Cookies Are Off the Menu: Why Zero-Party Data is the Future for Digital Marketing


When Tim Berners-Lee first invented the internet 30-some years ago he made it clear that his vision was one of giving people the world over unfettered, equal access to information and knowledge, a source that would allow for information as well as ideas to be shared in an egalitarian way. A brilliant and democratic idea to be sure, however, since we live in a profit-driven world, it was perhaps a foregone conclusion that capitalism would find a way to monetize his good intentions. Thus, it wasn’t long before online ads and cookies were born. At first blush, cookies didn’t really seem like all that negative of an idea; let’s face it, nothing is really free and good content needs to be paid for too, right? After all, if you’re looking to buy a new red cashmere sweater, why wouldn’t you want to see ads that told you not only where you could buy one online, but comparison shop them for cost and quality? The targeted and re-targeted ads structure driven by cookies seemed to make sense for both the advertiser and the consumer, and if it meant that there would always be more and better content on the web, most of us were all for it.

That was until it got weird, and we remembered we hadn’t told anyone we were looking for a red cashmere sweater so how did J. Crew know that? Sure, you vaguely remembered seeing a cookie notice on Macy’s site when you first started searching for a luxury crimson crewneck, but at the time, you didn’t give it much thought, since you were on your lunch break and didn’t have all that much time to shop. It turns out you weren’t the only one who was a little creeped out; many other people started worrying about just how much they were being tracked while on the web, and just how much their privacy was being compromised. With user experience and customer journey being two of the biggest buzz terms and long-term goals of all business owners, industry leaders have long been searching for a better way to continue to effectively market their wares, but do so in a more honest, authentic way.

The answer to this conundrum? Zero-party data. With Google set to officially ban the use of third-party cookies just around the corner (going into effect in 2022), zero-party data has become the official best practices ideal for forward thinking marketers.

What Exactly is Zero Party Data?

Zero-party data is marketing gold; useful, knowledgeable intel about your target audience that has all the power of cookie targeting without any of that creepy, “big brother” vibe attached to it. Zero-party data is the best data to have because it is given willingly by consumers themselves. While some other solutions to replace third-party cookies have been bandied about (trust tokens, anyone?), zero-party data is being rightly viewed as the most transparent method for targeted, precision marketing to carry on. With zero-party data, both the intent and the use of consumer data is directed by the user themselves. With zero-party data, brands are asking customers directly for not only their demographic facts, but also delving into preferences, goals, future purchases, and what they want from their experience with the brand, just to name a few areas of inquiry. This data is provided expressly from the consumer themselves, making it incredibly accurate and therefore, extremely valuable. It’s also a much more egalitarian way to market to your audience, because zero-party data is typically provided by the customer in a quid pro quo environment, given by them in exchange for special offers, rewards, or a better, more personalized brand experience. In short, zero-party data is a “win-win” for everyone, and those brands that get out in front of the ZPD trend now are destined to reap the data-driven benefits.

Why is Zero-Party Data Better than First-Party Data?

According to the experts at Forrester Research, first-party data is good, but zero-party data is better. Why? Ultimately, it comes down to two crucial facts:

Data Ownership

First-party data is typically data that has been collected on consumers without a direct opt-in and is owned by the brand. Conversely, zero-party data is owned by the consumer, and therefore it’s fluid. It can change over time, and what they customer wants from the brand can change over time as well. For example, just because a customer provided you with their email address to receive a discount coupon code for a pair of pants doesn’t mean they ALWAYS want you to contact them when you have pants for sale. With zero-party data, customers must keep telling you what they want from you and what they expect in return for you to be using it correctly.

Data Interpretation & Intent

While first-party data is certainly better, cleaner data than third-party info could ever be, it is still data that utilizes predictive behavioral data and implied interest and therefore, it is still subject to some margin of error. By way of contrast, zero-party data is comprised of explicit interests and preferences, provided straight from the source itself, making it inherently more reliable, and it’s because of this that the intent behind how it’s used is so important.

Zero-party data is provided expressly for the purpose of a personalized, enhanced customer experience by the customer; they are giving this information to the brand, so they have a better and more satisfying transaction with a brand. While it ends up being transactional and mutually beneficial, the fact that it’s about enhancing the customer brand journey always needs to be paramount.

So, How Do I Get in on Zero-Party Data?

Getting started with zero-party data can be both simple and complex at the same time. While there’s always asking your customers directly for the information you seek, you still must possess the know-how of how to store it and how to use it. Preferences, polls, customer service questionnaires, opt-in forms, and surveys can all be great sources of zero-party data, giving valuable insights into your current customers and your target audience. Group FiO, for example captures zero-party data and develops specific profiles that allow our clients to deploy targeted marketing messages that boost both the customer’s experience of and their trust in their brands. In our blog earlier this week, we discussed the importance of building consumer trust to create true brand loyalty and using zero-party data to give your customers what they want is a great place to begin building a connection of confidence.

Responsible zero-party data usage enables brands to build straightforward relationships that are rooted in mutually beneficial transactions. It offers a truly transparent, authentic road to smart ad management and ROI, too, bringing that original dream and intent of the world wide web a little closer to reality. Those who start utilizing the benefits of ZPD now will be far ahead of the curve and will find themselves as early adopters of a new wave of brands that put customer experience and ethically sourced data at the forefront of their marketing strategy.

At Group FiO, we realize that delving into zero-party data can seem overwhelming and like a huge undertaking, particularly when you’re first starting out. We are here to help! That’s why we have put together a special offer for those who are ready to blaze an authentic, data-driven trail. Click here to sign up for your FREE ZERO-PARTY DATA TRIAL.