Consumer data privacy has been an increasingly important topic over the past few years, and understandably so. People want to feel in control of what businesses know about them. They want their personal information protected and they want to feel secure browsing online.
However, studies continually show consumers want personalized experiences and targeted promotional offers. Both of which brands can deliver more effectively by using third-party behavioral data. So, as access to consumer data becomes more restricted, brands are having to quickly adapt and adjust their strategies.
One of the biggest restrictions we’re seeing is with online activity tracking. By the end of 2023, Google will follow the lead of Apple and Mozilla in phasing out third-party cookies. While this means brands will lose access to one of the most commonly used sources of behavioral data, there are still plenty of customer insights out there to go around.
Two strong options for filling third-party data gaps are primary data and secondary data. You’ve likely heard of them, but what exactly are they? Will they be viable replacements for behind-the-scenes tracking? Will this be a step backwards in a brand’s ability to make data-driven decisions? These are great questions, so I’d like to share some thoughts based on my years as a customer insight professional and enthusiast.
Let’s start with secondary data, which is basically any and all information that currently exists. The internet is a gateway to more secondary data than we could ever need. From industry and market reports to articles and blogs, a ton of work has already been done for us. Just Google search “consumer statistics 2022” and you’ll see what I mean. Some data resources have to be purchased, but much of it is free. The process of sifting through this treasure trove of information is what’s referred to as secondary research, and I highly recommend this be included in your customer insights strategy.
That said, the amount of information available is a double-edged sword. We can’t possibly review and process all the secondary data out there. Nor should we even try because a lot of it won’t be relevant to your specific situation and objectives. This is where efficient and effective secondary research becomes a skill of its own. Knowing where to look for accurate and reliable information requires experience. Being able to piece together and assess the fragmented data requires keen analytic understanding. Putting together a digestible report and pulling actionable insights requires critical thinking and creative vision. It’s definitely not as easy or convenient as third-party cookies, but the insights are there for those willing to look.
The other source in a post-third-party world is primary data. This is information you generate through efforts like gathering direct customer feedback. This is where, I believe, the main focus needs to be moving forward. Every question we have and every crossroad we approach can benefit from the simple act of having a conversation with our audiences. One key benefit here is the ability to uncover more about decision drivers and thought processes. Where third-party data shines a light on what consumers are doing, primary data provides the ability to explore why they’re doing it as well.
Through primary research, we’re able to tap into the emotional and psychographic details behind a person’s behavior. We can ask targeted questions related to specific actions and dig below the surface-level details. Knowing the underlying drivers of their actions is key to understanding the big-picture realities of consumer behavior.
Much like with secondary research, conducting primary research effectively and efficiently requires experience, critical thinking, and creative vision. It requires a strategic approach and a human touch to ensure the insights gathered are reliable and actionable. But while there’s more time and effort needed, aren’t all those required components a great thing?
For a brand to be truly customer-centric, there needs to be a balance of logic and empathy. A combination of hard and soft skills. A realization that behind every transaction completed and dollar earned there is a unique individual living a unique life. If losing third-party cookies brings us closer to an authentic people-first mindset, then I believe it’s well worth the adjustment and effort.
For us at MacKenzie, it’s a bit funny to see things coming full circle. Back when my dad started the company in 1985, primary research was the go-to source for customer insights because it was pretty much the only source. Over time, the industry drifted a bit as technology offered alternative sources for data, such as third-party cookies. Now that those are being phased out, focus is being redirected back to primary research.
But this highlights why we’ve remained true to our founding principles of empowering customers to have a voice and leveraging primary research to guide brand development. Because no matter how the world around us changes, nothing will replace the value of authentic relationships, open communication, and active listening.
If you’re looking to get ahead of the curve and develop a customer insights strategy built around primary and secondary research, I’d love to chat about how we can support your efforts! For over 35 years, we’ve partnered with brands of all sizes across different industries. So, I’m confident our proven approach will work for you too.