‘Zero-party’ data: Rebuilding
consumer trust in data sharing
By creating rewarding experiences that give consumers reasons to share information willingly, brands can earn greater trust as ‘data guardians’ while powering more relevant personalised marketing
With the release of Apple’s iOS 14.5 mobile operating system seeing record-high tracking opt-outs, and a world without third-party cookies fast approaching, a session at Festival of Marketing saw Unilever and Cheetah Digital outline the ways in which they are working together to deliver effective communications in a privacy-first world.
The answer, they said, lies in a robust first-party data strategy focused on delivering direct, long-term consumer relationships, centred on transparent and meaningful value exchanges.
“If we don't know much about our consumers, how can we deliver the best consumer experience?” asked Unilever’s data strategy and data partnerships lead, Clare Fineberg. She shared that the industry is “coming to a crossroads when it comes to consumer perceptions around data capture” because consumers are “thinking privacy-first when it comes to sharing their data”.
But she also pointed to a golden opportunity for brands to instil trust and confidence, outlining the concept of brands as “data guardians”. “This concept of acting as a data guardian is something that we're driving internally in the UK and Ireland to reframe our thinking, because the only person who can own data is the consumer themselves.”
Sponsored by cheetah digital
Unilever's Clare Fineberg on brands as data guardians
Unilever “turbocharged this foray into data strategy” three to four years ago, starting with resourcing – hiring subject matter experts across social, content, audience, data acquisition and email marketing – with the next stage being to look at the tech ecosystem, in what Fineberg described as a long-term journey. Having now been working with Cheetah Digital for three years, she says she was intrigued when she first heard its EMEA VP of client success Nick Watson talk about the concept of ‘zero-party’ data at the Festival of Marketing back in 2019.
At 2022’s event, Watson explained that this refers to first-party data held by brands that is “self-reported” by the consumer. In other words, it is about their actively stated preferences – gathered by asking someone what they like, their tastes, even their purchase intentions – and thereby allows brands to get an understanding of them beyond inferences made using proxy data, he said.
This struck a chord with Fineberg, who recognised the importance of a strong value exchange. She pointed out that the wide range of Unilever brands now use Cheetah Digital’s platform to build a variety of gamified experiences, encouraging consumers to share relevant insights. The team is also now moving from requesting brand-level to enterprise-level consent across all data-capture campaigns.
Fineberg highlighted the successes of custom-built experiences from brands such as Marmite, which created a picture-matching game using the Cheetah platform. “I think sometimes we think that the value exchange has to be a free sample or a coupon or a discount, which takes away from ROI. Having tools like this in our arsenal, where you can have experiences that don't have that initial outlay, is really important,” she added.
In another case study, Unilever offered a cross-brand coupon, for which it achieved consumer opt-in rates over 50%, Fineberg said, while around 90% then chose to share additional details about their interests and shopping behaviours that could subsequently be used to drive personalisation.
Watson pointed out that brands often see very high conversion rates when they add voluntary questions to these experiences, asking for one or two simple pieces of preference information: “Unilever have been absolutely brilliant in adding these zero party-data questions. These are completely optional and a lot of brands miss that opportunity.”
Fineberg continued: “My thinking now is around this concept of how we can interweave data capture and strategy across every touchpoint and no one really notices it, in an always-on approach.” However, it’s important never to capture data “just for the sake of it”, she said, explaining that Unilever’s brands may only do so when they have an onward plan for using it.
What follows is better targeted marketing, whereby it is possible to address the “known” consumer, not the “perceived” consumer.
Watson summarised by describing this approach as a form of “relationship marketing”, taking an individual from unknown through to known, and then to loyal; using data to deliver a better, more personalised experience. ◆
“If we don't know much about our consumers, how can we deliver the best consumer experience?”
— Clare Fineberg, Unilever