The death of third-party cookies. 

Google’s plans to sunset cookies in 2024 left marketers in a fog of uncertainty. Many were, and still are, over-reliant on 3rd party cookie strategies fueled by consumer tracking. Recent studies have shown that 75% of marketers still rely heavily on third-party cookies. And worse, 64% actually planned to increase cookie-based activities moving into the year. (Adobe)

But then Google postponed their mission. And now, with their recent announcement that they’ve kicked the can to 2025, marketers have staved off the danger of their strategies becoming obsolete — for now.

Changes will come. Are you prepared?

Of course, marketers will need ad platforms for brand awareness, leads, customers, sales, and revenue. That won’t change, even with browsers sunsetting third-party cookies. What will change is how you measure campaign success, allocate budgets, and reach the right audience at the right time. So destination marketers must find a solution to keep their strategies smart, agile, and sustainable without relying on third-party cookies. 

First-party data will be part of that solution.

Sandee Jordan, Director of Customer Success, and I dove into the topic of first-party data on this week's episode of the Layover Live podcast.

What Are Third-Party Cookies and How Do They Work?

We’ve all likely used — and been targeted by — third-party cookies in the past. But a quick overview will help set the stage for our first-party conversion.

Third-party cookies are trackers placed on a website user’s browser by the sites they visit and the ads they’re served there. Then, they track a user (although fragmented) to build a profile of your interests and behaviors. That data is gold for marketers. It’s fueled targeted ad campaigns and measured marketing effectiveness for years. 

They’ve also spawned data and privacy concerns that have inspired browsers to phase out support entirely.

What is First-Party Data and Why Does it Matter?

Simply put, first-party data is the information you gather directly from your audience — without the stealthy trackers or purchased lists. This data is more accurate, reliable, and insightful because it comes directly from your audience, subscribers, and users.

It also enables a marketer to engage in critical retargeting campaigns. These campaigns have become more challenging as privacy regulations have evolved. They’re critical tactics that typically perform two to three times better than non-remarketing — and they’re more cost-effective in the process.

What are Examples of First-Party Data?

First-party data comes in many forms, and you likely already have a strong foundation of this information within your systems. The following are just some examples of first-party data:

  • Email address

  • Demographic info like age, education, employment, and marital status 

  • Location where individuals live or work

  • User interests regarding specific products, categories, marketing materials, and more

  • Engagement with your content such as website page views, downloads, and email opens

How Can You Collect First-Party Data?

You’re likely already doing a few activities to actively collect first-party data, even if you aren’t aware of it. Like with any other digital marketing strategy, you must build a complete and accurate database to maximize your impact. Initiatives like these can help you build the data backbone of your strategic marketing in a more transparent and privacy centric way:

  • Traveler surveys target potential travelers or those who have visited your website or destination.

  • Newsletter subscriptions are tried and true for DMOs, trading valued content in exchange for names and email addresses.

  • Content downloads work the same way and provide an alternative for those users who are more protective of their inboxes (like me).

  • Social media engagement allows you to track likes, shares, comments, and direct messages to further understand your audience's preferences and interests.

  • Contests and sweepstakes are an engaging way to collect data while promoting your destination. But you want to be sure to quarantine these contacts and re-engage them later so you can weed out those contacts just looking to score something for free.

  • Event registrations allow you to collect preferences. And because they’re already invested in the event, they’re more likely to give you more personal information.

  • Interactive web tools like trip planners or quizzes require users to input information about their travel preferences. For example, you can use Visit Widget to quickly build inspiring interactive maps while also collecting location check-ins and dwell time that help you show partners how long a user spends at their business.

How Can You Activate First-Party Data?

Taking a strategic first-party data approach helps you learn what traits, interests, and behaviors are common among your audience. This provides vital information like what channel best contributes to engagement, what sort of content to develop, and the best ways to influence your audience.

Here are a few ways to activate your first-party data to achieve your goals.

Website content adaptation: Use dynamic content to serve personalized content relevant to each individual user based on their past behaviors and more.

Email marketing and drip campaigns: Tailor email content with personalized recommendations, offers, or reminders about upcoming events they might enjoy.

Programmatic advertising: Leverage first-party data to create custom audiences and bid on relevant ad placements across display networks, tailoring the message to specific segments.

Content development and destination strategy:

  • Identify content gaps: Analyze user behavior on the site to discover what visitors are looking for that you might not be providing enough information about. His is great for SEO as well.

  • Highlight underrated gems: If certain less-promoted attractions show high engagement, shift your content strategy to feature them more prominently.

  • Partnership opportunities: Use check-in data to identify potential partnerships with local businesses frequently visited by your target audience.

Improve visitor experience: First-party data can help you understand what visitors are looking for and what challenges they’ve encountered so you can create a better user experience for them.

Campaign tracking: Link your first-party data to attribution models to better understand which marketing efforts are most effective in driving visitation.

Web analytics: Tie first-party data into website analytics to see how different visitor segments interact with your website for continued optimization.

Factors to Consider with First-Party Data

While first-party offers a goldmine of insights and will be an integral part of destination marketers’ futures, it’s not without its complications, concerns, and considerations. Before launching your first-party data strategy, it’s critical to understand these obstacles so you can create transparent and trustworthy processes.

Transparency and consent: Building trust is crucial; be upfront about what data you collect, how you use it, and offer clear opt-in and opt-out options. Privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA also mandate specific ways to obtain user consent.

Data security: Safeguarding consumer data is vital. Data breaches erode trust and lead to hefty fines. Invest in security measures to protect sensitive information.

Data collection infrastructure: Collecting and storing vast amounts of data requires the right technology and expertise. Invest in your infrastructure up front to ensure smooth operations. Simpleview CRM is the industry standard — and has security built in.

Balancing personalization and privacy: Highly personalized messages are effective. But they can be invasive and backfire if not managed accordingly. Strike a balance between relevant marketing and respecting user privacy.

Fluid landscape: Regulations and consumer attitudes towards data privacy are constantly evolving. Stay updated on the latest trends and adapt your data collection practices accordingly.

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