Anil Pandit
Mar 4, 2024

How to move beyond the first-party data frenzy

While the lure of owning first-party data might seem tempting, it's important to go beyond the hype and truly assess if your business is ready to do so. Publicis India's Anil Pandit opines.

Photo: Shutterstock.
Photo: Shutterstock.

As the industry scrambles for first-party data in the wake of the crumbling cookie, navigating the marketing landscape feels like participating in a gold rush as brands are caught in a frenzy. But before we all join the stampede, let's pause and ask: Is this mad dash towards data collection truly the promised land or are we heading towards a mirage?

The allure and pitfalls of first-party data

While the value of first-party data (owned and controlled by your brand) is undeniable, and offers transparency, privacy compliance, and deeper customer understanding—let's not romanticise it. Building a robust strategy comes with its own set of hurdles. While owning your data sounds empowering, the reality is more nuanced. There are many reasons for first-party data might not becoming the silver bullet you think it is.

Looking at the cost and ROI (return on investment) factor, a 2023 McKinsey study reveals that only 41% of companies actively measure the ROI of their marketing technology investments Are you collecting data without a defined purpose and measurable outcomes? Remember, investment must go beyond technology, encompassing skilled analysts and privacy-compliant practices. Then there are concerns around efficiency and scale. Gartner highlights that by 2025, 60% of marketing leaders will struggle to personalise experiences at scale. Opt-in methods like website forms and loyalty programs, while valuable, limit reach and diversity. Are you prepared to expand beyond these silos? Many firms face severe data silos and integration issues. In 2022, Twilio reported that 53% of businesses said data integration is their biggest data management challenge. Fragmented data across CRM (Customer Relationship Management), website, and other platforms requires sophisticated technology and skilled personnel. Do you have the tools and talent to bridge these gaps?

Then there are other areas which play a significant role, with privacy and consent being among them. Building trust is paramount. As Mary Meeker, a renowned venture capitalist, emphasises, "Privacy is the new luxury." Are you transparent about data usage and compliant with regulations like DPDP (Digital Personal Data Protection) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)? A breach can erode trust faster than you can collect data. Also, opt-in methods like website forms and loyalty programs reach a self-selecting, often unrepresentative subset of your audience. This data bias can skew your understanding of the wider market resulting into limited reach and bias.

Acquisition fatigue and privacy burdens along with rising compliance costs must be factored in, too. Incentivising opt-ins with discounts or rewards can create unsustainable costs and "data for freebies" behaviour, offering limited long-term value. Navigating and complying with evolving privacy regulations like GDPR adds another layer of complexity and potential financial liabilities.

Beyond the hype: Asking the right questions

Instead of blindly chasing the data rabbit hole, let us approach it strategically. In addition to the above, here are two crucial questions to ask before we jump into this first-party frenzy.

  • What specific objectives do you aim to achieve?
  • How do you align data collection with clear goals for either improved personalisation, better targeting, or deeper customer insights?

Defining the target audience and understanding your audience's behaviour and preferred channels are key. Not everyone will willingly share data, so prioritise segments with higher opt-in potential. It is also important for the organisation to have a clear view on resource commitment. Be realistic about the workforce, technology, and financial investment required to manage and activate your data effectively. Most firms also miss defining what should the success parameters be. One should define KPIs aligned with your goals and track progress to demonstrate the value of your first-party strategy. It always makes sense to have a balanced approach. Moving beyond the frenzy around first-party data should not be abandoned. It is crucial, but relying solely on it would be like building a house with one brick.

Embracing a holistic approach

The first-party data journey requires collaboration across the organisation. By breaking down silos and fostering communication, brands can leverage data effectively and responsibly.

Establishing a data governance council is essential. This cross-functional team sets data strategy, ensures compliance, and promotes responsible data practices. Additionally, investing in data literacy training empowers employees across departments to understand and utilise data effectively.

Building a customer-centric culture is paramount as it prioritises customer privacy and transparency, fostering trust through clear communication and ethical data practices. Furthermore, focusing on contextual targeting allows leveraging signals like browsing behaviour and content engagement for more relevant advertising without relying on personal identifiers. Investing in customer experience is crucial to create valuable experiences which naturally encourages data sharing without relying on incentives or intrusive methods.

Exploring privacy-enhancing technologies, such as federated learning and clean rooms, enables collaboration while protecting individual privacy. Embracing identity solutions, like contextual targeting and clean rooms, offers reach beyond one's data ecosystem while ensuring privacy compliance. Prioritising privacy by design builds trust by being transparent about data practices and offering robust privacy controls, recognising that delighted customers are more likely to share their data.

Lastly, moving beyond media activation is imperative. First-party data transcends media activation, impacting multiple departments across the organisation, as emphasised by the CMO of an International CPG (consumer packaged goods) brand, who states, "First-party data is a CEO-level issue."


The first-party data frenzy is understandable but let us strategise before getting lost in the dust. Building a sustainable privacy compliant data-driven future requires a balanced approach, acknowledging the challenges and opportunities of first-party data while exploring complementary solutions.

Remember, it is not just about collecting data, it is about using it ethically, efficiently, and effectively to achieve your business goals. Let us move beyond the hype and build a future where data serves both brands and customers, responsibly and sustainably.

Anil K Pandit is the executive vice president for Publicis Media India.

Publicis Media Anil Pandit


Campaign Asia

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