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Delivering value, meaning and engagement: a framework for building first-party databases

By Julie Reid | Strategy Director



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June 23, 2021 | 10 min read

Apple’s iOS14 update rolled out at the end of April, and the impact of its tracking transparency feature has been felt. The update requires apps to gain explicit consent from users so that the app can track their behavior across the internet.


Hallam on the importance of building first-party data and considering the value exchange being offered to customers

The latest data shows that around 96% of iOS users in the US are using Apple’s new privacy feature to block ad tracking.

My colleague, strategy director Ben Wood, writes: “Google’s deadline to remove third-party cookies from Chrome by the end of this year is fast approaching and the media industry is on the verge of the single biggest change to digital advertising since its inception.”

We are swiftly moving toward a privacy-first internet. And in this yet-to-be-defined future, first-party data willingly offered up by customers will be a deciding factor in which brands thrive and which ones fall by the wayside.

The value, meaning and engagement framework

We know that people want – and will exchange their data for – convenience, functionality, speed and access to new ideas and knowledge. But brands and marketers have to communicate what’s on the other side of that sign-up form and if it will be worth it.

The role of the website in gathering first-party data early in the customer journey and sales funnel is becoming increasingly important. So the question we are helping clients answer is this: how can we design, deploy and optimize advertising and websites in a way that demonstrates this value exchange?

Data ethics expert Nathan Kinch writes in a Medium post about how using value, meaning and engagement as a framework can help for delivering truly great user experiences. He goes into detail about intentionally designing experiences that customers can benefit from.

It’s a framework I have returned to recently in the discussion around the imminent cookie-less future and how we can build our first-party databases.

My proposed interpretation of this framework is to remain customer-centric. But I think we should push beyond user experience and apply it to a brand’s broader marketing strategy, which can include business-as-usual activity and creative campaigns.

The framework can power a brand’s promise – through promotional content that is published organically or paid – as well as deliver through website copy, sales process and customer experience.

Value is all about meeting fundamental human needs. Meaning is about creating emotional and memorable experiences that connect people with others or with themselves. Engagement is about an interactive and dynamic experience that gets people to lean in.

Brands that can nail these three elements and use them for building a community will be able to navigate the coming changes well.

Delivering value

When Nathan Kinch framed value in the context of user experience, he anchored it in the Jobs to Be Done methodology. This methodology, first introduced by Clayton Christensen in The Innovator’s Dilemma, focuses on why a customer would hire your product or service.

“For me, this is a neat idea,” Christensen writes. “When we buy a product, we essentially hire something to get a job done. If it does the job well, when we are confronted with the same job, we hire that same product again. And if the product does a crummy job, we fire it and look around for something else we might hire to solve the problem.”

The first step in delivering value is to develop a deep understanding of your customer’s need – the job they are trying to do – and to ensure that your product or service solves that problem.

But once you’re assured them that you can solve the problem, you can then layer value into the customer experience to further cement your place in their minds.

Value is an infuriatingly vague word. It can be applied to any product or service and mean various things to different people.

As Eric Almquist, John Senior and Nicolas Bloch write in The Elements of Value: “What consumers truly value ... can be difficult to pin down and psychologically complex.”

Thankfully they conducted some research identifying 30 universal building blocks to value across four categories: functional, emotional, life changing and social impact. Their model, shown in the pyramid below, is a brilliant tool for finding and building value for your customers.


Once you have identified the value elements that most resonate with your customers, you can build those messages into your website copy, marketing, sales process and ongoing customer care.

Creating meaning

While there are elements of value that touch on meaning – meeting emotional needs, and helping people achieve self-actualization and self-transcendence – what we’re often talking about with value is about helping people ‘get the job done’.

Meaning is about creating emotional and memorable experiences that connect people with others or with themselves. It’s about being more human.

In his book, This Is Marketing, Seth Godin writes: “If you can bring someone belonging, connection, peace of mind, status or one of the other most desired emotions, you’ve done something worthwhile. The thing you sell is simply a road to achieve those emotions, and we let everyone down when we focus on the tactics, not the outcomes. Who’s it for and what’s it for are the two questions that guide all of our decisions.”

Brands are there to facilitate the experience. They are not the point of the experience.

The long-running Meaningful Brand study by Havas Group has found that people wouldn’t care if 75% of brands disappeared, and that less than half of brands are seen as trustworthy.

One of the brands they’ve talked about in the past that creates meaning for their community is Nike’s Run Club. It’s a website and app, but with the ability to schedule your runs, plan your training, set goals and find running partners, what Nike is actually promising is to help you become a better runner. A better version of you.

Across a broad range of categories, as consumers, what we buy says something about who we are. Our identities get wrapped up in the brands we choose.

And for many people, this increasingly means shopping according to their personal values. This might mean supporting local businesses, ensuring human rights in the supply chain are upheld, buying cruelty-free products or shopping with planet-friendly brands.

Brands that lead with purpose and connect that purpose with their customers’ values and beliefs will create meaningful experiences that can build loyalty.

Offering engagement

As I said at the top of this article, engagement is about an interactive and dynamic experience that gets people ‘leaning in’ to your brand. This can happen in a number of different ways.

Engagement can be about building a long-term relationship with your customers. Or it can be about creating a community for them to build relationships with each other. It’s about showing up regularly, respecting people’s time and attention spans, and providing relevant information that they want or need.

Where possible, think about engagement as an immersive, multi-sensory experience. How can you engage all five of people’s senses when they interact with your brand, products or services?

One example of this is Starbucks Reserve – ‘theatrical, experiential shrines to coffee passion’. Starbucks has created physical spaces in Seattle, Shanghai, Milan, New York, Tokyo and Chicago where master roasters roast the rarest coffee beans on site and mixologists and baristas create coffee-inspired cocktails.

Engagement can be about personalization. For example, Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke campaign allowed customers to customize their cans with their own names or the names of a loved one.

And engagement can also be participatory. Putting a live chat function on your website or app or enabling booking from your social channel can help increase engagement. HubSpot’s recent report found that 82% of consumers rate an ‘immediate’ response as important or very important when they have a marketing or sales question.

Engagement must be multi-channel, which means consistency is key. Everything from your tone of voice and visual representation online through to your messaging and offers in store and after-sales support on the phone needs to feel like it’s coming from the same brand.

To ensure your marketing activity is effective, using your existing data as a feedback loop can help you continuously improve your offering and attract new, like-minded customers.

And engagement done right will impact the bottom line: a study by Constellation Research reported that companies who improve engagement can increase cross-sell revenue by 22%, upsell revenue by 38% and order size by 5-85%.

Building your first-party data is all about the value exchange you’re offering customers. And by using the value, meaning and engagement framework, you can create products and services they will willingly exchange their time, attention and emails for.

Julie Reid is head of strategy at Hallam.

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