This piece originally appeared as a Digital Commerce 360 piece.
Data gathered directly from consumers allows retailers to understand them on a deeper level, including such aspects of their identity as their life stage, the social or workgroups they belong to and their professions.
Google’s recent announcement that it won’t allow cookie-based tracking in Chrome is the latest admission by big tech that consumers take their privacy seriously. Much of the discussion since then has focused on ways in which to do cookieless advertising.
But, if we understand what makes a potential customer tick, we need to go beyond inferred behavioral tracking. We need to find creative ways to gather valuable declared first-party data from the consumer, which is data that the consumer is willing to provide for you to provide better-personalized marketing in return. By the way, the industry has coined a new term called “zero-party data” to set this apart from first-party data, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll stay with first-party data since that’s what most of us are familiar with.
Data gathered directly from consumers allows retailers to understand them on a deeper level, including such aspects of their identity as their life stage, the social or workgroups they belong to and their professions. And, when you steer away from stalking consumers online—in the form of secretly tracking their clicks and purchase behavior—you can build a relationship from the start based on transparency and trust.
There are several ways to gather and use first-party data. All of them fall under a broad category called “invited personalization”—the practice of inviting prospects to give you information about themselves so, in return, you can provide them with highly personalized products or services.
How ThirdLove Uses Invited Personalization
One direct-to-consumer apparel brand, ThirdLove, provides an interesting example. Co-founder Heidi Zak told CNN she was inspired to start the company while shopping for a bra at a mall. Though she realized it didn’t fit, she bought one anyway and regretted her decision once she got home. She knew women needed a better experience to find bras that fit.
She and her team solved this problem by providing consumers the opportunity to fill out a quiz to share personal information to get a recommendation on the best bra. For instance, depending on how a person answers previous questions, the quiz may ask if they’ve gained or lost weight. And they’re likely going to answer without hesitation because that information can help ThirdLove provide them with a product that fits them perfectly.
ThirdLove can also use that same first-party data to inform more significant decisions facing your organization. In this same interview, Heidi explained that “We use all of those data points (gathered from quizzes) and build an internal algorithm that keeps getting smarter. For instance, the data helps inform supply chain decisions, such as managing inventory of particular sizes. It also helps us understand how size trends change over time.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Other brands ask consumers for information about their careers or personal affiliations to provide discounts on a product or service. For instance, travel provider Cheap Caribbean now makes special offers on its travel packages to medical professionals. Customers willingly provide proof that they’re a doctor, nurse, or another medical professional to qualify for the offer.
Historically, many retailers have hesitated to ask prospects too many—or too-personal—questions out of fear of creating what they believe is unnecessary “friction.” But when you consider that these questions help the buyer get exactly what they want, you flip the script from intrusive friction to an overall great buying experience.
Moreover, data gathered from invited personalization efforts can drive future brand loyalty. When you obtain data openly and honestly, you kick off the relationship from a place of mutual trust and engagement, where both parties feel good about the exchange and benefit from it. This is the starting point for longer-term connection and loyalty.
With growing protections on consumer privacy, there’s no doubt the industry is shifting—and that’s a good thing. And within this new world, “invitation” allows for privacy and personalization to coexist.