The ultimate guide to first-party data

The best way to connect with consumers? Cut out the middleman when it comes to data. Learn how your organization can incorporate a first-party data strategy into its marketing operations

Param Gopalasamy
Content Marketing Specialist, CIPM, CIPP/E
July 13, 2023

Two women in an office break room working on a project.

As technology, privacy regulations, and consumer preferences evolve, first-party data is now a hot topic in the marketing world. Today, we'll explore the intricate world of first-party data, demonstrate its value and importance, along with how you can best utilize it to achieve your marketing objectives.


What is first-party data?

First-party data is a term used to refer to data directly collected from your company’s customers, prospects, and other individuals who interact with your brand. As a marketer, it's the most reliable type of customer data you can gather. This is because it comes directly from your audience, without any intermediary interference or alterations.

In our digital age, customer data is power. The fact that the consumer data platform (CDP) market is projected to grow at a 5x multiple between 2020 and 2025 shows that the data revolution has indeed begun. First-party data, the foundation of this data revolution, is an invaluable asset for marketers seeking to understand and engage their audience on a deeper level.

First-party data sources are numerous, ranging from your company’s website, your app, customer surveys, customer service interactions, social media, and even offline sources such as in-store purchases or event attendance. Each interaction provides valuable insights, allowing you to build a richer and more comprehensive picture of your audience.

In essence, first-party data reflects who your customers are and how they interact with your brand. It can tell you about their demographics, their interests and preferences, their online behavior, and their purchasing patterns. Because this data is directly gathered and owned by you, it carries an inherent level of accuracy and authenticity that's hard to match.

To illustrate, consider these examples: A customer fills out a contact form on your website, provides their information, and specifies their interests. This is first-party data. Likewise, when a user browses your website, the pages they visit, the products they view, the amount of time they spend on your site — this is all valuable first-party data.

The benefits of first-party data extend beyond its accuracy. It also allows for a level of depth and specificity that's not usually possible with other data types. You can segment and analyze it in a myriad of ways, uncovering specific insights about different subsets of your target audience. Want to understand the browsing habits of customers in a particular location? Or identify the most popular products among a certain age group? With first-party data, you can do just that.

Importantly, collecting and using first-party data is also a way to build trust with your customers. In an era where privacy concerns are front and center, being transparent about how you collect and use data can go a long way to foster customer trust. Customers are more likely to share their information if they understand how it will be used to enhance their experience and if they are assured that their data will be handled responsibly.

First-party data is a cornerstone of modern marketing. It provides a direct line to your customers, enabling you to understand their needs, preferences, and behaviors. In a rapidly changing marketing landscape, leveraging first-party data isn't just beneficial — it's a necessity. By effectively gathering and utilizing these data points, marketers can create more personalized and effective strategies that drive customer engagement and business growth.


First-party data examples

Let's delve into some tangible examples to fully grasp the breadth and depth of first-party data and its potential impact on your marketing strategies.


Demographic data is the bedrock of any marketing strategy. This includes basic personal information such as age, gender, location, ethnicity, and marital status. It may also extend to details about a person’s education, occupation, and income level. For example, a customer filling out a subscription form on your website may provide their age, city, and occupation. This information helps you understand the profile of your typical customer and can be used to tailor your marketing efforts for a perfect fit.

The most impactful insights often come from a customer's purchase history. Information like purchase frequency, average order value, and buying patterns are invaluable. For instance, if a customer consistently purchases certain products every month, you might want to consider offering them a subscription service. This type of data can also reveal your top-selling products and can help identify upselling or cross-selling opportunities.

This data is gleaned from observing how users interact with your digital platforms. Every click, scroll, page visit, and bounce on your website or mobile app tells a story. For example, if you notice that users often abandon their carts on the checkout page, this could indicate that there is an issue with this part of the process that needs addressing. Similarly, if users are spending a lot of time on a specific blog post, it may be a good idea to create more content around that topic.

Direct customer feedback provides rich and often qualitative first-party data. This can be sourced from customer reviews, survey responses, or customer service interactions. For instance, feedback on a product can help you understand its strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to make necessary improvements. Survey data, on the other hand, can reveal how customers perceive your brand and what they value most about your products or services.

If your organization uses a preference center, it’s a great way to collect data from your users that will add value to their experience. Using a preference center for users to set their communication preferences regarding frequency, channel, and product interests can help you curate their experience into a much more valuable one. Taking healthcare as an example, defining a preference for SMS comms for prescription info, and wanting to be informed about new medications, can all serve to improve customer experience. 

