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A Cookieless World: 7 Ways to Get First-Party Data for Targeting & Personalization

Published on Mar 18, 2024

A Cookieless World: 7 Ways to Get First-Party Data for Targeting & Personalization
Max Donaldson
Max Donaldson

Think about all of the marketing and advertisements you’re hit with on a daily basis. What stands out? The type that feels — sometimes, almost eerily — tailor-made just for you. Keenly aware of this, demand-generation marketers everywhere are laser-focused on enhancing their targeting and personalization tactics in 2024. 

In fact, in our recent survey, 60% of demand-generation marketers said optimizing audience targeting to reach the right leads was their top priority for their company. 

And another 34% said they were focused on creating more personalized campaigns.

But both targeting and personalization efforts have historically relied heavily on the existence and use of third-party cookies. Now that those cookies are quickly being deprecated, today’s markets must reinvent, and do so fast. The solution? It’s time to turn to your own first-party data to fill in the gaps and communicate your messaging with precision. 

A Quick Recap: What is First-Party Data?

First-party data is defined as the data a company collects on its own channels. Think: data obtained from visitors coming to or transacting on your site, subscribers to your newsletter, social media followers, and beyond. If it’s being collected on your very own channels, it’s your first-party data. 

Marketers should focus on creating a first-party data foundation and strengthening relationships with key accounts. This move towards transparent, consent-based marketing positions you for a future without cookies and gives you a competitive advantage by cultivating an engaged audience.

Megan McCoskey, VP of Product, Industry Dive

Once you know how to gather it and analyze it, you can use first-party data to map customer journeys, uncover intent signals, and best of all, deliver personalized content that best connects with your ideal customers at the right time. 

Let’s jump into the most successful sources and tactics for rounding up and actioning on first-party data. 

Source No. 1: Your Website

Your very own website should be the first place you ensure you’re gathering first-party data from. This is where you’ll likely find the most high-intent prospects who are there to gather information or convert. Here, you should be focused on two things: traffic and engagement.

The more traffic you get on your owned channels and the more engagement data you can record, the better information you’ll have to base your content creation around.

Here’s a quick round up of first-party user data you can gather directly from your website:

  • Pageviews — What pages are drawing their attention?

  • Average session duration — How long are they spending on your site?

  • Returning visitors — Are they coming back to your site?

  • Time on page — Which pages are they spending the most and least time on?

  • Scroll depth — How deeply are users engaging with your content?

  • Top exit pages — Where do they exit their journey on your site?

Pro Tip

Make sure to optimize the user experience on your website with easy-to-navigate pages and clear CTAs. Use tools like Google Analytics to monitor user behavior and deploy pop-ups to capture contact information.

🗨️ Related Reading: 7 Proven Content Engagement Strategies for 2024

Source No. 2: Customer Interviews

Customer interviews provide you with qualitative data about the most important people in the room — your customers. 

You should be talking to potential customers to validate your assumptions and hypotheses in reality. Your preconceived notions may prove to be wrong and that is perfectly okay. The goal is to listen, learn, and discover. There is no such thing as a failed interview (unless you introduce bias).


Work with your team members to devise a list of customer interview questions based on the most critical gaps in your strategy you need to fill. 

7 Focus Areas to Inspire Your Customer Interviews

  • Do you need to beef up your personas? 

    • Ask questions about your customers’ roles, responsibilities, and pain points. 

  • Do you need to understand which differentiators or unique selling propositions (USPs) are sealing the deal? 

    • Ask them why they went with your company over another, and/or where they’re finding the most value in working with you.

  • Investigating potential product or service expansion opportunities? 

    • Ask your customers about the things they wish you did offer.

  • Want to know more about the customer journey? 

    • Ask about your customers’ decision-making process when selecting a solution.

  • Looking to reveal the areas where your current offerings might be lacking? 

    • Ask customers for honest feedback about their experience working with you, where they’re experiencing the lowest satisfaction, and ways you could improve.

  • Want to know how your customer views you? 

    • Ask them to describe the problem your product or service solves.

  • Wondering how your customer view goals and the bottom line?

    • Ask what success in your partnership looks like and what KPIs they’re trying to hit so you can show how your offerings achieve these goals to similar prospects. 

Keep your questions thoughtful and open-ended and you’ll be rewarded with a wealth of data you can use to create more informed content, personalize your messaging to various personas, and sharpen your ideal customer profile. 

