Imagine your friend invited you to a party and promised they’d introduce you to everyone — and then they got amnesia. You don’t know any of the other attendees, and the person who was supposed to tell you suddenly doesn’t have any data. How do you learn about everyone else? Who do you talk to? What do you even talk about?
In the analogy above, Apple’s iOS 14.5 release gave your “friend” (that is, your smart device) amnesia, and Google plans to follow suit by removing third-party cookies on Chrome by 2023. With consumers’ growing privacy concerns, more major companies are adopting a privacy-first policy, giving their users the option to ask applications and websites not to track their data. This new “do not track” option vastly reduces the amount of information you, as a marketer, have about your target audience — information most marketers use to create targeted ads.
So, what now? How do you make the right decisions when you’re missing parts of the picture?
Luckily, if you’re an eCommerce brand, you have an amazing source of target market insights: your customers. Instead of relying on third-party data (gathered from aggregators like Oracle), look at your customer base, find out more about them, and create marketing content based on what they love.
Where exactly do we get our data?
Marketers have four main sources of data: your customers, your website, your competitors, and third-party aggregators. We also have four types of data, categorized based on data source.
1. Zero-party data
- This is how Pinterest collects zero-party data.
Zero-party data is information your leads and customers willingly share with you. Think about a time you gave your leads something free in exchange for their contact information — that’s zero-party data. More examples include demographics, interests and hobbies, pain points, demographics, and other direct information your leads or customers give you. One of the best places to collect this type of data is within the customer onboarding process.
First-party data is information about customer behavior you collect by tracking their interactions with your website, application, social media account, and other platforms. Examples of first-party data are purchase history, on-site interactions, and downloads.
Tip: You can use heatmapping and session replay tools to find where your customers are interacting the most with your website and where they are getting stuck.
3. Second-party data
Second-party data is first-party data you buy from a company with a similar target audience. Companies with a smaller customer base turn to companies with a more extensive, but related customer base to speed growth. Like zero- and first-party data, the data collected is still about specific individuals, not groups.
4. Third-party data
Unlike the other three types of data on this list, third-party data is collected by a third-party data aggregator, which is a company with absolutely no affiliation with the consumer. Third-party data aggregators track users and how they use the internet across various web pages. For example, suppose a consumer visits a sports site and a baby items eCommerce shop. In that case, a third-party aggregator will assume the specific consumer likes both sports and baby products. On social media, third-party data is used to create targeted ads.
Customer-first data is a combination of zero- and first-party data. When you collect both types, your customers are aware they’re giving you information and that you’re listening to their needs to provide a more accurate and personalized shopping experience for them.
Why you need customer-first data in the new privacy-driven world
Until recently, most consumers didn’t know about third-party cookies and purchased data, let alone that cookies were used to track their behavior. Such data collection methods felt like a violation of privacy, causing distrust between consumers and brands over the years. In fact, 81% of adults in the U.S. believe they have no control over how their data is collected and that the risks of data collection outweigh the benefits. Another 79% are concerned about how companies use that data.
While consumers don’t want you to track their data without explicit permission, 73% of them will leave your brand if they don’t have a personalized shopping experience. You can remedy this dilemma by collecting and using customer-first data instead. Customer-first data will help you give your shoppers a tailored experience while also rebuilding trust.
Customer-first data is also:
- More accurate and reliable. Your information is coming directly from your consumers and customers, so it’s definitely correct.
- More engaging. Your information will help you create more personalized emails, text messages, blog content, pop-ups, and campaigns, which is more influential than generic communications.
- More insightful. Your information will reveal which products your customers love and which they’d rather not see. From there, you’ll discover which items are the most profitable and which ones need your attention.
6 Easy ways to collect customer-first data
You can collect customer-first data in several ways, but you need to choose the method that works best for you. Our only advice is that you have more than one data collection method running at any given time.
1. Quizzes and surveys
- Noom collects data from website visitors before letting them sign up.
Quizzes are one of the best ways to collect customer-first data because you can ask any questions you need to build a complete profile about each customer segment. In the example above, Noom, a holistic health program, builds each other user’s personalized plan using data they collect from their pre-sign-up survey.
2. Email preference center
Your customers know themselves best, so let them choose what information they want to receive from you. An email preference center allows customers to change their settings at any time, meaning you get continuous updates about what currently interests your customers.
You can customize your email preference center in a couple of ways. In the example above, Spotify allows customers to choose what content they want to receive. Other preference centers also allow customers to set email frequency and identify interests and pain points.
Make sure your emails have a link to your email preference center in the footer section for visibility.
