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BlogData managementZeroing in on What Matters: How to Use Zero-Party Data to Enhance Your Subscribers’ Experiences and Build Loyalty

Zeroing in on What Matters: How to Use Zero-Party Data to Enhance Your Subscribers’ Experiences and Build Loyalty

26 min read
VP of Growth @Ongage

The days of free and easy access to consumer data are ending. Cookies are crumbling, governments are restricting data use, and service providers are promoting privacy as a feature. Meanwhile, your customers want personalized experiences tailored to their needs. Does this data environment create a can’t-win situation for marketers? Not necessarily. Find out how zero-party data keeps your customers in control of their information and their experience in this article. 

I recently enjoyed a performance of the musical “& Juliet.” 

Like many re-visionings of Shakespeare’s classic work, this one flips the script and imagines a world in which Juliet lives and takes control of her destiny. 

The message of the musical was one of empowerment and being true to oneself. 

Modern takes on classic scripts often present an alternative angle in which society or familial expectations and restraints don’t confine the protagonists. Instead, they are free to pursue their own ideas and dreams. 

Audiences love it when that happens! 

Themes of self-discovery, empowerment, and rebellion against others’ expectations resonate with us because everyone longs to be in control of who they are and how they present themselves to the world. 

We want to decide who gets to know us best and reveal our whole selves only to those we trust most. 

We don’t want others to define us. Yet, we want to be understood. 

These characteristics of the human condition still ring true in our digital-first age. 

Your website visitors, email subscribers, and customers don’t want you to define them. They want to be in control of how much or how little of themselves they reveal to you. They’re willing to share their personal information with you to allow you to get to know (and serve) them better. But they also want to feel that the secrets they share with you are safe and you won’t abuse their trust. 

In the early days of digital commerce, consumers didn’t control what companies knew about them or how they used that data. Like the classic Juliet, we felt powerless to manage our own destinies.

New rules for protecting consumers’ data and privacy have flipped the script, though. The new digital world puts control of people’s data in their hands. 

How can you learn about your customers’ tastes and preferences, customize their online experiences and send them personalized marketing messages at the right time using the right channels when you no longer control the flow of information? 

Through zero-party data. 

Zero-party data invites your customers to reveal themselves to you when and how they want to. This information fuels relationship marketing and personalization strategies that increase customer loyalty and expand your revenue. 

In this article, we’ll explore the new world order of data collection.

I’ll also explain how to use zero-party data in marketing to deepen your connections with your website visitors, email subscribers, and customers while respecting their desires to be the author of their own stories. 

Want to jump ahead?

The early relationship between marketing and data Data deprecation flips the script and forces marketers to change their approach to data management Regulators and corporations prioritize consumer privacy and data protection
Can first-party cookies keep businesses in the data business?
What is zero-party data? (and what are the other types of consumer data marketers collect called?) Zero-party data is intentionally shared by the subject
First-party data is information shared tacitly by the subject
Second-party data is like first-party, once removed
Third-party data is an indirect source of information about your customers
What does the difference between zero- and first-party data look like in practice?
Does it really matter whether the information you attain about subscribers and customers is zero- or first-party data?
How to get and use zero-party data to enhance your customer experiences and business performance 14 ways to collect zero-party data from your customers 7 Best practices for gathering and using zero-party data to fuel effective, value-adding email marketing campaigns Prioritize your pursuit of data based on your business objectives
Prepare your data repository before you add your newly acquired zero-party data
Build and maintain trust through transparency and ongoing communications
Give your customers a genuine choice about sharing their data
Eliminate friction and develop UX that encourages honest exchanges
Offer genuine value in exchange for the information you request
Give your customers a clear path to control their data, including the right (and ways) to change their minds
Get ahead of data deprecation by upgrading your zero-party data practices today

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The early relationship between marketing and data

Once upon a time, if you wanted to get people on the street insights into consumer buying behaviors and preferences, you literally had to stop people on the street (or in the mall) and ask. 

Maybe you’d do direct mail or door-to-door surveys, request written feedback in-store, conduct focus groups or use A/B testing to evaluate print, radio or television campaigns. 