Pro Tip

Always think of the re-use value. Play your cards right and secure their permission, and you can turn your customer interview into a full-fledged case study you can use to attract folks in similar sectors. 

Source No. 3: Surveys

The next most logical source of first-party data is to create and distribute surveys. This tactic allows you to gather large amounts of quantitative data from a specific group. You can run customer surveys to really get a pulse on your existing customer base, OR you can run more thought-leadership style surveys and open those up to your customer base as well as your audience at large. You can easily splice and segment various groups to get even more granular data. 

Tips for Conducting a Successful Survey

  • Keep surveys short (10 questions max)

  • Avoid leading questions

  • Use scales, ranked-choice, or point systems whenever possible

  • Offer incentives to maximize participation

  • Parse out bots or unqualified participants to ensure clean datasets

The goal is to be able to quantify the responses of your audience to uncover top trends, challenges, and commonalities among the various cohorts that make up your audience.

Pro Tip

Take the extra effort to create and distribute distinct surveys tailored to the various personas/segments within your total addressable audience. This way, you’ll have data that speaks 1:1 to your varying segments, as well as the opportunity to assess commonalities across all the segments. 

Source No. 4: Social Media

Excluding the first three sources, social media may be the most effective channel for gathering first-party data, with one critical caveat: if you’re going to participate on this already overrun channel, you better make it good.

Social media algorithms reward high-quality content and continuous engagement for both personal and business accounts. By regularly delivering targeted content for your audience, you can begin to track which topics and themes are resonating most. 

Another strategy is to identify communities or groups where your target audiences interact.

Engage actively in these spaces by participating in discussions, sharing valuable resources, and establishing your brand as a trusted authority within the community. 

Most platforms have built in analytics dashboards that you can use to find invaluable insights into which posts are resonating the most with your target audience.

But remember: while social media platforms offer valuable exposure, the ultimate goal is to drive this traffic back to your website, which in turn provides an additional layer of insights into their behavior.

Pro Tip

Don’t forget about all the great insights lurking within your follower roster. Do an audit of your followers to see if you can uncover any inferences or commonalities, or even help inspire some ABM efforts for sales. 

🧠 Related Reading: The Psychology of Conversions: 5 Consumer Behavior Insights for 2024

Source No. 5: Cold Outreach

Want to understand what opens the door for a direct conversation with your audience? Study your cold outreach. Paying close attention to messaging elements like subject lines and email composition can uncover patterns that resonate with specific customer personas. 

📧 Related Reading: 2024 Best Practices for Email Marketing Campaigns: A Guide for Demand Generation Marketers

This also has the downstream effect of refining your outreach strategies and strengthening your working relationship with your greatest allies — prospects and customers.

With first-party data being the clear path forward to successful marketing, be sure you are regularly looking for buying signals at an account level. Communicate with sales early and find ways to engage with the prospect more. Keep the dialogue open and dynamic.

— Connor Flanagan, Director of Revenue Marketing, Industry Dive

Pro Tip

Consider a multi-touch sequence that incorporates social media outreach, cold calls, and emails. For the email side, keep your subject lines clear and personalized, and ensure they immediately indicate the problem you’re solving, and/or the educational or entertainment value you’re providing within the email.

When crafting your email body copy, make sure each paragraph is only one to two sentences so it’s easily scannable and conveying value. If you can offer an insight or idea that is directly relevant to their role or team, even better. Finally and most critically, make sure the CTA or ask is obvious AND easy to say yes to.

Source No. 6: Paid Media Campaigns

Of course, paid media campaigns cost precious budget dollars vs. some of the totally free and organic strategies above, but they’re still a great way to test where your audience is hanging out and what grabs their attention. 

By strategically deploying campaigns across various channels, you can test audience preferences, identify effective messaging, and optimize your marketing strategy.

Here’s a rundown of a few paid campaigns worth considering:

Paid Search

Use paid search to directly align with consumer intent. Perks of this strategy include widespread reach and gaining immediate visibility and actionable insights on campaign performance, consumer behavior, and market trends.

Paid Social

This campaign type enables marketers to harness the precise targeting capabilities of social platforms, offering deep insights into targeted audience engagement, preferences, and the overall effectiveness of your content strategy.

Programmatic Ads

Use this campaign type to automate the buying and selling of ad inventory in real-time. This method provides marketers with efficient targeting, optimization, and insights into audience behavior across multiple channels they may otherwise not be activating.

