This is a transcript of episode 70 of the Let’s Get Data-Driven Podcast

I’m Lanie Lamarre and I’ve developed this weird habit as a digital marketer where I choose to see people as human being – risqué, I know! – and it’s even more controversial because I’ve positioned myself as an analytics and data person, and I’m therefore supposed to be of the opinion that you want track #allthethings and have #allthedata, whether or not you know what it means or have any use for it… and I’m not about that life AT ALL.

I believe you can get data-driven without being a fucking creep-o, ok? And I’m pleased to report that I’m not alone because suddenly, we’re hearing about “zero-party data” and I’m here for it and I get the feeling you are, too, so I’m taking you to school as to what it is, what it means for you, and how it can be your most valuable data source.

If we’re going to be speaking about zero-party data, I would be remiss not to tell you about first-party data and third-party data, because those terms have been floating around for years (and I did speak to them back in episode 33).

Third-party data is information that is collected by someone or something that doesn’t have a direct relationship with the consumer. So when your aunt is sitting around the Thanksgiving table with her tin foil hat, talking about how the internet hears everything she says because those conspiracy theory books she was looking at on Amazon were showing up on the food blog where she got the Thanksgiving casserole recipe from – that’s third-party data in action, and she’s not entirely wrong to feel this way.

In the words of the late and great Kurt Cobain, “Just because you’re paranoid / Don’t mean they’re not after you.” Third-party data is most certainly after all of our personal information, and it can be stitched together through various data sources. For instance, Google is the parent company of YouTube and therefore may combine what it learns about you from your viewing habits with the content of your emails from Gmail and combine that with your search history in Google to then repurpose that information to generate ads that target you and to freak your aunt out even further.

Rightfully so, because as HubSpot reports, the death of third-party cookies is upon us and these third-party cookies is what has allowed for this cross-platform data collection. While they have enabled us “track website visitors, improve the user experience, and collect data that helps us target ads to the right audiences […] we [have] also use them to learn about what our visitors are checking out online when they aren’t on our websites.”

The use of third-party cookies are being phased-out as we speak and this means digital marketers are going to have get a whole lot more intentional about tracking their own data, which is what I teach in the Membership To Get Data-Driven and you can check that out at or you can click the link in the shownotes. A lot of marketers are having tantrums and stomping their feet about how this is ruining everything for them, but if we could all look at this through the lens of acting like flipping human beings online, I just can’t understand how anyone would see this as being a bad thing.

My go-to example is if you went to the mall and checked out a candle at a little shoppe, and then left that store to go to the sporting goods store and the candle lady pops up from behind the winter coat rack holding up the candle and says “you sure you don’t want this candle?” and just kept popping up in places that had nothing to do with her – when you’re looking at pictures of your nieces and nephews and it’s like “candle?”, when you’re getting groceries and it’s like “still no candle?”, when you’re reading up on a loved ones serious medical problem and it’s all “can-dllllleeee!” In real life, you’d be like, “I’ll show you where you can shove that candle, lady” because it’s weird and creepy, and yet it’s something that is encouraged online even though it’s behavior we would never engage with in real life.

A little sidenote is that I was listening to a podcast where I took fast and furious screenshots of the show notes to share with some biz besties because they were legit promoting how you can “contract digital herpes” online, and I was a mind blown emoji that herpes of any type is a goal for anyone to be and to spread. “You can be everywhere all the time” was the big selling point of this talk, and maybe I’m naïve, maybe I’m too sensitive, but I’d rather be those things than to adopt a game plan that involves mutating my marketing plan into resembling a transmittable disease. I mean, in real life, you can be charged for knowingly doing something like that, right?

But I digress, because all this is to say, third-party cookies are dying a slow and steady death, whether digital marketers like it or not. It will also require digital marketers to take a more active and intentional role as to how they collect and use data.

This is where first-party data comes into play, because this is the data that you collect directly from your audience with the assets that you own. Examples of this would include tracking people’s behaviors on your website and information you collected through opt-in forms like email addresses. This is information people have consented that you collect and use for your own purposes, but it still is a passive method of data-collection. It implies that someone comes to you, finds your stuff and gives you information about themselves willingly.

