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First Party Data Third Party Data Data & Privacy

How to find the right data in a sea of information

By Isabella Smith, Head of digital strategy



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August 1, 2023 | 7 min read

Following the publication of a report into the merits and pitfalls of both first- and third-party data strategies, Impression’s Isabella Smith surveys 2023’s data landscape for digital marketers.

Colorful lines representing data in a 'wave' formation

Impression on balancing first-party and third-party data sources / Maxim Berg via Unsplash

Digital marketing swims in a sea of information that can be tricky to distill down into actionable insights.

But any good digital marketing strategy starts with data from both first and third-party resources.

When customers engage with your website, mobile app, or respond to surveys, you gain insights into their behavior, preferences, and demographics. With first-party data, you have the power to personalize marketing campaigns and enhance your user experiences, all while building a deeper understanding of your audience.

Third-party data, on the other hand, is data that comes from external sources like data aggregators, social media platforms, and research firms. Third-party data allows you to target audiences not currently known to you and help you expand your customer base. Using carefully curated third-party data sets, you can enrich customer profiles, uncover hidden trends, and unlock new opportunities to reach your target audience effectively.

What’s paramount when it comes to data gathering both first and third-party data is how reliable and robust it is. Each tool you use will need to tick certain boxes. If you’re looking for a system to manage your first-party data, like a customer relationship management platform (CRMs), you should consider the accuracy of the sources the software pulls from (the web, or your own systems), scalability, data security and privacy, flexibility and customization, integration capabilities (for all the bells and whistles), and analytics and reporting (for you and your key stakeholders).

First-party data sources

First-party tools include analytics tools, customer data platforms, and CRMs.

The most commonly used web analytics tool is Google Analytics (GA). GA specializes in collecting website and app event data that allows you to analyze user behavior, device information and (most importantly) channel attribution data.

Customer data platforms (like Segment and Tealium) are designed to help businesses collect, integrate, and manage customer data from various sources to create unified customer profiles, in a ‘single customer view’. It acts as a central hub for storing, organizing, and activating customer data across channels and systems.

CRM systems are more tailored to managing your customer’s journey, and their relationship with you. You can usually build marketing automations and manage your entire nurture, sales and loyalty funnels within these platforms. These are best powered by high-quality data from your CDPs and should enable you to integrate with your paid media platforms to facilitate things like offline conversion tracking. Tools such as HubSpot and Salesforce are key players in this area.

While many of these platforms share functionality, they tend to specialize. If your business has a range of such tools, the challenge is to ensure that they communicate with each other and share data. Without connected data, your marketing efforts will be hindered and may target the wrong audience.

Don’t forget the third-party

Fortunately, there are also plenty of third-party data sources to draw insights from. Depending on the source, these insights will usually be market-, competitor- or consumer-based.

Most commonly, businesses rely on free resources produced by the government, trade/industry associations, non-profit organizations (like the UK’s Office for National Statistics), market research reports (from independent bodies like GWI), online marketing research platforms (even Google Trends), competitor analysis tools, business data platforms, and consumer intelligence consultants or agencies. Banks also produce reports and articles on topics such as consumer spending, the economy, and the housing market.

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One pitfall of using third-party sources is the time it can take to collect relevant and credible data. Although you will likely still find good, useful data, having a list of credible sources will save you time and potentially money.

It’s also worth looking into third-party competitor analysis tools such as SpyFu, Similar Web, Buzzsumo, Ahreds and SEMrush. These tools give access to data on audience loyalty and overlap, top-level competitor marketing channel performance, plus a breakdown of each channel.

Other challenges with using third-party data in your digital marketing strategy. You may not be sure, for example, on how or where a platform collected its data – meaning that it might have used methods that create low-quality data sets. Always ask questions to try to understand the quality, or if you’re using a report or article based on a survey, look for information about the size of the data set and who was surveyed.

Third-party cookies are on their way out, and with the loss of key tracking data, the ability to create targeted campaigns and accurately measure digital performance will become increasingly difficult. Without implementing the right solutions, it will be hard to determine what’s working and to feel confident in future strategic decisions.

You can read Impression’s recently published white paper, for a guide to using first- and third-party data in your digital marketing strategy.

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