Oh, the agony! 😔

Now, of course, digital marketing and the ability to tag and track the behaviors of individual consumers often give us more data than we know what to do with. The collection of this data began well before the general public was aware or had contemplated the consequences. 

In a statement to MarTech’s Robin Kurzer, DataStax’s Karl Van den Bergh explains, “Companies began collecting all sorts of data because they quite frankly didn’t know what may end up being useful…” 

Happy days. 

Well, sort of. I mean, sure it’s great that we marketers could gain insights into our customers’ behaviors. 

But, we’re people, too. 

People don’t always want every company to know everything about them. 

This desire to control their personal information and the fact that commercial businesses were making a profit by buying and selling private information was a problem. Behavioral targeting benefits brands but can sometimes seem invasive to their target audiences. 

Illicit actors–scammers, fraudsters, and identity thieves–became a big problem, too. All the information about people being collected and shared left them vulnerable, whether they knew and consented or not. 

That brings us to the state of data today or, should we say, the state of data deprecation. 

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Data deprecation flips the script and forces marketers to change their approach to data management

It started as a low murmur, a whisper in the back of marketers’ collective minds: change is coming. As the murmur became a rumble, then grew louder and louder, the threat was named: The data apocalypse was upon us. 

Just as marketers had started to grasp the full potential of their storehouses of customer data, and technology made it possible for businesses of every size to harness that potential, data deprecation threatened to take away this valuable asset. 

Data deprecation is the term Forrester Consulting uses to describe a confluence of events that has made customer data more difficult to obtain and retain. According to the global consulting firm, data deprecation stems from four primary roots:

  1. Privacy laws.
  2. Browser and operating system restrictions.
  3. An increase in the number of closed data systems or “walled gardens.” 
  4. Consumers’ privacy-protecting behaviors.

The result of this privacy and data protection perfect storm is less data sharing between organizations and less willingness on the part of consumers to trust every brand that asks for their data. 

Regulators and corporations prioritize consumer privacy and data protection 

In response to the public’s objection to unfettered data collection (and the fallout after organizations failed to protect the data they gathered), laws and regulations were enacted to protect the privacy of individuals’ personal data and give them control over what entities could collect, store and transfer information about them. 

Notable consumer data protection and privacy laws include the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) covering European Union members, Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL), and the United States Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM)

Other nations and individual states have passed similar or supplementary laws to protect the collection, storage, and distribution of private information. 

According to global insights leader Gartner, 75% of the global population will “have its personal data covered under modern privacy regulations.” 

As popular opinion turns in favor of privacy and data protection, publishing and advertising platforms have responded. 

Companies such as Google and Apple that once served as gateways to consumers’ online browsing and shopping behaviors, are now reversing course. 

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature was one of the first signals of the change in sentiments and Google plans to phase out support for third-party cookies in 2024.

Third-party cookies allow entities other than your website to track your website visitors as they come and go. 

Used by ad companies and data brokers, these cookies can trail someone from website to website to gain a detailed picture of their online activities and interests. 

This information can then be used to present web travelers with targeted ads. The results are web interactions that are personalized, but not permissive. 

How will the cookies finally crumble and when? 

Following a series of objections from both regulatory bodies and advertisers, the date of the phaseout has been adjusted several times. Now, we expect to wave goodbye to third-party cookies in Q3 2024.

Can first-party cookies keep businesses in the data business? 

Not necessarily. 

Changes are coming to proprietary data collection, too. For example, in 2019, Apple updated its Intelligent Tracking Prevention program. Its Safari web browser now automatically deletes first-party cookies from a user’s device after 24 hours and non-cookie storage data, including LocalStorage, has a 7-day expiration period. 

Plus, consumers are reacting to privacy and security concerns by changing their data-sharing behaviors and first-party cookies are on the chopping block. 

Corporations haven’t always been responsible about how they use, store or secure customer data. 

Personal information is used in ways the customers never intended, data gets sold and exchanged, subjecting consumers to unwanted phone calls, emails, and poor security results in data breaches that put customers at risk of identity theft. 