When a customer signs up for your newsletter or opts into marketing communications, the details they provide (email and/or phone number) and their subsequent email or SMS engagement (like open and click-through rates) can all be considered first-party data. This can be used to segment your email list, personalize communications, and improve your overall email marketing strategy.

Likes, shares, comments, and direct messages on your social media platforms are all forms of first-party data. These can provide insight into your audience's interests, opinions, and how they interact with your content. Monitoring social media interactions can help inform your content strategy and promote customer engagement.


Each of these examples represents a piece of the first-party data puzzle. When brought together and analyzed as a whole, they provide a detailed, accurate, and multidimensional view of your audience. The key to unlocking the full potential of first-party data lies in understanding how to collect, analyze, and utilize this wealth of information to inform your marketing strategies, enhance customer experiences, and drive business growth. Now let’s take a look at different types of data, and what they mean to your digital strategy. 


First-party data vs third-party data

As marketers strive to better understand their audience, the distinction between first-party and third-party data becomes increasingly important. These terms refer to the source of the data and can significantly impact its reliability, relevancy, and how it can be used in marketing strategies.

First-party data — as we've established — is data collected directly from your audience. This includes information gathered from your company’s website, apps, social media profiles, customer feedback, and other direct interactions between your business and its customers.

Because first-party data is sourced directly from your audience, it's considered the gold standard of data for several reasons:

Accuracy & relevance: Since it comes straight from the source, first-party data is highly accurate. It offers real, actionable insights about your audience's behaviors, preferences, and interactions with your brand.

Cost-effective: Collecting first-party data doesn't involve purchasing data from other companies. Thus, it is generally more cost-effective, allowing you to reallocate resources to other aspects of your marketing strategy.

Privacy compliance: With increasing privacy regulations and consumer awareness about data usage, first-party data provides a safer choice. It's collected with direct consumer consent, aligning with regulations like the GDPR and the CCPA.

On the other hand, third-party data is information collected by entities that do not have a direct relationship with the user. Third-party data is typically aggregated from various websites and platforms and sold to businesses. 

While third-party data can give marketers access to a broader range of insights, it comes with its own set of challenges:

Accuracy & relevance: Third-party data can sometimes lack the accuracy and specificity of first-party data. As it's gathered from numerous, varied sources, it may not always align with your specific audience or business needs.

Cost: Third-party data is usually purchased from data brokers or aggregators, which can become a considerable expense.

Privacy concerns: The usage of third-party data is becoming increasingly scrutinized due to privacy regulations and changing industry standards, such as the phasing out of third-party cookies.

In comparing the two, it's evident that while third-party data can supplement your understanding of customers, first-party data should form the backbone of your data strategy due to its accuracy, relevancy, and compliance with privacy regulations.

We’re heading towards a cookieless world — as Google recently announced the move away from cookies for good at the end of 2024, making third-party data obsolete. This means companies have time to move away from their reliance on third-party data and establish a first-party data strategy that works for them. 


What about second-party data?

Second-party data is seen as a more trusted version of data when compared to its third-party counterpart. While third-party data is generally from businesses with no affiliation to your customers, second-party data is seen as more reliable, as it comes from trusted partners and businesses that you have closer relationships with. For example, event organizers sharing audience insights with their sponsors is an example of a partnership that fosters second-party data. 


Zero-party data vs first-party data

As the data privacy landscape evolves, new terms and concepts arise, redefining how marketers approach data collection and utilization. Zero-party data, a term coined by Forrester Research, is one such concept that has gained attention. However, to leverage it effectively, it's crucial to understand how it differs from first-party data. 

Zero-Party Data refers to data that a customer willingly and proactively shares with a brand. This can include preferences, personal interests, and desires. Unlike first-party data, typically collected through observation of customer behaviors, zero-party data is self-reported by the customer themselves.

Examples of zero-party data can include customers’ responses to surveys or quizzes about their product preferences, their selections when using a 'build your own' feature on a website, or their stated interests when subscribing to a newsletter. 

Here's why zero-party data is valuable:

Customer centricity: Zero-party data lets customers tell you exactly what they want, allowing you to cater to their specific needs and preferences.

Transparency and trust: Since customers willingly provide this data, its collection is inherently transparent, helping build trust with your audience.

