The Future Isn’t First-Party or Third-Party Data. It’s Earned Data.

Google’s recent announcement of its intention to phase out third-party cookies in the Chrome browser over the next two years, in addition to sparking plenty of speculation and doomsday prophecies, has led to much discourse over what a future driven by first-party data, as opposed to third-party data, might look like for marketers. 

But there’s a lesser-known type of data that’s being left out of these conversations—one that sits in between first- and third-party data and delivers both accuracy and scale. It’s called earned data, and it warrants the attention of every marketer who’s planning their transition to a cookieless world right now.

The Gap Between Third- and First-Party Data, Laid Bare

Our industry has driven much of its transition to audience-based targeting through third-party data acquired via cookie-based tracking. Beyond the fact that cookies, in particular, have a limited lifespan and cannot cohesively identify individuals across channels, third-party data is highly probabilistic—meaning it jumps to conclusions about people by making dramatic assumptions based on extrapolation and segment similarities. 

As we know, just because someone who was shopping at Best Buy for a TV is the same age, gender, and income range as another person does not mean that the second person is in the market for a TV. Nor does a website visit to Zillow.com necessarily mean a person is shopping for a house. 

Even if marketers were willing to continue to tolerate third-party data shortcomings in exchange for the scale they afford, marketplace moves by players like Google and increasingly restrictive privacy laws are going a long way toward shutting down major sources of third-party data for good. As a result, we’re seeing an increased emphasis among publishers and brands on first-party data acquisition—which comes with its own challenges. 

First-party data is becoming harder for marketers to obtain due to increased privacy-related restrictions. Without the use of cookies, publishers need to provide some sort of log-in or other authentication in order to identify individuals, and with the exception of Google and Facebook, those are very difficult to attain at scale. More and more, it’s becoming clear that the marketplace needs more than just strong first-party data to continue to deliver on consumers’ expectations for informed targeting and creative personalization. That’s where earned data comes in. 

Bringing Scale to Quality Insights

As its name suggests, earned data derives from the concept of earned media in that it’s the readily available data created in the public domain when people raise their hands in support of certain brands, causes, and issues. 

“Earned media” exists outside of owned and paid media. Brands don’t create it. They don’t pay for it. It is earned when an individual—including journalists and influencers—like or talk about a brand in any number of media channels, particularly social ones. This earned media yields all manner of useful data points, at massive scale, that can enable marketers to precisely target individuals with a demonstrated interest—willingly put forth in the public domain—in a certain company, issue, product, cause, or interest that’s relevant to a given brand. Most often this takes place when social media users engage with brands in those channels.

When you apply the concept of earned media and earned data to the influencer space, the gains for brands become even more dramatic. Not only do influencers who speak positively about a brand represent prime audiences (and partners) for brands, but their many followers do as well. If a person follows a beauty influencer who pushes Maybelline products, that person is likely a valuable target for Maybelline as well. That’s all part of earned data. 

With earned data, people are voluntarily telling brands all about themselves—their likes, dislikes, and motivations. And they’re doing so en masse. As such, earned media can help marketers solve the scale problem of first-party data, while simultaneously helping to wean them off accuracy-challenged, privacy-law-beleaguered third-party sources. 

The conversation around first-party alternatives to dwindling third-party data options will continue for the foreseeable future, and brands and publishers alike will grapple with questions around scale and explicit consent. As they do, don’t forget that today’s landscape extends beyond these two common buckets—and the solution to the challenges of both lies somewhere in between. 

David Barker is Chief Executive Officer at StatSocial.

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