These bad behaviors have eroded consumer trust. 

Customers want the benefits that accompany sharing relevant information with trusted vendors. However, 73% of consumers doubt that brands use the data they gather for customers’ benefit. Many consumers use ad blockers to protect their privacy as well as to avoid seeing unwanted ads. 

Further, first-party cookies make returning to your shopping cart and skipping long forms easy. But consumers may still reject them if they don’t understand their value or your consent request limits their options to all or none.

Disclosures like the one below give users a choice between accepting all cookies in one click or interrupting their browsing task to “manage your cookie preferences.” 

Some consumers may click yes to move forward. But that doesn’t mean they are happy about it. 

Giving your customers full control over their data requires a shift of mindset in favor of facilitating choices rather than blocking them. 

This low-friction cookie disclosure presents visitors with all their options via a single interface. 

It’s against this backdrop that today’s marketers must find a way to connect with customers and deliver one-of-a-kind, personalized experiences

💡 You need to be able to link data to a unique customer identifier to use it for personalization and to build your customer profiles. But that doesn’t mean that the data you gather will always be personally identifiable information (PII). That term describes specific types of data that often qualify for enhanced privacy protections. Information such as time on page or items browsed isn’t PII but is useful for brands trying to get to know individual customers better. 

Advertisers, marketers, and brands will survive data deprecation by changing the way they collect data and returning control of our customers’ private information to them. 

The future of data relationship management (DRM) hinges on permission-based data collection and greater reliance on zero- and first-party data. 

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What is zero-party data? (and what are the other types of consumer data marketers collect called?)

The terms zero-, first-, second- or third-party to describe data are ways for us to categorize the source of the data and your distance from it. 

In this context, your client, customer, subscriber, or other subjects of the information you’re gathering is person zero. When you get information directly from them, it’s zero-party data. 

When categorizing other degrees of distance, the ordinal numbers (first, second, third) refer to your position in relation to the subject. 

Zero-party data is intentionally shared by the subject

Also known as explicit or customer-first data, zero-party data is defined as information obtained directly from the subject of that information. 

In other words, there are zero degrees of separation between the data and the source. Additionally, to be defined as zero-party data, the information must be explicitly shared. 

Forrester Research coined the phrase to distinguish data provided directly by consumers from that gained through observation. When applying this standard, only information “customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand” is zero-party data.  

Zero-party is a category of deterministic data and is sometimes called “authenticated data” because the information is linked to a name, email address, or another unique identifier that connects it to an individual with certainty. 

When a website visitor provides you with their name and email address to sign up for your email newsletter, they’ve provided you with zero-party data. Zero-party data can provide brands with deep customer insights that go beyond the basics of name, address, and phone number. 

When your customer tells you about themselves via your preference center or fills out a product recommendation quiz, they’re giving you valuable, zero-party data that you can use to serve them better and more profitably.

StudentBeans asks to provide several pieces of data, including their preferred pronouns and graduation date when registering for the company’s student discount program. 

In short, when you ask and the customer answers, you’ve received zero-party data. 

What are the other types of consumer data brands gather and how are they different from zero-party data? 

Take a look. 

First-party data is information shared tacitly by the subject

First-party data comes directly from the source (or customer), too. But first-party data isn’t shared explicitly. Instead, you collect this information through observation. 

Observational data collection includes activities such as tracking and recording the actions of customers who visit your website or interact with your emails or other communication channels. 

During first-party data collection, gaining information is a byproduct of the customer’s intended action. 

For example, many ecommerce stores use first-party data or observations about a visitor’s browsing behavior to make product recommendations

The subsequent recommendations are an algorithm’s best guess as to what the customer may like or want based on the behaviors of similar customers, the subject customer’s purchase or viewing history, and the characteristics of the products that the brand offers. 

Online and offline retailer Target uses its first-party observations about customers’ past visits to customize its home page. 

Second-party data is like first-party, once removed

Second-party data is information gathered from an individual, but not by your organization.

Often you receive this data from a partner or affiliate under an agreement that permits them to gather and share the information with you. 

