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Survey School 7: Use your first-party data for marketing personalization

First-party data is more than a fancy new way to gather info. It’s a gateway to developing long-term, personal relationships with prospects and customers. Learn how to get started here.

Have you ever had the feeling that your phone is spying on you? 

Like when you’re talking with a friend about your upcoming vacation plans…and suddenly your Facebook feed is full of swimwear and suitcase ads? 

Or you’ve recently redecorated, and an Instagram ad pops up that looks disturbingly like your new bedroom

Regardless of whether our digital devices are spying on us, more than half of consumers believe they are. 

It’s no wonder then, that an estimated 70% have opted out of, well, everything. The so-called ‘Invisible 70’ have gone “data dark,” meaning they can’t be tracked by third-party cookies. 

Meanwhile, tighter privacy laws make it even harder to understand how and why your customers found you. Marketing attribution via third-party data is on its way out

The modern alternative to creepily stalking your clients online is to use first-party data to create personalized marketing content. In this last of our survey school guides, we walk you through: 

  • What first-party data is and isn’t, and why it matters

  • How to start using first-party data for marketing personalization

  • The kinds of first-party data you should focus on

  • Examples of companies that could benefit from using first-party data 

The life of the party: Why first-party data matters 

Let’s start with the basics: first-party data is information you own about your customers and users. It’s data you gather from your own analytics platforms, digital apps or products, customer support platform, or social media presence.

First-party data provides valuable insights about your customers and website visitors. It’s typically more reliable and accurate than third-party data—the kind you acquire from an outside provider—because it comes directly from the source. 

Some people use the terms first-party data and zero-party data interchangeably, but they’re actually quite different.  

Zero-party data refers to data that individuals proactively and willingly share with a company through interactions like preference centers and feedback forms. It’s the gold standard of customer data because it comes straight from your customers in their own words. But you have to wait for your customers to provide it, which takes time. It’s also pretty subjective—like free-form answers to survey questions. 

First-party data makes up for the shortcomings of zero-party data. By studying what your customers do and say, you get a holistic view of who they are, what they want, and how to serve them. 

Learn more about the different types of customer data in our guide: The 4 types of customer data and what they can do for you.

How first-party data personalizes your marketing

Personalization isn't a treat but an expectation for modern customers and prospects. Creating customized experiences for your users and customers is significantly easier with first-party data at your fingertips. 

For instance, imagine you just bought a pair of running shoes. The company sends you a follow-up email that goes something like this: 

“Hey, John! We hope you love your new Sporty McSportfest sneakers. We thought you might like to know that we’re running a 50% off sale on Sporty running wear for the rest of the month.” 

That’s marketing personalization. They used your name, acknowledged the product you just bought, and recommended a relevant promotion you might be interested in. You feel understood—and more likely to make a purchase. 

Marketing personalization is table stakes these days. McKinsey research shows that 71% of consumers expect companies to give them personalized interactions. In other words, most people feel frustrated when treated like a number rather than a name. 

To create a tailored experience for your customers, you need to gather and use first-party data. Otherwise, you risk making generalized‌, inaccurate assumptions. For example, you can’t assume that someone who purchased men’s running shoes identifies as a man. What if a woman bought them for her brother’s birthday? Or, what if she purchased them for herself because she preferred them to any options on the women’s line? 

Plus, if you don’t know how to connect your first-party data, you might not know that the John Smith who purchased running shoes last month is the same John Smith who signed up for your email list today. (They probably don’t need this week’s running shoe round-up email, since they just bought shoes.) 

Tap into first-party data sources

The first-party data you collect depends on your business model, industry, and marketing objectives. Four common sources of first-party data include: 

Website analytics

Tracking user behavior via heat mapping software and analyzing your conversion metrics helps you: 

  • Understand how your users interact with your website 

  • Track the impact of different marketing campaigns to see which ones drive more visitors to specific pages and actions 

  • Work out which messages resonate most with your visitors 

  • Spot opportunities to A/B test and optimize your web content to increase conversion rates 

In-app or in-platform behaviors

On a mobile app or platform, you can collect data on user interactions, feature usage, and preferences. Use this information to: 

  • Send your users relevant educational content to help them get more out of your products

  • Offer personalized recommendations for other products or features they might like

  • Create targeted messaging that reflects their specific use case and needs 

Purchase history and transactional data

Analyzing customer purchase patterns, order history, and average order values lets you: 

  • Create targeted cross-selling or upselling opportunities (“Customers who purchased X often also like Y”) 

  • Offer personalized recommendations (“We saw you purchased X last year. Would you like to purchase the latest upgrade?”) 

  • Build more detailed customer personas, and then use them to create better email campaigns (“Calling all fans of Topic X!”) or targeted discounts (“Thanks for being a loyal customer for one year—take 50% off of your next purchase!”) 

