• Colby Horton

Zero-Party Data: A VIP Pass for Personalized Association Marketing

As the digital world moves against cookies and other methods of personal identification, zero-party data is going to become even more important for individualized digital experiences. Luckily, associations are poised to lead the charge in zero-party data initiatives.

The smart use of data can have a profound impact on all sectors of an association - membership, marketing, communications, meetings, education, and advocacy. And, this data creates new opportunities for outreach, and ultimately drives growth and retention.


In an association-based marcom ecosystem, data helps organizations make informed decisions and customize messages to the right audience. Your members - especially your digital-first millennial and Gen Z members - aren’t just wanting an individualized digital experience. They expect it. Creating these member experiences is one of the most complex challenges an association’s marketing team faces today. But luckily for them, the unprecedented amounts of data organizations gather can help alleviate the pain of creating such custom experiences.


Member data is the most valuable asset of any association. You see, associations have more marketing personas at their fingertips than most Fortune 500 companies. These personas are built from the organizations’ zero-party data - a term coined by Forrester describing data that a customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand. And as the digital world moves against cookies and other methods of personal identification, zero-party data is going to become even more important for individualized digital experiences. So how are associations poised to lead the charge in zero-party data initiatives? Basically, they’re already armed with a backstage pass to member data.


Let's Define Data


Using member data to meet marcom goals is no longer optional. It’s truly the key to any association marketer’s success. So, before specifically honing in on zero-party data, let’s define all types of data that make up our data economy.


First-party data is the data that an association collects directly from its members and prospects, most likely by installing a tracking pixel on the organization’s website, tradeshow website, apps and social channels. This is data the association owns directly.


Second-party data is data resulting from a shared relationship between your association and another organization. For example, an association may provide its member list to an affinity partner or benefit provider for the purpose of marketing their program directly to the organization’s members.


Third-party data is data collected from an outside source, most likely purchased from an entity that has no relationship with an organization. Third-party data is often collected, aggregated, and sold to companies to help them enhance various marketing tactics.


Most association marketers are familiar with these commonly-used buckets, particularly “third-party data” and “first-party data.” But what about zero-party data?


Zero-party data is data that an association’s members and prospects proactively share with the organization. This data is not collected using tracking pixels, cookies or cross-device identification. It’s collected using surveys, questionnaires, gated content, contests, etc.


So Wait, What’s the Difference Between First- and Zero-Party Data?


Yeah, we get it. There seems to be a fine line between first-party and zero-party data. Both types of data are owned by an association. Realistically, they are both the best types of data to use for marketing purposes. And, both types are great for creating strategic, personalized digital experiences. But differences exist - mainly the way the data is collected.


First and foremost, zero-party data provides information willingly handed over to associations by their members or prospects, whereas first-party data requires an organization to use a pixel, cookies, or cross-device identification (XDID) to track and infer customer behavior.


Think about your experience with LinkedIn. As a member of the LinkedIn network, you populate a lot of information about yourself - name, title, company, experience, years in the industry, job descriptions, education, to name a few. This is all zero-party data provided to the social network - data used to create a marketing persona about you. If, as an association, you wanted to use the social platform to market your organization to prospective members, your average CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) would be roughly $33.80. Your average cost-per-click (CPC) would be $5.58.


In comparison, Facebook relies on digital activities, pixels and XDID to create personas about its members. The data is first-party data owned by Facebook. From an advertising perspective, you’d pay an average of $7.19 CPM and $0.97 per click.


See the value of zero-party data vs. first-party data?


With first-party data, an association owns and controls data collected from actual and prospective members. First-party data requires that a brand infer or assume some facts about their members and prospects from gathered data. On the other hand, with zero-party data, members and prospects have more control over the data that they share, creating a transparent exchange of value with an organization.


Associations’ Movement Towards Zero-Party Data


Zero-party data helps fuse data privacy concerns of association constituents and personalized marketing. Marketers can now use it to build even stronger relationships with members and prospects, while improving member acquisition and retention efforts and other marketing processes.


The reliance of zero-party (and first-party) data has grown exponentially in the past 18 months or so. Thanks to the likes of Google and Apple, agitated by consumers’ growing fear for lack of data privacy, an organization’s data acquisition practices are being turned upside down as we enter a cookieless digital landscape.

Some quick history…

In January 2020, Google first announced that its Chrome web browser would phase out support for third-party cookies within two years. And although the company has now delayed the plan until at least 2023, the phase-out appears to be inevitable.


In Q1 2020, Apple announced that its Safari browser blocks third-party cookies by default. The company also stopped using IDAF on mobile apps. Similar to cookies, IDAF gave mobile app developers user information regarding how app were used and what ad should be displayed in the apps. This one-two punch impacted both the web world and the app world.


The revolt against cookies makes sense. According to Pew Research, 81% of Americans think the potential risk of data collection by companies outweigh the benefits. That being said, 79% of consumers are willing to share their data if there’s a clear benefit for them. And that’s where associations’ zero-party data comes into play.


The collection of zero-party data presents a real opportunity for associations to create individualized campaigns wrapped around member and attendee acquisition and retention by collecting data directly from the source – all while building trust and transparency with their member base.


Benefits of Zero-Party Data


Consider a couple of customer retention facts:


Retention is key for any association, and zero-party data creates new ways for retaining members (and customers) by driving a high level of personalized digital experiences.


Obviously, the most significant benefit to zero-party data is that it’s coming directly from your members. And some good news: 79% of consumers are willing to share their data if there’s a clear benefit for them. So, if your association is transparent about why it’s collecting the data from members and prospects, your audience will more than likely feel comfortable providing it.


Other benefits of zero-party data include better data clarity and less privacy concern by members. Unlike any other type of data, associations don’t have to spend time analyzing data to gauge members’ interests. That information is readily available at the moment an association’s marcom department is ready to craft a personalized experience around it. And, since members and prospects themselves provide this data, there is no room for any kind of privacy concerns when associations use it for their marketing purposes.


Collecting Zero-Party Data


A Forrester report stated that zero-party data is expected to be collected by 15% of marketers to improve their marketing practices. Zero-party data can be collected using various adaptable initiatives such as membership applications, tradeshow and webinar registrations, lead magnet downloads (ebooks, whitepapers, etc.) polls, quizzes, preference centers, social media, recommendations, contests, etc. Since you’re providing something valuable in exchange for the data, don’t be afraid to ask for more information than you’re accustomed to.


How Can We Help?


Association Briefings has a team of association-focused experts excited to help with your individualized member communications. Let’s chat about how we can help with all your zero-party data needs - from collection to strategic use. Reach out here to get started.


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