You may have seen opt-in statements on webinar sign-up or gated content registration forms that ask you to agree to the sharing of your information with select partners. 

Disclosures such as this one in VMWare’s privacy policy signal that the information a customer provides to Business A may be shared with Business B.

Second-party data exchanges between companies may facilitate a mutually beneficial business relationship or be a direct purchase of information by one organization from the other. 

Brands are obligated to disclose when they share information under this type of arrangement. However, disclosure doesn’t always mean that customers are fully aware of how their data is being transferred between companies. 

Consumers who place a premium on privacy and trust expect the brands they share their information with to go beyond meeting the legal minimums for compliance. 

Take a forward-looking approach to building your data-sharing agreements and disclosures to avoid losing your customers’ trust. 

Third-party data is an indirect source of information about your customers

The best way to describe third-party data might be to say, “Welp, we know it came from somewhere 🤷‍♀️”

Third-party data is information that you purchase from a data broker, data exchange platform,  or similar data aggregators. This data may be gathered from a variety of sources, including other organizations, web scraping, or independent research. 

There is a significant degree of separation between the subject and the collectors of third-party data and the end user (you).  

Aggregate third-party data supports brands’ audience segmentation, competitor analysis, and data modeling. Data enrichment or appending services supplement what you already know about a specific user with details gathered from other sources. 

For example, a data enrichment service may be able to match the name and email address you have for an email subscriber with a physical address, social media handle, job title or personal interests.

In addition to filling in the gaps about individual contacts, brands often tap third-party data because it is an effective way to gather huge volumes of information about a particular market segment. 

Information merchant Data Axle maintains a data set containing more than 16 billion data points related to approximately 320 million consumers and 15 million businesses. 

The quality of third-party data is dependent on the practices of the data vendor. 

Third-party data sometimes relies on probabilistic matching to link customer data across different devices and platforms when there is no single, unique identifier to connect the records. 

This predictive modeling doesn’t produce information with the same accuracy, getting the information straight from the source. 

Be cautious when employing third-party data. 

Customers may feel that their privacy has been invaded if your customized messaging and personalization efforts use the information they don’t remember sharing with you. 

Still, used discreetly, third-party data can enhance and personalize customers’ experiences with a brand. 

We recommend several top data enrichment tools in our annual email marketing tech stack wrap up

How to get and use zero-party data to enhance your customer experiences and business performance

Managing the evolving relationship between your customers, their data and your interests starts with changing your perspective and refining your strategy. Modern data relationships between consumers and brands are transactional. 

Businesses can no longer expect customers to share their personal details without receiving some kind of benefit in return. 

Further, just because you can get information by asking for it, doesn’t mean you should. 

Every request for data has the potential to add friction to your customer’s journey, and overreaching can inspire distrust. 

Additionally, as more companies recognize the importance of developing proprietary data sets of zero- and first-party data, answer fatigue will (and is) setting in. 

Poor UX, trust issues, asking for more than you give in return–all these factors can inhibit your access to the information you need to understand and serve your customers and maximize your revenue. 

Follow the 21 tips for gathering and using zero-party data to keep your brand ahead of data deprecation’s impact and building a dataset that will help you deliver value now and in the future. 

14 ways to collect zero-party data from your customers 

A data ecosystem where your customers decide what you know about them, how you can use that knowledge and how long you get to keep their data may take some getting used to. 

It may help to keep in mind that an ideal customer relationship doesn’t begin and end in a single transaction. It takes time to get to someone and earn their trust. 

The more effort you put into earning your customers’ trust (and demonstrating that trusting you benefits them) the more information they’ll share. 

Approach your new zero-party data gathering strategy as a full-funnel process that begins at the awareness stage and continues through discovery, conversion, retention and advocacy. 

Invite first-time visitors to share their email addresses

When someone visits your website for the first time, start learning about them by inviting them to share their name and email address in exchange for a new customer discount. You can also gather this starter data set by inviting visitors to subscribe to your email newsletter. 

Makeup for Melanin Girls encourages email sign-ups with a spin-to-win giveaway. 

