First Party Data Data Deep Dive Data & Privacy

Learning, not just tracking: putting creativity at the heart of data collection

By Tim Noblett, Head of Data and Insight

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May 10, 2023 | 6 min read

As we move to first-party data, brands must build digital experiences that lead to genuine insights, says TMW Unlimited’s data chief Tim Noblett for The Drum’s deep dive, The New Data & Privacy Playbook.

The stacks of a clean, modern library

Is your data strategy based on creative? / Ryunosuke Kikuno via Unsplash

When Google removes the ability to track third-party cookies on Chrome at the end of 2023, we’ll finally be in the long-foretold ‘cookieless world’. As many of us in the industry have been arguing for a while, the only real solution to this is for brands to collect more of their own consumer data.

There’s a reason why everybody’s saying this: it’s good advice. But we should be more ambitious than simply trying to get more people into databases. For too long, we’ve considered it a win if we get someone’s name, email, and address. That’s great if you want to chuck someone into a CRM program or send them a message, but what do we actually learn that helps us understand our customers? Not a lot.

Moving beyond names and emails

An over-reliance on cookies has meant that brands have (mostly) failed to proactively collect substantive information about their customers. Marketers should be using the conversation about first-party data becoming increasingly important as an opportunity to discuss how they can construct experiences to develop datasets that are far richer and more actionable than the bare minimum.

Using data for measurement, tracking and reporting is great, but that’s not always the same as genuine learning. As cookies are phased out, a brand’s ability to effectively target new customers will be directly linked to how much they know about their existing ones, so building out a rich dataset becomes increasingly important. In the process of getting consumers to share their email addresses, brands should be thinking about what else they can do to encourage value exchanges that enable proper targeting and segmentation.

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Creating experiences with insight in mind

The solution to this isn’t asking your customers to fill in a longer form. Let’s not expect everyone to start filling in questionnaires about their preferences and behaviors. Let’s instead design brand experiences (both digital and in-person) with the objective of learning about a customer through their behavior.

Online, this could be by creating things like quizzes or games; any form of interaction that’s genuinely interesting and engaging to the consumer, while also generating usable and insightful data. For example, I’ve worked with a holiday company that segmented with the aid of a sharable quiz that determined each family's holiday type. The output, alongside something for the consumer to share, was the ability to append the segment to the customer and improve campaign effectiveness by tailoring creative execution by segment.

In-person experiences are becoming more digitally led too, which provides opportunities to engage and track preferences. It’s now possible to ask consumers to use wearable technology which allows us to capture, record and learn from their behavior. What parts of the experience do they spend more time on? Which elements do they seem most interested in? If activations are set up with the intention of uncovering valuable insights, there are endless possibilities to truly learn about your customer base.

Sometimes, if appropriate, this might lead to personalized data that can be used to inform targeting; sometimes, it might help us to learn more about how customers generally interact with a brand. A lot of this information won’t be ‘personal data’ in the traditional sense, but measurements of different kinds of engagements, that reveal some sort of truth.

Creativity at the heart of data collection

All of this might sound easier said than done, and it may well be. There probably isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all, plug-and-play option that works for every brand. Pulling this off requires a lot of creativity, which is why it’s important to have genuine collaboration between creative and data & insight teams.

Activations of this sort require creatives to not only use insight to inform their work, but also to generate insight by devising imaginative ways for consumers to interact. Any disconnect between creative execution and data strategy is simply not an option. Creatives need to understand what’s important for a brand to learn and why audiences would want to engage in these experiences.

At TMW Unlimited, we’re lucky to have our Human Understanding Lab: a team of neuroscientists, research practitioners, data strategists, and behavioral scientists. This coming together of different specialisms means we can arm our creative teams with valuable information on both what will drive interest and generate insight.

Instead of dwelling on the loss of cookies, let’s treat this as an opportunity. It might require a bit more thought, plus the right combination of creativity and expertise, but focusing on gathering insightful first-party information can redefine what we mean by putting data at the heart of a campaign.

To read more from The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, where we’ll be demystifying data & privacy for marketers in 2023, head over to our special hub.

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