third-party data misconceptions have to do with marketers’ strong association of third-party data with very precise ad targeting and retargeting. And indeed, third-party data does help power these activities. But it also does much more. Importantly, third-party data — via the process of data enrichment — can help companies better understand their existing customers by filling in knowledge gaps around customer interests, socio-demographics, behaviors, purchase intent and more. In fact, third-party data is a very necessary component of any strong retention and loyalty program. 

Misconception: Third-party data doesn’t help reach new prospects.

In addition to retention efforts, third-party data plays an essential role in prospecting efficiently and at scale. Based on personas of existing customers — personas that ideally have been enriched with third-party attributes — brands can create lookalike audiences that can help them find new customers who look and act like their existing ones — or who are otherwise likely to find value in their brands. In this way, third-party data serves as an essential tool in both the upper and lower funnels. 

Without a doubt, first-party data is of paramount importance when it comes to a brand’s data strategy. But as more and more marketers are discovering, it’s simply not enough on its own. In this increasingly privacy-first world, qualified third-party data sets are still viable — and they’re going to continue to be essential to rounding out a successful, future-focused marketing strategy. 


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