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How Zero-Party Data Will Save the Internet In 2021?

Third-party cookies are flawed. This we all agree on. But something has to pay for the internet, and those cookies feed a whole industry that does just that: creates a monetization model that means we can all continue to access quality content for free. Remove that data and you’re left with… what? 

When Tim Berners-Lee created the worldwide web 30-odd years ago, his vision was of an egalitarian digital world where information and ideas could be shared democratically. Of course, we live in a capitalist society where very little is truly free, so good content needs to be paid for somehow. A model in which ‘good content = larger audience = more ads viewed = more revenue’ may be imperfect, but it feels like a good start. And making the ads more relevant isn’t only good for the advertiser, it’s surely good for the audience too: if I have a dog, why would I not want you to tell me about new dog food? 

If we’re to accept that free-to-access web content is a good thing, then we also need to back the financial structures that support that. Take it away, and we’re in trouble: many online publishers exist on a knife-edge already, with the Big Tech Four sucking the financial oxygen out of the room – remove a key source of revenue and they’re gone. 

But let’s bring it back to cookies. Targeted ads are more effective than untargeted, so thanks for the heads-up on the new dog food. But also… this can all get a bit creepy, can’t it (hold on – I never told you I have a dog!).

So what’s the answer? 

First, ask WHY is that creepy?

It’s because I never knowingly shared that information with you – yes, there was a cookie notice and I could have checked out who was tracking me, but I REALLY wanted to just crack on and read that dog article. The solution to this poor, opaque user experience? Zero-party data.

Zero-party data is the best customer data to have. As suggested by the name, it is unmediated data – given explicitly and willingly by the user. Among the wide choice of existing and emerging identity solutions to replace third-party cookies, zero-party data is at the top of the pile. It’s the best because it’s wholly transparent, controlled directly and intentionally by the user.

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But isn’t first-party data our savior?

Well yes, it is a very strong, reliable way to gain information on an audience. With first-party data, authentication is key, as creating a unique identifier allows the association of data with that user. If there’s a log-in mechanism to get you that identifier, even better, as that direct consent makes it hugely preferable to third-party data. However, first-party data does share some characteristics of third-party data, primarily that it’s still largely based on assumptive logic around user behavior: if I read that article on dogs, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I want to buy dog food, or even that I own a dog. 

Similarly, Google’s FLoC – its own identity solution – makes assumptions based on browsing history and places users into ‘cohorts’ based on that history. Given it’s Google, and therefore the sheer volume of data that will inform FLoC, this will be powerful. From a consumer perspective, it’s maybe preferable that Google is controlling your data than a shadowy army of ad-tech businesses you may never have heard of – but in reality, is it any less creepy?

Some would argue it’s even more sinister.

So if zero-party data is so great – how do you get in on the action?

Simple: you ask for it. Preference centers, questionnaires and polls can be used to capture valuable insights direct from your users. We capture zero-party data by asking our community members to fill out a profile – a series of questions that allow us, and the brands we work with, to market appropriately to them. 

Whether you’re a brand, publisher or retailer, responsibly used zero-party data enables you to build direct relationships with audiences based on trust. It also provides a transparent, authentic path to effective ad measurement and revenue attribution – helping us pay for all that great, quality content. 

Internet, consider yourself saved.

[To share your insights, please write to us at sghosh@martechseries.com]

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