Zero-party data is similar to first-party data in the sense that it is information that the other person is consenting to giving you directly, but in the case of zero-party data, you’re not using tools to collect that data as much as you are asking for it directly. An example of this could include a quiz that you have on your website that defines the person’s personality, status or interest, and that you are tagging and targeting this person based on how they have identified themselves to you. You can use the same sort of pro-active data collection in your welcome or nurture sequence where you ask new subscribers to self-select their personality, status or interest so you can better meet them where their needs or wants are, or when you present them with a drop-down menu of options that you are storing in the background. Another great example is when you tease something on social media and you ask people to DM you if they want to hear or get more of what you’re talking about: this is zero-party data because you’re actively exchanging and participating in how this data is being collected for your own use. Here’s my favorite zero-party data source: a glowing video testimonial after you asked for feedback on your offer is the bee’s knees, elbows and everything else where zero-party data is concerned.

Any engagement where you’re getting to know more about the people you’re dealing with – even if it is just stored in your brain – is zero-party data so when you’re in your DMs and Jane messages you about your offer but you’re remembering that Jane runs an agency and she has a dog named Fido and she lives in Timbuktu, you’re using zero-party data.

Zero-party data requires you to connect and engage directly with the people that you are serving, and I would argue that it is your most valuable and reliable source of data.

And these are the rose-colored lenses through which I want to see the future of digital marketing: we’re going to have to do this goofy thing where connection is going to matter. (I know, weird, right?) The “pay and spray” approach to online advertising where you could just create a massive advertising campaign that would make you mad-profitable just isn’t what it was, and it’s only going to get harder to do as third-party cookies become less supported.

I’m convinced we’re going to look back on the last few years of online marketing as being the total Wild West – like, lawlessness bordering on irresponsibility – and I’m really, really hoping that I’m not alone in thinking this is a good thing, in thinking that “contracting digital herpes” is a hella-gross marketing strategy to double-down on.

In case you find it helpful, here’s my litmus test for “is this strategy creepy?” and it’s simply to ask “would I do this in real life?” This goes for all online behavior, really, but would you talk about your offers, would you comment on someone else’s things, would you promote yourself in this way in real life? We talk a lot about “authenticity” in the online world but, like, “would you ACTUALLY do or say this out loud, in the open?” is pretty much the simplest way of verifying how authentic you are with how you’re showing up.

And as a final in case – because I know some of you are wondering – but we have zero-party data, we have first-party data, and we have third-party data… but what the hey happened to second-party data? Oh no, the forgotten middle child we never talk about but middle children are seen here on the Let’s Get Data-Driven podcast so let’s talk about it.

Second-party data is basically other people’s first-data. So when you buy email lists, this is second-party data and this is an example where the people on this list may not have offered informed consent to having their information shared. It’s not all as sketchy as that, though, because you are also using second-party data when you’re participating in joint ventures and affiliate relationships because you’re using someone else’s direct audience and reach to get your offers seen. The difference here is that you are accessing that data without collecting anything because until that person opts into whatever you’re offering (and thereby becoming your first-party data), their actual information remains on the other person’s list.

Data doesn’t necessarily require you to collect and store personal information, either; you can just use the data in question. For instance, it can be argued as being the use of second-party data would be when you are making decisions based on other people’s conversion rates because you’re using information as to how another person’s audience converts and you’re applying that information to your own marketing practices and campaigns.

I’ve said this at length but using other people’s conversion rates as your goal post isn’t something I recommend. You’re in a position to collect and use your own information and that should always be your priority. You can use second- and third-party data to get in front of new audiences, but when it comes to promoting and converting your message and offers, you should be collecting enough first- and zero-party data to do that in-house.

“But Lanie, I can’t do that – people aren’t reading my emails.” Maybe you need to focus on writing better emails.

“Yeah but they don’t even like emails.” Then make videos. Then create a podcast. Meet them where they like to consume content.

“How am I supposed to know where that is?” Ask them! Engage. Connect. And do it as soon as possible, while you have their captive attention.

Because everyone wants to feel seen. After all, isn’t this why you market yourself in the first place? You want to feel seen, and so do the people who are coming to you. They came to you because they thought you had something to offer to them and it’s up to you to let them know that you’ve got them.

Talk soon, baiiieee!