3. Pop-ups that ask for more
- Bashert Jewelry lets customers “drop a hint” or send their friends an email telling them exactly what they want.
Be creative and ask for more than just a name and an email address. With your email marketing software, you can program your pop-ups to appear at optimal times: when someone lands on your page, when they’ve finished reading your article, and so on.
In the example above, Bashert Jewelry has a “drop a hint” pop-up that allows them to gather five key pieces of information: the visitor’s name, email address, favorite product, their friend’s name, and their friend’s email address. In one pop-up, they get two leads plus information. As soon as someone fills out that form, Bashert Jewelry sends the recipient an email saying that friend wants a certain product. They also have a nurturing sequence for both parties.
4. Exciting landing page forms
- Courtney Sjoberg, founder of the Hashtag Files Society, offers a free masterclass through her landing page.
When you run social media ads, one of the most effective ways to gather zero-party data is by redirecting users to a landing page that collects information in exchange for a compelling offer. In the example above, She Social founder Courtney Sjoberg offers visitors free access to a hashtag workshop in exchange for their name and email address.
Remember, visitors have to think your incentive is worth giving you their data. A compelling offer that goes beyond discount codes is a must.
5. Account registration (plus questions)
- Pura Vida invites shoppers to create an account, with an incentive
Visitors who register on your site give you their identity. You know who’s browsing through your catalogue, what they click on, and what they like. On the account registration form, you can ask basic questions like Pura Vida Bracelets did above, or you can ask additional questions like, “When’s your birthday?” or “What is your favorite color?”
Note how Pura Vida also highlighted the benefits of creating an account, along with the strategically checked-off option to opt into their emails.
Be creative, but don’t make your form too complicated. A form that’s too long won’t get any sign-ups.
6. User behavior and preference tracking
Site behavior tracking collects first-party data, not zero-party data like the previously listed methods. This type of data acquisition reveals a few important aspects:
- How user-friendly your website is
- How customers interact with your product listings
- Which products your customers like
With product experience tools like Hotjar, you can collect both quantitative and qualitative data about how your users interact with your website. For example, you can use heatmaps (see image above) to know if your visitors click on unclickable elements, and session replays to view a recording of what your registered users did on your site.
In addition to tracking on-site behavior, you can also perform split tests or A/B tests on email and website copy to see which one your visitors like more.
4 Best practices for customer-first data collection
The cornerstone of customer-first data collection is prioritizing the customer experience above everything else. Don’t be sneaky with your data collection — just ask them. If you’ve built genuine consumer relationships, your customers won’t mind giving you their information.
1. Set goals to determine what data collection method to use
What do you plan to do with your customer-first data? In the examples above, Noom used a quiz to build custom health plans, and Courtney Sjoberg used a landing page form to add contacts to her email list. How you’ll use the data determines the data collection method, so you need to set your goals first. Here is what each method is best for:
- Surveys and quizzes learn more about your customers so you can personalize their shopping experience.
- Email preference centers collect data continuously and keep more customers on your mailing list. Customers who receive what they want from you won’t unsubscribe.
- Pop-ups build mailing lists.
- Email landing pages also expand mailing lists through ads.
- Account registration forms keep a record of your existing customers and update their information as they interact more with your website.
- Behavior tracking reveals how your website influences your customers’ purchasing decisions.
2. Let your customers lead you
Give your customers control of their own data; relinquishing control goes a long way toward rebuilding trust. For example, allow customers to keep a wish list on your site and edit their email preferences whenever they want. You should also let your customers choose what data they want to share with you. Don’t force them to fill in every blank on all your forms.
A Think with Google article rightly stated, “People are three times more likely to react positively to advertising when they feel a greater sense of control over how their data is used.” Build trust with your customers by trusting they’ll give you what you need.
3. Add value
People are much more likely to give information if they’ll receive something in return. Compensate your customers by creating a loyalty program or a reward system. For example, give them points for answering a survey, or a gift card for getting on a user feedback call with you.
4. Don’t be disruptive
Fewer things are more annoying than a random pop-up that won’t go away as you’re scrolling through an interesting article. Make sure your data collection methods — your quizzes, surveys, pop-ups, and sign-up prompts — don’t disrupt the user experience.
Wrapping up — Get ahead by investing in customer-first data and boosting word-of-mouth marketing
As new data policies continue to disrupt the world of data and marketing, eCommerce store owners need to adapt or else get left behind. Soon, targeted social media ads will be a thing of the past. Your customer-first data is what will set you apart from your competition.
Create content your customers love so they’ll share your brand with their friends and family. Before you know it, your stream of referrals will turn into a continuous flow.