Customer support interactions

Customer support interactions, including chat logs, email conversations, and support tickets, reveal helpful insights like: 

  • Common issues, so you can create relevant and valuable tutorials or self-service documentation 

  • Customer preferences you can use to inform your product development, default settings, and overall messaging

  • Areas of improvement in your product or service

Social media interactions

Analyzing social media engagement, comments, and shares gives you great information about: 

  • How your customers feel about your product, the issues affecting your industry, and your competition’s strategy 

  • What you’re doing right and getting wrong 

  • Trending topics that make a good starting point for new content marketing initiatives 

It’s party time: How to collect first-party data 

Gathering first-party data is a bit of an adjustment if you’re used to working with third-party data. Start by building a robust data collection infrastructure. This involves implementing systems and processes to capture and store first-party data effectively.

Some steps to consider include:

1. Audit what you’re already doing

Review your existing data collection practices and identify areas where you could collect more first-party data from customers or website visitors. Think about the areas we covered in the last section like: 

In-app user behaviors

  • Web analytics

  • Customer support tickets 

  • Social media behavior 

Each of these data types comes from a different platform: 

  • An in-app analytics tool 

  • A web analytics platform

  • A customer support platform

  • A customer relationship management (CRM) tool 

2. Amp up your website analytics

Your website is a goldmine for first-party insights about your prospects. Implement a web analytics platform to track: 

  • Visitor behavior

  • Traffic sources

  • Click-through rates 

  • Time on page

3. Integrate your data collection platforms 

Once you’ve collected data, aggregate it to get an overall picture of what’s happening. Otherwise, you end up with scattered customer and user information, making it hard to draw conclusions. 

Using a customer data platform (CDP) makes this step easier. This platform lets you collect and unify first-party customer data from multiple sources for a comprehensive view of each customer. Track individual customers as they:

  • Interact with the information on your website

  • Ask your chatbot a question 

  • Make a purchase 

  • Give you their email address

  • Fill in a survey

Linking those data points together makes it easier to follow the customer journey and find places to personalize and improve it. 

4. Be careful about compliance 

When gathering and analyzing first-party data, be mindful of data regulations. Make sure to obtain explicit consent from your users before you collect their data.

Not sure which regulations apply to your business? We’ve got you covered. Our Survey School 5: Compliance Considerations guide has the answers you need.  

Should B2B companies use first-party data? 

Many first-party data examples online focus on business-to-consumer (B2C) use cases. But, according to performance marketing expert Dalton Nascimento, “B2B companies can benefit from using first-party data just like B2C or D2C companies. However, the nature of the data and the specific use cases may differ.” 

In particular, Nascimento explains, B2B companies typically have longer sales cycles and deal with multiple decision-makers. As a result, B2B marketers should focus their efforts on account-based data collection, understanding the different stakeholders within each account. The goal is to understand the target account‌, the stakeholders involved in the purchase process, and the relationships between those stakeholders—rather than only collecting data about each individual.  

On the guest list: First-party data in action 

Any company wanting to create personalized marketing content has to use first-party data. That said, there are some situations where first-party data is particularly useful. For instance: 

E-commerce companies 

E-commerce companies use first-party data, including purchase history, browsing behavior, and cart abandonment data, to: 

  • Create personalized product recommendations

  • Write targeted email campaigns

  • Retarget ads to improve conversion rates 

Content publishers 

Savvy content publishers use first-party data on user interests, content preferences, and engagement metrics to:

  • Deliver personalized content recommendations

  • Optimize their content creation and promotion strategies

  • Improve user retention and engagement by creating more relevant content 

SaaS companies

SaaS companies use first-party data, such as user behavior within the product, feature usage, and customer support interactions, to: 

  • Identify user needs

  • Improve user onboarding

  • Develop targeted upsell or cross-sell campaigns 

The entire hospitality industry

Hotels and restaurants use first-party data collected from loyalty programs, booking history, and customer feedback to: 

  • Create personalized offers, like a custom seasonal menu 

  • Offer more tailored experiences (monogrammed pillowcases, anyone?) 

  • Improve customer satisfaction and loyalty

Use personalization to make better surveys 

At Typeform, we’re big fans of the personal touch. That’s why we built the Logic feature in our forms, so you can use what you know about your customers to tailor the experience for each individual. For instance, you can use Logic to:

  • Use someone’s name while they’re completing a form

  • Recall an answer they gave you earlier and reference it later in the survey

  • Let them automatically skip irrelevant questions 

  • Show them a different end page, depending on what they said in the form 

For more on personalizing your typeforms, check out Survey School #3: Using Logic to create truly personalized surveys.

You can’t sell to people you don’t know 

When it comes down to it, marketing is about trust. And people won’t trust you if you don’t get to know them or show you care. Integrating first-party data into your marketing strategy creates a stronger relationship with your customers, resulting in better sales and long-term retention. 

To learn more about using Typeform to gather valuable first-party data, check out our guide on how to be both personable and personalized.

Dive into Survey School