Ask a few warm-up questions to help your website visitors find what they’re looking for

Consumers expect you to offer value in exchange for information, but that value doesn’t have to be a discount. Product discovery tools such as quizzes or surveys that help new visitors navigate your website quickly and efficiently are a valuable offer, too. 

A quiz that helps customers choose the right products for their skin type or narrows down a business owner’s marketing goals can provide useful data for you and shorten their buyer’s journey. 

Use A/B testing to find the right balance between gaining the information you need to make relevant recommendations and overwhelming new customers with questions. 

Laurie Loo invites website visitors to find out where they are on their style journey and gains valuable insights about its customers in the process. 

Asking a few initial questions about your customers allows them to self-segment and find the resources they need on your website. 

If you want to gather lots of responses, keep your quizzes short. Alternatively, you can use a longer, more detailed quiz to learn about and pre-qualify leads. 

A data-gathering strategy like this will eliminate many visitors with low purchase intent. Creating a multi-stage survey or quiz gives you plenty of room to seek information that goes beyond standard demographic data.

I’m not a member of Gloss Genius’s target market and wasn’t interested enough to stick around to the end.

Adding visual cues to get zero-party information

Swipe left or right isn’t just for dating apps. Innovative companies are building product and style selection apps to fill the gaps in online retailers personalization efforts with a twist. 

Instead of just collecting zero-party data in the form of multi-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions, these apps combine text with images that consumers can rate to come up with a customized preference profile. New interactions and gamification features capture consumers’ attention and make sharing personal data about their likes and dislikes seem effortless. 

Using images helps brands overcome language barriers and enables consumers to share personal information with a tap. 

Provide free tools and get personal data in exchange

Tools are another innovative and value-adding way to learn about your customer and prospective customers. 

Mortgage calculators, square footage estimators, cost comparison tools and tools that will tell you what your monthly car payment should be help consumers get a better understanding of what solving their problem will cost–whether they need new carpeting or a new car. 

These tools also give you direct insights into what your customers want and need. 

💡 Pair your free tools with an offer to save the results or send them to the user’s email account to connect the data they’ve entered to their unique ID. 

Gather additional information from visitors who elect to register with your site

Given the right incentives, such as more convenience, customized recommendations or other “remember me” benefits, you website visitors may be enticed to create an account before they make a purchase. 

When a customer moves from visitor to “sign in” or “create an account” status, use this opportunity to ask questions that give you greater insights into their tastes and preferences. 

Users are invited to add their phone number, sign up for text messages and share their birthdate (in exchange for a special perk) at Potbelly. 

💡 Use autofill or omit data fields that you’ve already filled during previous interactions so your customers don’t have to waste time providing you with information you already have. 

Use your “request further information” forms (a.k.a. intent surveys) to gain information that helps you help your customers

Website visitors who are contacting you with a question or to sign up for a demo are signaling their interest in you. That’s the perfect time for you to take an interest in them. 

Ask questions that will help you provide a better answer to their question or a more personalized demonstration of your product or service.  

John Deere’s product demos take place in-person. So step one when signing up is to share your location. 

Wow! Customized demos for every customer? Yeah. 

I know it may seem like a tall order–especially when you’re engaging with customers at scale. But increasingly, B2B and B2C customers expect you to use the technology that allows you to re-target them across channels to provide them with improved experiences. Brands that are prepared to meet those expectations can expect to pull ahead of the competition. 

Zero-party data can yield information about your marketing effectiveness. People who sign up for a demo from Skuid are asked to share how they learned about the company.. 

Let your chatbot do the asking

Speaking of leveraging technology to serve your customers better. Chatbots are in. 

Prompt your website visitors to share important details about themselves or their query with AI-assisted chatbots. 

Customer service chatbots can engage in a series of questions about a customer’s device, product use or other details necessary to resolve their problem and add this data to the customer’s data set.

Get more data through the tactical use of gated content

Gated content is a common and sometimes controversial method to gather leads and learn more about them. 

Should you ask everything you need to know to qualify a lead before you let someone access your content? That has certainly been the practice when using lead magnets in the past. 

