Data deprecation, caused by tightening privacy regulations, third-party cookie demise, limits on mobile identifiers, and more, dramatically changes how customer data is used for digital marketing. Brands need to be proactive in testing ways to reach their consumers via publishers’ first-party data – those that do are reaping the benefits. 

While publishers have been harnessing first-party data since Apple removed third-party cookies from Safari, brands now realise the need to shift from a reliance on third-party data. This has been triggered by the countdown to Google removing third-party cookies from Chrome by the end of the year. In reaction, some brands have started to build direct relationships with publishers to leverage their first-party data and alleviate data depreciation challenges. 

Brands that have started to test with publishers are seeing results. For example, according to a study that surveyed 9,500 Guardian readers, and exposed 350 audience segments to 50 first-party-powered campaigns, first-party data achieved a brand lift 65% higher than average.

On one particular campaign, for luxury furniture brand Rimadesio, the Guardian created a bespoke first-party segment for readers interested in art, architecture, interiors, and luxury and saw consideration increase by 102% and an intent uplift of 79%. 

Rebooting outcomes

Digital marketers are used to buying campaigns by CPA and measuring using CTR. Across publishing, we are now seeing a growing movement among publishers to redefine media metrics based on brand uplift. 

To the Guardian, brand uplift represents the confluence of awareness, consideration, preference and intent, designed to quantify how data and creativity can change minds. 

At a recent virtual event, Make Possible: The Future Of Measurement In A World Without Third-Party Cookies, a panel with representatives from all sides of the industry discussed how marketers could benefit from the shift. Here are five considerations on first-party data and shifting to modern metrics: 

1. Rethink the possibilities

Targeting based on first-party data opens up new possibilities for ad buyers. “We can look up people that are browsing on a two-year-old handset reading a phone review,” says James Swan, digital director at Guardian News & Media, by way of example. “It tells advertisers something that they don’t know about their audience, which is exciting.”

According to Swan, the new possibilities are going to compel brands to reset. He says: “Take a step back, ask yourselves, ‘Is the way that we’re working sustainable, are we looking at the right metrics?’” Catherine Lofthouse, programmatic director, L’Oréal, UK & IRE at Essence Global, says: ”Clicks are universal, and they’re easy, but let’s be more ambitious.”

2. Know your customer

To get the most from publishers’ first-party data, brands need to start with their core customer group and match those to a publisher’s audience. According to Rafael Aquino, programmatic trader at L’Oréal, “one of the things that you should be doing as a brand is to start understanding your various consumer profiles.”

He says: “Start building them and mapping them out – really trying to understand your consumers from a macro perspective rather than that micro individual level. It’s going to be quite easy then to match them with similar aggregate data sets.”

3. Work with publishers

As publishers build on their first-party data capabilities, brands should kick the tyres of their data strategy early and test with publishers, starting with detailed briefs.

Aquino says too few brands arm publishers with their core customer segments – audiences that have been successful or are a particular target. “The more you work with your publishers, the more you understand those specific audiences and how they behave within that particular environment,” says Aquino.

He adds: “To prepare for the future, start talking to your tech providers, to publishers, analyse the solutions they’ve already got in place and challenge them. Give them [your] business problems because they can take it in and offer you something more tailored to your [needs].” 

Publishers have 100% visibility into their audiences. Brands looking for successful ways to target without third-party cookies can look to publishers for their trusted data and expertise. Aquino says: “Leverage publisher first-party data. It might become one of the most accurate ways to target online.”

4. Follow the regulatory tailwind

The evolution of digital advertising towards protecting user privacy will fundamentally change the way media is transacted and can’t be ignored.  

Essence Global’s Lofthouse suggests that the evolution is not over and will require long-term thinking and collaboration between brands, agencies and publishers, with user privacy at the core.

“Let’s hit the highest standards possible,” she urges. “I think the UK is leading in terms of pushing data privacy policies forward … you have a model that is going to work in the future as well. Everything is going one way, and that is towards privacy.”

5. Hold publishers accountable

In the new world, publishers need to “prove themselves as a standalone media provider,” says L’Oréal’s Aquino. Anything that publishers suggest, such as moving from CTR to brand metrics, will need to be grounded in results.     

The Guardian’s Swan says he is happy to be “pushed by advertisers.” He advises other publishers to look at their first-party data signals to see how they can use data creatively to prove results. This points to the need for a collaborative effort in shifting brands from flawed metrics to modern metrics. 

The return of effectiveness

The current period of upheaval might seem like destructive turmoil to many digital marketers. 

In truth, what lies on the other side of this change is a radically better foundation for the ad ecosystem and a chance to rethink how digital advertising is measured to show real value. Event panellists agreed that, while some short-term disruption may flow from changes to privacy and browsers, campaign efficiency could soon surpass traditional methods.