Accuracy: Zero-party data is explicitly stated by the customer, which means it is incredibly accurate.

Although there's some overlap between first-party data and zero-party data, the key distinction between zero-party and first-party data lies in the method of collection. First-party data is collected indirectly from user interactions, whereas zero-party data is directly offered by the user.

Both zero-party and first-party data have their place in a comprehensive data strategy:

First-party data provides valuable insights into customer behavior based on their actions and interactions with your brand. This data is crucial for personalizing experiences and predicting future behaviors.

Zero-party data allows for an even deeper level of personalization by understanding customer preferences and intentions directly from them. This data can drive customer-centric decision-making and foster stronger relationships with your customers.

In essence, zero-party and first-party data complement each other. Together, they can provide a more holistic view of your customer, allowing for highly personalized, engaging, and effective marketing campaigns. As data privacy continues to take center stage, a strategy that leverages both types of data — collected transparently and responsibly — will be key to succeeding in the evolving digital landscape.


First-party data marketing 

Leveraging first-party data in marketing, and more specifically, digital marketing, is about making the most of the rich, accurate, and customer-specific insights provided by this data. Making sure you have collection points at native areas along the customer journey and building customer profiles with this data are critical to using first-party data effectively in your overall marketing strategy. From refining audience segmentation and data management to enhancing personalization, first-party data can substantially elevate your marketing strategy.


First-party data collection

The first step to utilizing first-party data is effectively collecting it. How can you turn new audiences to your digital properties into new customers? Here's how:


Website analyticsCustomer relationship management (CRM) systemsPreference centersEmail marketing platformsSurveys and feedback formsSocial media analytics
Tools like Google Analytics provide in-depth insights into user behavior on your website. This includes pages visited, time spent on site, bounce rates, and more.A CRM can track interactions with customers across various touchpoints. This includes transaction data, customer service interactions, and engagement with marketing campaigns.Preference centers provide an easy, natural collection point for customers and website visitors to input data that curates their experience on your site the way they prefer. Anything from dark mode vs. light mode to product preferences can help deliver a valuable experience.These tools can provide insights into subscriber behavior, including open rates, click-through rates, and engagement with specific content. Directly asking customers for information is an effective way of gathering first-party data. Surveys can uncover customer preferences, while feedback forms can provide insights into their experiences.Social media platforms offer robust analytics that reveal how customers engage with your content, providing valuable first-party data.


By leveraging these data sources, you can build a rich reservoir of customer data sets. However, remember to be transparent and respect privacy regulations when collecting this personal data.


First-party data activation 

Collecting first-party data is only the first step. The real value lies in activating this data, which involves applying the insights to your marketing strategies. Here are some ways to do it:


Audience segmentationPersonalizationPredictive modelingCross-channel marketingCustomer retention
Use first-party data to segment your audience based on behaviors, preferences, or demographics. This allows for more targeted marketing efforts.Use first-party data to deliver personalized experiences. This could include personalized product recommendations, content, or marketing messages.Analyzing first-party data can help predict future customer behaviors, enabling you to anticipate needs and enhance customer experiences. By understanding a customer's behavior across different platforms, you can create seamless, integrated experiences that boost engagement and conversions.By understanding what makes your customers tick, you can better cater to their needs, increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty (e.g. via loyalty programs)


First-party data is a powerful tool in the marketer's toolkit. With a strategic approach to collection and activation, it can enable more effective, customer-centric marketing that drives engagement, conversions, and business growth. It's about using data not just to reach your audience, but to understand and serve them better.


Crafting a first-party data strategy

In a landscape where consumer privacy is paramount and personalized experiences are expected, an effective first-party data strategy is indispensable. Here, we’ll delve into the key steps for crafting a robust first-party data strategy that can drive your marketing efforts to new heights.


Step 1: Set clear objectives

Before diving into data collection, it’s vital to set some unambiguous objectives. What do you want to achieve with your first-party data? Common objectives might include improving customer personalization, optimizing ad targeting, or enhancing product development. By understanding your goals, you can focus your efforts on collecting the data that will have the most impact.


Step 2: Identify data sources

Identify the channels and touchpoints where you can collect first-party data. This might include your website, mobile apps, CRM, social media platforms, and customer surveys. Make a list of these sources and determine what types of data you can collect from each.


