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Everything you need to know about zero-party data

By Cadi Jones |

April 18, 2022 | 7 min read

Cadi Jones, the newly appointed chief commercial officer at research tech company Qmee, loves explaining adtech to, y’know, normal people. As part of The Drum’s Digital Advertising Deep Dive, she breaks down what exactly zero-party data is.

Every time you think you have got the hang of this industry, another buzzword comes along to be added to the adtech buzzword bingo bonanza. The latest is ’zero-party data’.

Zero party data

We already have first-party data: the data you know about your own users. Then there’s second-party data, when one party that has exclusive data shares that information with another party for their own and direct use – most normally, this is used to describe a data partnership between a publisher and a brand. And third-party data is when first-party data is shared through a broker, or third party, and may be modelled or scaled in other ways and made available to multiple partners.

Is there really space for another type of data?

While first-party data is data that is gathered about a user by the site, often linked to their usage of the site (for example, this user is in the top decile of our users for consuming travel content, or this user is an avid sports reader), zero-party data is data that is volunteered by the user. It is data that is intentionally shared by the user to the publisher or the brand, so the main distinction is that this data is both explicit and declared, rather than intuited based on behavior.

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Is this actually new?

As everyone knows, the end of third-party cookies is nigh. And the remaining identifiers in mobile app environments will also be removed. Third-party cookies and mobile advertiser identifiers have been crucial to targeting across digital media. Despite the lack of reliability or accuracy in third-party data, advertisers have relied on it for their targeting and third-party data relies on third-party cookies. There is still a lot of debate about what will take the place of third-party data targeting in the post-cookie world: contextual is something that is frequently mooted, exists already and has a successful track record.

However, there is a limitation here, as a significant amount of supply cannot be contextually situated. When users are checking their email or reading news, there is often not a clear context to the page.

The promise of zero-party data for publishers with strong and trusted relationships with their audiences is to deliver the ability to offer targeting across their owned and operated inventory, even in areas without context. Targeted inventory has a much higher value to brands, allowing them to reach the right user at the right time. There are other advantages too for the publisher and the advertiser, compared to using third party data. These are:

  • Where the publisher can generate the zero-party data themselves, they are able to keep that revenue uplift, as targeted inventory sells at a premium compared to untargeted.

  • The publisher can gain more insights into the advertiser’s needs: with third-party data, the targeting is normally applied within the demand-side platform and the publisher may not know the requirements.

  • The data accuracy is much more reliable as it is directly declared and not modeled or scaled.

So how do publishers start gathering zero-party data?

There are several ways. The first route to emerge has been the drive towards registration for digital access.

A few good examples of success include The Telegraph, which claims to have successfully driven more than 720,000 subscribers, and The New York Times, with 8.4 million registrants as of Q4 2021.

However, for other publishers with less unique content and an audience base not used to registering, this can be a challenge. In this environment, publishers are often looking to data clean rooms and other partners to help advertisers to share and target their audiences overlaid with publisher data sets in an anonymized and privacy-first way.

Publishers are increasingly partnering outside of the media world with research tech companies (shout out to Qmee!) to benefit from the data that surveys can provide, not only to brands.

It’s an emerging field with a few different models operating in the space, but generally publishers can introduce rewarded surveys to their site – answers for access. In the case of a publisher, this could be a separate section of their app or website, pulled in via an API to ensure that the look and feel matches the rest of the publisher’s offering. For a brand, it might even be on the ’thank you’ page following a transaction.

In whichever way a user arrives at the survey, they are initially met with some pre-screening questions to allow them to be matched to a real survey relevant to them. The information volunteered in this pre-screening can then be held by the publisher and linked to that user’s first-party identifier, which can then be used by the publisher to offer to target.

In addition to the benefit of gaining data – and assuming the user successfully completes the market research survey – payment is made by the market research agency for the completed survey. Many research technology (or ResTech) partners will pass on some of that fee to their publisher partners on a revenue share basis, and the publisher may in turn choose to pass some benefit on to their user – whether in the form of actual money or some other type of token or reward, such as a level of premium access, coupons or discounts, or a token or coin to use across other areas of their offering (for example, to access additional levels of a game).

Zero-party data is indeed the latest buzzword, but one that is likely to move into the everyday norm with the changes to the identity landscape coming soon. Zero-party data brings many benefits to publishers, brands and users alike, meaning ResTech is here to stay.

Catch up with Jones’s previous adtech explainers here. And don’t forget to check out more from The Drum’s Digital Advertising Deep Dive over the coming weeks.

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