Pro Tip

Don’t start by throwing your dollars evenly across these campaign types. Think of these campaign types as different dials on one central dashboard. First, consider what your personas and other first-party data sets are telling you about where your audience hangs out, their unique customer journey, and so on. 

Use that insight to strategically inform which of these dials you should turn up, and which you should turn down (or maybe, not turn on at all). Start small, and continually optimize and test to make wise investments that match your audience’s unique behavior. 

🚀 Related Reading: How to Build a Perfect Content Distribution Strategy

Source No. 7: Events + Podcasts

Sure, events + podcasts can be costly, time-consuming, and risky due to attribution being in its infancy, but I still love them — and your audience does too. The key is being able to tie the ROI of these sources to your first-party data. Both events and podcasts have a lot of potential for improving organic inbound and direct traffic when executed properly.

For podcasts, in order to get attribution to where you want it to be, you’ll want to leverage forms or sign-ups on all your channels with one key question included: “How did you hear about us?” 

This will allow you to understand which prospects discovered you via your podcasting efforts and understand which pieces of your content program are resonating with those high-intent leads.

🎧 Related Reading: Podcast Guesting Is a Killer Marketing Strategy — Here’s How to Do It Right

For events, there are a lot more tools available to track attribution (like contact lists, registrant lists, or scanning badges for in-person events). But regardless, you should always have a clear plan in place to track, qualify, and nurture leads when attending or hosting an event. 

Naturally, not all prospects or leads will be accounted for, so it’s worthwhile to think about how an event may generate awareness, provide opportunities for content repurposing, and start conversations further down the road.

📅 Related Reading: 11 Surefire Ways to Increase Event Registrations

While these content types aren’t bottom-of-funnel plays — the most common reason people attend events or listen to podcasts is to learn — they’re still extremely useful for discovering what topics hit home with your target audience and finding out how they prefer to self-serve before reaching out to a sales rep. 

Pro Tip

Before an event, create a solid lead-scoring system that assigns points to each lead based on their behavior and level of engagement. This includes social media interactions, downloaded content, site visits, previously attended events, and more. 

With this kind of information, you’ll have a clear analysis of who has completed enough interactions to qualify as a high-intent lead that’s ready for sales nurturing. Without it, you’ll undoubtedly wind up sending your sales team after people who aren’t remotely ready for a buying conversation.

Doing so not only wastes precious resources, but it also puts you at risk of alienating a potential buyer who would be ready to purchase with a little more time and nurturing via content.

🧲 Related Reading: After the Event: 4 Tactics to Convert Event Leads into Clients

Bonus Source: Other People’s First-Party Data (AKA Second-Party Data)

With all of this talk of using your owned channels to capture data, don’t forget that other firms have first-party data too, and you can use it to your advantage. 

While vendors won’t be able to just sell you their data or contacts, engaging in strategic partnerships with organizations that have a robust repository of first-party data that is relevant to your target audience offers a direct pathway to engaging potential customers. 

Whenever you decide to leverage second-party data, make sure you’ve thought through the following:

Audience Alignment

Look for partners whose audience demographics and interests align closely with your target market. This alignment ensures that the campaigns you run will be relevant and engaging to the audience. 

Privacy Compliance 

Ensure that any partner you engage with respects privacy laws and regulations. The use of first-party data through partnerships must adhere to GDPR, CCPA, and other relevant privacy frameworks to maintain consumer trust and legal compliance.

Customized Campaigns

Collaborate with your partner to create campaigns that are tailored to the audience’s interests and needs. They’ll have a full, connected view of their own first-party data to help you make informed decisions on how to tailor your campaigns based on past success with similar demographics. This customization can increase engagement rates and campaign effectiveness.

Measurement and Optimization

Establish clear metrics for success and continually measure the performance of your campaigns. Use these insights to optimize future campaigns for better results.

Pro Tip

Consider media organizations that have a wealth of segmented first-party data like Industry Dive. If you’re targeting marketing leaders, run a campaign on Marketing Dive, where they can use their first-party data to get your messaging in front of the right people at the right time. 

When building out your first-party data strategy, you’ll want to consider which pieces of the pie you are willing to place bets on, and which will be the most reliable given your current operation. 

Some campaigns may make sense today given the maturity of your team or organization, while others can be thought of as a future goal to work toward.

Either way, diversifying your marketing strategy will always be the safest bet.