Matt Austin

Capability Lead, Merkle

data and identity

Seismic shifts are occurring in marketing which are pushing organizations towards a refocus on first-party data. Third-party cookies are rapidly being phased out, consent and consumer privacy is on the rise, and brands are working toward creating highly personalized experiences across channels and media. A strong organizational focus on the secure collection of customer PII coupled with comprehensive identity capabilities are required to keep pace with these rapid changes.

But what about organizations which do not naturally have direct-to-consumer relationships? How can these companies follow a first-party data-focused model?


First, let’s take a step back and understand why PII is important for marketing.

Secure collection of first-party PII puts brands in control of their customer’s data. Brands are shifting expectations towards identity-based solutions which provide transparency and control in how data is process and activated. This ensures sharp data accuracy along with appropriate application of customer privacy and consent. With these controls in place, organizations create an environment for the secure collection and handling of customer data.

Customer PII is made actionable through a variety of technology platforms informed through identity and analytics. It’s critical these tools are fueled by the highest quality person-level data possible to provide customers relevant and engaging experiences.

With this context in mind, we’ll review a few strategies for brands who struggle with PII availability.

Promotions and Loyalty

Promotions and loyalty programs are the perfect opportunity for brands to establish customer relationships.

Promotions incentivize customers to engage and transact with a brand. When a customer activates a promotion, these programs should be configured to require email address for future engagement. This creates an effective value exchange between customer and brand.

Promotions can be extended through loyalty programs which encourage longer term customer engagement. As the relationship matures, new opportunities arise to gather additional customer PII (alongside behavior, engagement, preference, and purchase data) to further augment the customer’s profile.

For more information about how Merkle’s promotions and loyalty programs accelerate identity centered marketing strategies click here.

The underlying theme with promotions and loyalty is the inherent value exchange between customer and brand. Customers must feel like they are acquiring value for them to willingly provide their information. An engaging promotions and loyalty program is the ideal opportunity to capitalize on this necessary value exchange.

Zero-party Data

The notion of zero-party data is data in which the customer shares proactively with the brand in exchange for some form of value. This value can be in the form of real-time promotions, exclusive content, games, polls, or other engaging experiences. Data shared by the customer from these experiences may include PII in addition to interests and preferences. The PII collection aspect should take a minimalistic approach as to not overburden the experience with a time-consuming data entry process. Email is the ideal minimal information to collect.

Zero-party data can be a bit of an abstract concept to understand, so what are some examples of how this strategy can be applied?

  • Intelligent lightbox technology: when carefully and strategically used, lightboxes on site are a great method for email capture in exchange for a promotional code. Lightbox technology needs to be minimally intrusive (i.e. not annoying) and strategically used. However, when used carefully, lightbox technology is a powerful tool.
  • Exclusive content: a simple login or registration process where a customer supplied email is required to consume exclusive content is a strong means of collecting PII
  • Webinars and whitepapers: a common B2B strategy, the concept of providing valuable content in exchange for email or other PII is a longstanding method to collect customer PII

Second-party partnerships

Second-party partnerships are on the rise to help build scale across non-competing brands. In these models, brands can securely exchange audience information and insights through a neutral identity partner. These relationships are often delivered through an anonymized data clean room hosted by the neutral identity partner. This ensures data privacy and proper handling is a focal point of the solution. The neutral identity may also provide additional services such as demographic appends, analytical analysis, audience activation, and closed loop analysis.  

The following example outlines an example arrangement:

  • Brand A is a CPG retailer some or limited PII on their customers
  • Brand B is a retail store with a loyalty program which can tie Brand A purchases to PII.
  • Both brands engage with a neutral identity partner to securely match PII from both brands to identify audience overlap and/or create a prospect audience from Brand B
  • Neutral identity partner securely executes the arrangement in an anonymized data clean room environment
  • Neutral identity partner delivers the audience(s) for activation
  • Neutral identity partner delivers performance analysis back to both Brand A and Brand B

Trusted third-party prospect audiences

While acquiring customer PII is ideal, there may be various hurdles to build scale quickly and effectively.

Trusted third-party person-level prospect data provides an opportunity for brands to quickly get their message to their target audience(s). It’s important to state that we’re talking about person-level PII and not third-party cookies in this context. It’s also critical to ensure the third-party data being used is from a reliable provider who source data through compliant means.

A strong third-party prospect provider can provide various audiences for use in both digital and traditional offline channels. Many providers can also supplement their prospect data with comprehensive demographics and other attributes which can be used to create segments and other modeled audiences. These tactics provide audience scale when brands are truly limited in how they can target at a person level. Partners may also offer analytics and measurement capabilities to measure prospect performance within a data clean room environment. This protects the consumer PII and provides the means to incorporate data from a variety of input sources to deliver rich person-level insights and measurement.


The marketing industry is shifting focus towards first party PII data as means to provide more trusted and relevant customer experiences.  Depth and breadth of first-party customer PII availability is naturally an outcome of the types of relationships brands have with their customers. While some industries have a distinct advantage, virtually all brands can begin to introduce techniques to acquire PII and supplement gaps in PII through other means. A strong person based PII strategy provides brands the means to connect directly with their customers to build strong and lasting relationships.