But, as I mentioned earlier, this strategy can sometimes backfire. Genuine leads may abandon your sign up form because it asks too much and invalid leads may provide you with inaccurate information to obtain your whitepaper, report or other high-value content. 

This is another situation where testing can be an invaluable guide. 

Develop goal-focused lead magnets. Who do you want to register? What information is most important for you to obtain? Then, look at the quality of the leads and the data your lead magnets are generating to find out if your tactics are working. 

Collect critical details during checkout

If you’ve designed your data-collection process as a continuum, then your checkout stage represents another opportunity to add to your knowledge of your consumer. 

Fill in missing details such as their delivery address, preferred payment methods, or ask more probing questions about how they’ll use your products or services and what types of offers they’d like to receive from you. 

Ask experience-enhancing questions during onboarding

When someone first visits your website, asking pre-purchase questions helps you guide them toward finding a solution. This process can continue after they’ve decided that your product or service is the right solution. 

Ask further questions during your onboarding process that will improve their experience and ensure successful adoption. 

Develop automated email campaigns that prompt interaction and keep the conversation going. Then save this zero-party data so that you can continue to provide them with excellent customer support and identify new opportunities.

Airtable uses onboarding questions to home in on why new users are trying its product to improve their experience. (Image source: Userpilot

Collect post-purchase feedback from satisfied and unsatisfied customers

What went right? What went wrong? Look for opportunities to ask specific questions such as how often the customer uses the product after purchase to learn more about them. 

Extend your data even further by inviting customers to participate in VIP advisory groups or share user-generated content with you. 

While much of the information you get from post-purchase feedback requests may be unstructured, there are still opportunities to get some good zero-party input.

Engage in two-way conversations with your email subscribers

Email marketing is an incredibly effective way to learn more about your customers. Email’s capacity to customize your messages as scale empowers just the time of deep relationships that inspire trust and encourage customers to tell you about themselves. 

This simple email from SaaS Growth Bites invites subscribers to share their thoughts about the newsletter by responding to a survey. Feedback and click-throughs–what’s not to like! 

Use email campaigns to solicit qualitative and quantitative insights from your entire list or specific segments. Include polls, quizzes, surveys and contests that invite your subscribers to share information about themselves and their purchasing or content preferences voluntarily. 

Go omnichannel with contests, polls, surveys and social stories

Your website and your customers’ inboxes aren’t the only places where you can engage in conversations to learn more about them. Extend your reach to social media and SMS to encourage your customers to tell you more about themselves. Text-based, guided-polls and social stories are two ways for you to ask questions across channels.

Once you do that, you’ll have to up your analytics game and employ multi-touch attribution methods.

Take your preference center to the next level, make it a data management center

Most preference centers began as a way for email subscribers to control how often they heard from brands and what type of content they received. 

Convert your preference center to a central point of contact for your customers to update their communication wishes, change or delete the data they’ve shared with you, and request that some or all of their data be erased. 

Motorola’s preference center gives visitors a choice of email notifications but requires them to share details about themselves in exchange. 

7 Best practices for gathering and using zero-party data to fuel effective, value-adding email marketing campaigns

Employ a focused approach to data collection and maintenance to ensure your resources are well spent and the trust your customers place in you is well-deserved. 

📋 Prioritize your pursuit of data based on your business objectives

Unlike third-party data, which you can gather at high volume without your customers even knowing, zero-party data requires your customers’ active engagement. Every request for information is a touchpoint, for better or for worse. 

Don’t waste your customers’ time or try their patience by asking for more information than you need. Instead, develop a customer data strategy that identifies the information that you most need to improve your product and services, enhance your customers’ experiences and maximize sales and revenue. 

It may seem like a good idea to try to gain as much information as possible, as quickly as possible. But that perspective fails to recognize your customer’s point of view. Are you asking for your customers’ birthdates just in case you want to use them later, or because you have an actual plan to use that information that benefits them?  

📋 Prepare your data repository before you add your newly acquired zero-party data 

Don’t mix good data with bad. If your business has been operating for long, you probably have customer data tucked away all over your physical and digital workspace. 

It’s time to straighten things up. 

