Building first-party relationships: websites as the foundation for value exchange

October 2, 2020  |   Martin Wallace

As common identifiers such as third-party cookies and mobile IDs start to disappear, a first-party data strategy centred on trusted authentications is beginning to reveal itself as a critical part of future success for both brands and publishers. 

But what key moves should brands and publishers make in order to ensure they succeed in this new ecosystem? We sat down with a couple of leaders in the marketing and data landscape to figure out just that. 

John Watton is VP Marketing at Yext, formerly Senior Director Marketing at Adobe, Vice President Marketing at IBM, Director Global Marketing at Expedia Affiliate Network and Head of Enterprise Marketing at Microsoft, among many other roles.

Anish Jariwala is Senior Director Digital Marketing Analytics & Insights at Anaplan, formerly Senior Director Marketing Insights, Technology & Web Optimisation at Informatica, plus held various consulting and analytics roles at Marketo, Autodesk and Dell. 

While their backgrounds and experience may differ, the advice they provided converged on a similar theme: a return to ‘basics’ and a renewed focus on investing in every brand or publisher’s most valuable asset: their website.

Going back to basics: the value of an effective website

The pursuit of high-quality, first-party data begins with building trusted consumer relationships that result in value exchanges. But in order to get there, people must use your website and return to it time and time again. 

For Anish, this isn’t a new concept: “The truth of 20 years ago is still prevalent today. You need to have a good website. People have to go back to the basics, invest in their digital property and drive traffic to it. You have to earn your stripes. You can’t buy customer engagement or loyalty, you have to earn it.”

Once you start earning it, a feedback loop begins, where brands and publishers alike must cultivate a relationship that sustains the value exchange and keeps the customer engaged. The more time visitors spend on site, the more they interact, which translates to richer data and a better opportunity to meet their needs. 

Reaping the benefits: first-party data drives great customer experiences

When it comes to meeting consumer needs, John is wary of calling it ‘personalisation’. “I think ‘relevance’ is the term, because personalisation indicates that you have to take ‘inside leg measurements’, when you don’t need to. You can be relevant by understanding the customer journey when they come onto your website.

“For example, seeing what they’re clicking on and giving them a ‘next best action’. When they click on financial services content, you can start optimising the site around that kind of content. Even if you don’t know who they are, they’re signaling their intent.”

While there’s far more value for brands and publishers in having a known visitor to their site, John argues there’s a lot that can be done for unknown visitors. And by serving them, they’re more likely to become ‘known’ visitors:

“That’s what we wrestle with: how do we use our first-party data to bring value as soon as possible to the site visitor? How do we engage in a process where that individual is then willing to reciprocate by providing their information?

Recalling customer experience research completed with Goldsmiths University while at Adobe, John cites, “approximately two-thirds of respondents said that a great experience is about serendipity, so it’s about trying to understand them and delighting them. 

“You need to be in control of your content and data in order to be able to do that. That way you can serve up something that is exceptional and unexpected.”

And this isn’t something only publishers are thinking about: 

“What we’ve seen in the last few months is that a brand’s website has become pivotal to the customer experience, more than it ever has before. Therefore, the need to deliver an amazing experience is front and centre.”

Don’t leave search behind: insights delivered through customer queries

“Search on a brand’s site is becoming much more front and centre as brands need to cope with consumers coming directly to them, especially during a pandemic, when they can’t go to retail stores. That could be anything from ‘I want to know about my mortgage’ to ‘I want to return these products’ to ‘I’m interested in buying a new phone’.”

When customers directly – and proactively – engage with you, it represents what matters most to them. 

“It’s a great way to get insight into what consumers are interested in. If you highlight search on the front of your homepage and you drive people to ask questions, you’ll also get insights through the response engine.”

But an under-investment in on-site search has left many brands with a lackluster website experience.

People are used to Google as the benchmark for search. They expect answers to show up directly in the results without having to click through to find the answer – and they expect results even when their query is complex. Unfortunately, many sites don’t meet this expectation so John and his team at Yext arms brands with natural language processing-based search technology that provides a similar experience to search engines on owned-and-operated properties.

It all leads back to value exchange

Whether it’s search, tailoring experience based on site activity or simply investing in site infrastructure, a good website is without a doubt one of the best ways to begin first-party relationships with customers. 

Effective and relevant engagement eliminates friction, helping brands and publishers earn their stripes and work towards creating the foundation for a value exchange that all parties are keen to participate in. 

And at the end of the day, we’re creating an advertising ecosystem where both brands and publishers can end up with deep, rich pools of first-party data.