The marketing industry has been up-in-arms over the last year or two about the impending phase out of third-party cookies. For those who are not familiar with what’s happening in this space, here’s a quick primer: Increasing privacy concerns from end users have caused Google to announce that it will be phasing out the third-party cookie on Chrome browsers by 2022 – which is the world’s most-used browser across both mobile and desktop.
The third-party phase-out was initially announced in February 2020, but Google accelerated buzz around it when they announced that they won’t be building “alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”
On a whole, this means that advertising becomes more difficult. Up until 2020 and 2021, lots of brands relied on third-party cookies to enhance their ad targeting. These third-party cookies could be purchased from data providers who tracked users as they browsed the web and categorized users based on their browsing behavior. The impending phase-out reduces the amount of data available for targeting, and with less data available, brand marketers and advertisers would be reduced to a spray-and-pray approach.
This shift has caused the rise in importance of first- and zero-party data. Let me take a moment to explain what these two terms mean. First-party data stems from behaviour that a brand is able to track from properties that the brand owns, such as its website or mobile app. With first-party data, you can learn about what a user did while visiting your website, see how often they visit it, and gain other basic analytics that can help you develop or automate an effective marketing strategy around them. On the other hand, zero-party data refers to data which a customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand. It can include preference center data, purchase intentions, personal context, and how the individual wants the brand to recognize them. This data is usually acquired through the filling of a form, although this form need not necessarily be a digital one!
As you can see from the above definitions, first- and zero- party data become more valuable because these are data points which are owned by the brand. Whilst there is of course the chance that the data can become obsolete (for example, if someone changes jobs, rendering the zero-party data invalid, or if the first-party cookie on your website deprecates after a certain number of days), it nevertheless provides more rich information than third-party data ever could, due to the increased accuracy of obtaining behavioural information from first-party data and demographic information from zero-party data.
So, as an overall data strategy, brands should be aiming to increase their repositories of first- and zero-party data. This is where content marketing comes in, as content marketing is one of the most impactful ways of attracting people to your owned properties, getting them to stay, and subsequently exchanging information.
For content marketing to help brands in this data strategy, the practice of content marketing, and by extension, content creation, has to extend from being one of passive to active consumption. What I mean by this is that historically, content marketing has mainly revolved around creating content that is consumed passively – such as blogposts or infographics. The audience doesn’t need to take any action aside from clicking through to the content itself. However, by transitioning content creation to one that encourages more interaction, brands are able to intentionally generate more first-party data. Every click, video view, hover or action taken by the user is a piece of data that can enrich the brand’s understanding of the user, and hence, make it easier to communicate with them and understand their needs.
That said, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for more passive forms of content. They’re all important. However, brands can consider increasing the interactivity of such content by including small interactive elements such as a post-article poll to gauge whether users found the content relevant, or even small, snackable downloadable assets to accompany an infographic.
All in all, I believe that we will start to see a shift in the content marketing practice from 2022 onwards to creating content that is more interactive, for the purpose of generating those valuable first- and zero- party data points that will enable ad targeting to continue being effective.