This is important not only because you don’t want to lose your hard-won zero-party data in a mass of unorganized information, but also because poor data housekeeping leads to poor data security. 

“Disjointed data from multiple sources may ruin analysts’ workflow and lead to unclear and sometimes distorted results.” ~Oleksandr Shykolovych, Improvado, Data Ingestion: Where Every Healthy Data Ecosystem Starts 

Choose your data storage system or systems, whether it’s a customer data platform (CDP), data warehouse (a.k.a. “data warehouse as a service”) or lake, or a customer relationship management (CRM) app, and start normalizing and deduplicating its content. 

Ensuring that your data is compatible across platforms will make it easier to use this valuable proprietary asset. For example, integrating your CRM with your email marketing platform enables your organization to send customized messages at scale. 

At the same time, audit your customer data for regulatory compliance. Are your opt-in records in order? Involve your risk management team and take this opportunity to create a solid, secure foundation for your future data management activities. 

If you collect zero-party data before your primary data storehouse is ready, maintain a separate clean data set and develop an integration plan to merge your information later. 

📋 Build and maintain trust through transparency and ongoing communications

Before you reach the end of this article, I will have shared several methods you can use to obtain zero-party data from your website visitors, email subscribers and customers. Here, I warn you to keep transparency at the forefront when using those methods. 

When asking customers for their personal information, communicate clearly how you’ll use and share that information. For example, when a customer completes a “Find your skin type” quiz, do they expect you to store the information they’ve entered? Would they have volunteered the information if they knew it would be saved and used for marketing research and creating customized, targeted promotions? 

📋 Give your customers a genuine choice about sharing their data

In most jurisdictions, check-the-box consent satisfies the letter of the law, but is the customer who accepts your conditions genuinely giving you permission to use their data? 

Does your sign-up or download form permit users to choose the data they share with you or is their only choice to tell-all or abandon the form? Can website users opt out of the data sharing agreements referenced in your privacy policy? 

True consent is based on full disclosure and real choices–not contracts of adhesion. I

f someone cannot download your gated content without providing their phone number so they provide one, that doesn’t mean they want your sales representative to call them. It just means they wanted the content enough to endure the unwanted call. Or they may use a fake number to complete your form, leaving you with a corrupted data set. 

This email sign-up form from ASICS invites new subscribers to provide their birthday but doesn’t require it. 

As consumer expectations continue to evolve, you may find customers rejecting privacy and data policies that take away their control. 

📋 Eliminate friction and develop UX that encourages honest exchanges

I mentioned earlier that the manner in which you request information can lead to inaccuracies. Now, I’m going to make a confession. There are a lot of enterprise businesses out there that think I work in agriculture or banking.

🤷‍♀️Those are the options that appear at the top of their dropdown lists that require me to disclose my -industry. 

None of the fields in this form are optional and it includes two of the dreaded drop-down menus! 

If the information you ask customers to share doesn’t benefit them in a direct way, they really have no incentive to be honest. And if your data intake form adds friction to their journey, they have every incentive to lie their way through it so they can get on with their day. 

Managing data relationships in the future will require making strategic choices about what to ask, how you ask it and what you’ll give in return. 

📋 Offer genuine value in exchange for the information you request

Much of the discussion about data sharing and privacy hinges on issues of security. 

Consumers don’t believe that brands are taking good care of the information they collect. But risk management isn’t the only reason customers are reluctant to tell-all. 

People realize their data has value–that it isn’t being collected solely for their benefit but to be packaged and resold to the highest bidder. 

This knowledge triggers our inherent sense of fairness. “Why is someone else profiting from my data?” 

Previously, I asked if your customers would still be willing to share their personal information with you if they knew it would be used for your benefit as well as theirs. 

The answer may be yes. Various studies have found that the majority of consumers will share information with brands. However, consumers are more likely to share data with familiar brands over new ones and in exchange for some benefits more than others.

What incentives influence consumers to share their deets? 
35% A mix of offers19% Free trial offer14% Other offers13% Discounts6%  Free gifts6%  Loyalty rewards4%  Giveaways2%  Exclusive content

Test different tactics to encourage your customers to share. 