Step 3: Ensure compliance and transparency

In the current data privacy climate, it’s imperative to handle data with the utmost care. Ensure that you're compliant with data protection laws such as the GDPR, the CCPA, and any other relevant regulations. Be transparent with your customers about what data you're collecting and how it will be used. This can be accomplished through clear privacy policies and cookie consent banners.


Step 4: Implement data collection tools

Utilize tools and technologies that can help you effectively collect first-party data. Web analytics, customer interaction data, and user preferences are all data sets that your organization needs to collect in order to take advantage of first-party data.  


Step 5: Data segmentation and analysis

Once you’ve collected your data, segment it into meaningful groups. This might be based on demographics, behavioral patterns, or customer preferences. Analyze these segments to glean insights that can inform your marketing strategies. Look for patterns and trends that can help you understand your audience on a deeper level.


Step 6: Activate your data

This is where the rubber meets the road. Apply the insights you’ve gathered to your marketing initiatives. This might mean personalizing email campaigns based on past purchase history, optimizing your website based on user behavior, or using customer feedback to inform product development. Ensure that your actions are aligned with the objectives you set at the outset.


Step 7: Monitor and optimize

A first-party data strategy is not a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. Continuously monitor the performance of your initiatives and look for ways to optimize. Are your personalized emails driving engagement? Is your ad targeting resulting in higher conversion rates? Use KPIs and metrics to measure success and make data-driven optimizations.


Step 8: Maintain data hygiene

Regularly scrub and update your data to ensure it remains accurate and relevant. Stale or outdated data can lead to misguided decisions. Set a regular schedule for data maintenance and stick to it.


Crafting an effective first-party data strategy involves clear objectives, careful data collection, and the savvy application of insights. In an era where consumer expectations and privacy regulations are evolving, first-party data is a treasure trove of insights that can help marketers create meaningful, engaging, and compliant customer experiences.


Benefits of first-party data

As we've explored, first-party data is an invaluable resource for marketers. But to truly appreciate its significance, it's essential to look at the specific benefits it brings to your marketing efforts.


1. Improved personalization

First-party data provides detailed insights into your customers' behavior, preferences, and needs. This allows for high-level personalization, from tailored marketing messages to customized product recommendations. Personalization, in turn, can enhance customer experiences, engagement, and loyalty.


2. More accurate targeting

With first-party data, you can create precise audience segments based on actual customer behavior and attributes. This enables more accurate targeting and retargeting, allowing your marketing efforts to reach the right people with the right messages.


3. Cost-efficiency

As first-party data is collected directly from your customers – it doesn’t involve the costs associated with purchasing data from third parties. This makes it a more cost-effective choice.


4. Greater customer loyalty

By using first-party data to understand and cater to your customers' needs, you can build stronger relationships with them. This can result in greater customer loyalty and, ultimately, a higher customer lifetime value.


5. Enhanced predictive capabilities

First-party data can be analyzed to predict future customer behavior and trends. This allows you to anticipate your customers' needs and preferences, enhancing your ability to offer timely targeted ads, relevant products, services, and content.


6. Better product development

Insights from first-party data can guide your product development process. Understanding what your customers value, their pain points, and their desires can help you create products that truly meet their needs.


7. Privacy compliance

First-party data is a safer choice in an era of increasing data privacy regulations and growing consumer awareness. It’s collected with the user's consent and is therefore more compliant with privacy laws and regulations.


In an increasingly data-driven world, first-party data isn't just a nice-to-have — it's a must-have.


How can OneTrust help?

OneTrust Consent & Preferences can help your organization start your first-party data journey with a holistic solution that provides your users with a privacy-first, value-added experience. From data collection, activation, and delivering personalized experiences, OneTrust powers your marketing organization throughout this journey.

  • Design tailored, interactive interfaces that guide customers throughout their engagement on your digital properties. Gradually collect user data to refine their profiles, which allows for the delivery of personalized content and encourages customer loyalty.

  • Set up personalized trust centers to empower customers with more access and understanding of their data. Pre-designed, professional templates enable dynamic content posting for an enhanced user experience.

  • Consolidate and align your customer's consent and preference information through the use of ready-made integrations. These integrations are compatible with both modern SaaS and older software systems, enabling seamless data synchronization across various third-party marketing technology tools.

  • Enhance your data gathering approach with instantaneous dashboards and analytical tools that align with your business KPIs. Continually update these tools for consistent refinement and improvement.

To learn more about how your organization can get started with a first-party data strategy, download our first-party data checklist today.

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