Strategy, privacy and collaboration: Making the case for first-party data

December 07, 2021 7 min read

  • Steven Francolla

    Head of Partnerships at Permutive

  • As we move to a more privacy-focused world, the notion of centralised data using third-party cookies will soon be disbanded – indeed, third-party cookies are already blocked on browsers like Safari and Firefox. Publishers now have an opportunity to ensure that their first-party data is the new media currency in digital advertising. But, what is needed to make this happen in a way that is privacy-compliant and consumer-friendly?

    Permutive joined a panel at Neustar’s Brave New Worlds conference titled “Revenge of the Publisher: Does Audience Intent Matter More than Identity?” to discuss the opportunities of first-party data. On the panel were Maddy Want, Senior Director of Product Management at Index Exchange; Tyler Imoto, VP Data Solutions and Strategy at Meredith and Steven Francolla, Head of Partnerships at Permutive. The moderator was Ade Adeosun, VP Marketing Solutions and Advertising Partnerships at Neustar. Here are three takeaways from the session:

    1. First-party data is ripe with opportunity 

    As the third-party cookies that advertisers use in data-driven marketing disappear, publishers are in a prime position to offer an alternative. Publisher first-party data can be used to build bespoke audiences for advertisers to target, the ability to reach new audiences, and achieve marketing goals without compromising user privacy. 

    Imoto at Meredith said his organisation has moved 70% of its advertising sales to first-party data with these benefits in mind. “We are working with advertisers to help them strategically consider how to get the most value out of our readership data. Having a first-party data strategy also allows us to constantly learn about how consumers engage with our publications — including knowing what they are reading to inform our content approach for the year ahead and our advertising strategy too,” he said.

    “Having a first-party data strategy also allows us to constantly learn about how consumers engage with our publications” – Tyler Imoto, Meredith


    With third-party cookies already blocked in Safari and Firefox and Snap, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube tipped to lose nearly $10bn due to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency framework, which requires app owners to ask for explicit consent from users to track them across apps and websites, the need for privacy-safe first-party data has never been more critical.

    Francolla at Permutive explained: “The various blocks on third-party cookies means advertising has to be more focused on first-party data to understand user behaviour across browsers and on mobile devices. Focusing on first-party strategies, collected at the inventory source and only by the publisher is a more sustainable future.”

    Think strategically, not just about paywalls

    First-party data goes beyond just authenticated data, as publishers, with the right technology, can capture a wealth of unauthenticated data that provides unique insight into what their audiences are engaging with online. When asked if paywalls or walled gardens should be more widely used, Francolla of Permutive said: “There are better ways to amass volumes of first-party data signals without paywalls or logins. Publishers should find strategies to leverage all data points available, without requiring user registrations.”

    Imoto at Meredith agreed, saying at his organisation they have resisted adding paywalls to publications unless specifically needed. “There are alternatives without needing paywalls,” he said. “Sometimes they are needed to provide an identifier for facilitating wider use cases, but it has to be a value exchange for the consumer. It is an opportunity for publishers to realise that you can create new paid products that warrant a paywall, such as our cookalong recipe offering, but most journalism should remain free to read,” he added.

    Making data points richer is a “wise move” according to Want at Index Exchange. She said: “Publishers are right to protect relationships with their customers and make their data richer. The subscriptions business model can naturally augment advertising structures and offer the publisher added revenue protection. I think the industry needs to do more if it wants to eliminate paywalls altogether.”

    2. Consumer privacy must be everyone’s top priority 

    There is a growing need for marketers to put customer privacy at the heart of their strategies and find partnerships that will help them to build sophisticated media plans. Consumers are already showing unease with a recent global YouGov survey finding that 61% would rather not have third parties tracking their habits, even if it means future ads are not tailored to their likes and interests.

    This is something that publishers are aware of as Imoto at Meredith explained: “In the new landscape, publishers have the trust now. There is an unintended consequence that arises from the trust, where we need to know more about consumers than ever before but must maintain their right to privacy first and foremost. This has made us even more considerate about how we use data now so that we do not lose audiences from too much irrelevant advertising.”

    Permutive’s Francolla said it was imperative that the industry reacts to the wider changes in consumer trust. “The time is now to rebuild the ecosystem to put consumers first. Publishers and advertisers can transact now, more efficiently and without the risks [of cookie replacement technologies] if they use first-party data well. However, there is a lot at stake if you don’t take the opportunity to think about being privacy-first in your approach.”

    “The time is now to rebuild the ecosystem to put consumers first” – Steven Francolla, Permutive


    Consumers will be the bellwether for data privacy, Want at Index Exchange suggested. “Consumers will dictate how they want privacy online to be conveyed, that’s the new reality. It will be the public who influence privacy regulation directly with the regulators. The bar is getting higher all the time when it comes to this but the consumer definition of privacy is mixed. It’s imperative to approach it with caution and invest in user research and feedback to identify room for improvements,” she said. Imoto added that privacy changes are already causing disruption and need to be tackled, he said: “IP address tracking is gone. Email addresses are not far behind either.”

    All of this change is the foundation for rebuilding privacy, said Francolla at Permutive: “Not being privacy-first is a bad place to be. Accessing transactional first-party data is more efficient and not reliant on IDs. Meaning, privacy is underpinned and you have an ecosystem sustainable for the future. This carries less risk to consumer trust or negative press, and enables you to show your core privacy principles.” 

    3. Collaboration is key to aligning buyers and sellers

    The value exchange between publishers, advertisers and users is being rebalanced. As publishers become the guardians of privacy-safe targetable data in digital advertising, brands need to build direct and collaborative relationships.

    Want at Index Exchange felt that this collaboration was slowly happening as advertisers focus on ad spend preservation and this will ramp up over the next year: “Publishers are moving to post-cookie technology [quicker] than buyers so it is creating a diversified pool of experimentation to identify signals that are secondary to cookies. The urgency around this will ramp up in 2022.”

    In order to encourage more interest from sellers, Want added that “publishers need to get better at proving how their data is customisable and unique, but also focus on how they can create value for a business by plugging into standardised datasets that can be used cross-industry at scale. That will help monetise what will be a highly-crowded marketplace.”

    “Publishers need to get better at proving how their data is customisable and unique, but also focus on how they can create value for a business” – Maddy Want, Index Exchange 


    Imoto at Meredith agreed that it was time for publishers to invest in their own data. “Playing the long game and not looking at short-term gain will accelerate business longevity and enable you to err on the side of caution with privacy constantly changing,” he said. 

    As for the sellers, Want at Index Exchange advised to “get the right level of urgency. Make them see that there is no need to delay and the time is now to assume responsibility.” Imoto at Meredith added: “There is no need for big elaborate data strategies — test, evaluate, refine and you will truly yield the benefits of first-party data.” 

    Watch the full session here. To learn more about how Permutive helps publishers and brands make the most of their first-party data in privacy-first ways book a demo.