Your website visitors, subscribers and customers may be willing to give you personal information in exchange for social recognition, exclusive access to products or experiences, VIP club membership, customized product recommendations, or enhanced customer support, too. 

When exchanging benefits for data, make sure the value of your offer matches the significance of the data you’ve requested. Persuading a customer to share their email address may be simple. But you may have to sweeten the pot if you also want their mobile phone number. 

Like many other websites, Black & Bold offers a little something extra for visitors willing to give up their email and share their digits. 

Finally, be sure to keep your promises. Use data in the way you say you will, deliver the benefits you offered to get it, and prioritize your customers’ privacy and data security. 

📋 Give your customers a clear path to control their data, including the right (and ways) to change their minds

Preference centers are a familiar way to gain information about your customers and enable them to control how and when they hear from your brand. For example, an email preference center that allows your customers to opt-down can prevent them from unsubscribing. 

Similarly, a data preference center that allows your customers to change their minds about the types and amount of data they share with you can increase their satisfaction with and trust in your brand. Plus, giving your customers access to and control over the information you’ve collected about them puts you ahead of the game when it comes to compliance. 

New regulations in California and Nevada have prompted websites to add “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” opt-outs to their privacy policies.

Your customers already have the right to be forgotten in many jurisdictions. When you provide them with an alternative to allowing you to store all of their data or none, you increase the chances that you’ll get to keep some. 

Your data will probably become more accurate over time as well. 

A customer whose style or household needs have changed can update their preferences and receive better tailored offers and experiences. That customer who initially lied about their phone number or birth date because they didn’t trust your brand might decide you’re okay after all and correct their data. (C’mon, it could happen!) 

Permission-based, customer-first data is a new way to look at customer analytics and it may take some getting used to. But, change is a’coming, so you might as well get out in front of it instead of lagging behind.

Get ahead of data deprecation by upgrading your zero-party data practices today

“Giving individuals more control has the potential to curtail the sector’s worst excesses while generating a new wave of customer driven innovation, as customers begin to express what sort of personalization and opportunity they want their data to enable.” ~Hossein Rahnama and Alex Pentland, for Harvard Business Review, The New Rules of Data Privacy

Customer-first, consent-driven, zero-party data is your best hedge against future data deprecation. Adopting a zero-first strategy isn’t a matter of if anymore, but a matter of when. 

Zero-party data can help you maintain the delicate balance between giving your customers the personalized experiences they want without making them feel that someone else is controlling their storyline. The information you collect from your customers is central to establishing a 360-degree or single customer view (SCV). 

Aggregating what you know about your customers into a unified profile enables you to create better targeted, relevant and contextual messages that deliver results. 

Collecting zero-party data about your customers’ preferences–from communication channels and frequency to their favorite products or services–enables you to streamline and personalize the marketing messages they receive. 

Your customers benefit from data-driven dynamic email personalization that puts fewer irrelevant emails in their inboxes and seeing fewer ads in their browsers and social media feeds promoting products they don’t care about. 

You save time and money by investing in targeted advertising and marketing campaigns that reach the right audience at the right time with the right message. 

Maintaining an accurate, central source of truth about your customers also enhances their experiences with your brand across channels. 

The information you gain directly from customer feedback and preference declarations is also an invaluable source of data to feed future product developments and customer service improvements. 

Be courageous as you define how you’ll engage with your customers to develop a unique, proprietary data set that enables you to serve your customers and build your brand. 

How can you use all this fabulous fresh-from-the-source data to improve your email communications? 

Discover how to use what you learn about your customers to build detailed, accurate buyer personas to inform your whole team in our article, Buyer Personas: Who Should Be Involved in Creating Them and How.

VP of Growth @Ongage
Mark's specialties took companies from launch to profitability through fitting their product to the right market, channel, and model, followed by centering on scaling it. In Ongage, he focuses on developing creative solutions for email marketing challenges. He believes that growth develops as a story, and like with all stories, the heroes need an exciting journey and to wield the right tools to conquer the trials they face.

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