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How to Personalize to the Unknown

For the sake of this blog, I am going to use “unknown” to refer to prospects who have no prior relationship and/or even potential knowledge of your company. They are consumers who could potentially be interested in your product and services, yet they may not know that your company provides said products and services. Or, if they do know of you, they have never engaged or shown interest in your product or services.

As an additional caveat, I will be referring to personalizing to the unknown within the digital ecosystem, but to be honest, what we are about to discuss can transcend the digital ecosystem and be leveraged within sales and services — or even brick and mortar. 

So, you ask, “how does one personalize to the unknown?” 

That’s a simple question — with the right data. To be more specific, with third-party cookie data. 

Third-party cookie data is the foundational tool by which marketers are able to target, engage, and even personalize messages to unknown prospects. The amount of data captured within third-party data and associated with an individual cookie is overwhelming — and dare I say it, even a bit scary. Where a company traditionally relied on a customer to provide demographic information about themselves, third-party cookie data provides a host of data beyond a company’s own demographic, transactional, and behavioral data.  

Data definitions - first-, second- and third-party dataBefore I get too far ahead of myself, let me take a moment to provide a very basic definition of first and third-party data. Karima Zmerli, Vice President, Data Management Platform Capability Lead here at Merkle, provided me with some of the best definitions. So, thanks Karima!

  • First-party data is the data collected by an advertiser directly on current and potential customers.
  • Second-party data is someone else’s first-party data. Except in this case, that first-party has agreed to share usage of the data with another.
  • Third-party data is collected from customers by a company that isn’t directly involved in the transaction.

So, back to our conversation and the “how” one leverages third-party data. 

By taking your first-party and leveraging third-party data, a company can create look-a-like models or audience segments. These models or segments can then be leveraged to target unknown prospects. These “unknown prospects” become individuals who resemble your current customer base and would have a high propensity to be interested in your product. In addition to targeting unknown prospects, the models and segments provide the context of offers and messages that have the highest propensity to interest the unknown prospect. 

The development of these offers and messages is the exciting part as marketers are now using this data to deliver personalized offers via display media. The offers can be tailored to everything from demographic information, product information, attitudinal aspects and more. As unknown prospects engage with the offers, marketers are able to leverage the interactive behavior to modify and improve the delivery of said offers. Third-party data becomes the means by which companies deliver rich, relevant, and personalized offers. Even if the unknown prospects ignore or tune out standard (blanket) offers, personalized offers have the propensity to attract the attention and interests of most individuals.  

Third-party data provides companies with more than simple demographic data. Third-party data is providing companies with descriptive, behavioral, interactive, and even attitudinal data. In one surprising instance, a vendor of third-party data has even started to capture consumer personality types. Personality enriches the attitudinal data and provides additional insight into motivations, habits, and activities.

I know — it can sound a bit scary; however, from a marketer’s perspective, it opens up an entire new realm of possibilities. So while some companies are targeting customers that are ready to purchase, other companies are personalizing the offer. They are leveraging third-party data to change the dynamics of the messaging so that the product or service resonates with the consumer’s core characteristics.  

Third-party data is being leveraged for more than a company’s website or display media. It is also being tied to owned and leased email addresses and associated to device IDs, which are then associated with phone numbers. 

Third-party data, in essence, allows a company to develop a more in-depth understanding of both known and unknown customers. Over time, and with the right planning, third-party data can help a company understand the triggers that turn an unknown prospect into a known prospect and a known prospect into a valued customer. 

Third-party data has changed marketing from push to pull — from blast communications to personalized offers. It is exciting — yet, it can still be a bit overwhelming. 

If you still have questions, ask your digital agency of choice or your DMP provider. Ask them to review the audience segments that they are deriving from your third-party data. Ask them how they are being leveraged — more importantly, ask them how they could be leveraged but aren’t currently. If neither your agency nor your DMP provider is available or can answer your questions, ask me. I will get you in touch with someone who does know (e.g., Karima).