When it comes to performance marketing in the context of digital media, the most successful strategies ensure alignment of three campaign components: media, creative and audience data. The most nuanced and perhaps challenging category is audience data, where marketers have multiple options and potential segment combinations to reach a target audience. 

In a previous post we addressed the impending changes to audience targeting, and the ways that marketers can begin preparing for a cookie-less future; today we’ll dive into the various audience data categories, and how to apply them in order to achieve the performance objectives of your digital campaigns.  

Data Categories: A Quick Rundown 

Marketers have three categories of audience data as options for reaching potential and existing customers, and each plays a role in the overall data strategy of a digital campaign:

First-Party Data:

  • An essential tool available for digital marketers is First-Party data. Depending on the brand, this is often a combination of multiple assets, including website visitors, mobile users, CRM, email lists, point-of-sale, lead conversion and more. The value lies in the fidelity of the data set. Making it actionable should be a top priority as it represents a brand’s past, present and future customers. 
  • Building an effective process for the collection, organization, segmentation and activation of these data assets requires significant coordination. As technology evolves, brands are turning to Customer Data Platforms (CDP) that have advanced features not just for targeting, but also for extracting audience insights, unifying data assets from disparate sources and preparing them for activation across various channels. 
  • In preparation for the future of audience targeting, digital marketers understand that a sophisticated suite of audience management tools is required to maximize the value and functionality of First-Party data. After all, the more you know about a target audience, the easier it becomes to craft a personalized user experience. 

Second-Party Data:

  • By definition, Second-Party data consists of audiences that are owned by the source and typically sold directly to the end-user. Basic examples include digital publishers, endemic vertical websites and other entities that can harness their users and make them available for targeting across the open-web. 
  • A significant advantage of Second-Party data is the collection methodology, which is commonly achieved through a deterministic ID such as an email address, website login or other information that is matched at the user-level. This is where the importance of applying a device graph and focusing on identity resolution becomes even more valuable since it is not typically reliant on cookie-based targeting. 
  • Second-Party data also opens the option for co-ops to transact unique datasets that are mutually beneficial and non-competitive (i.e. a luxury mattress company can set up a co-op with a high-end fashion brand). 

Third-Party Data:

  • The overall scale and reach of Third-Party data have positioned it as a standard option in most audience targeting strategies; however, its future is tenuous. In a cookie-less world, Third-Party data stands to be one of the most impacted tactics in digital marketing and brands are already preparing to implement alternate targeting strategies. 
  • Additional challenges with Third-Party data include a lack of transparency due to the transactional process of multiple brokers that do not always share the methodology for qualifying an audience. The nature of how they are available for access within all major DSPs means multiple marketers are using the same segments simultaneously.
  • Third-Party data can be particularly useful when marketers need to reach a niche target audience or have limited scale with First and Second-Party datasets. Due to the multiple options available through various data brokers, there are few limits on the granularity of audience reach. Moving forward, brands will need to test and learn to understand which methods will continue reaching potential customers and prospects.  

Upper-Funnel Strategy: Prospecting & Awareness

Regardless of a brand’s industry, product or service, upper-funnel audience strategy focuses on generating large-scale awareness. This is achieved through broad prospecting and reaching as many potential customers through a combination of Second and Third-Party data categories that align with the target audience: purchase intent, interests, location/visitation, behaviors or demographics. 

A significant output of upper-funnel prospecting is gathering insights into which campaign variables are driving success. Website metrics can help isolate the ideal combination of media, data and creative resonating with prospecting audiences. These insights can be applied to future campaigns when cookie-based targeting is no longer an option and more-informed contextual strategies are required. 
Additionally, segmentation of First-Party data makes it possible to target different audiences depending on their level of engagement with the brand (e.g. Homepage visitors should be treated differently than a Shopping Cart Abandoner). KORTX partners use Axon Audience Manager to segment site visitors based on dozens of standard and custom events and then create targetable audiences to push users to the next stage in the purchase funnel.

Lower-Funnel Strategy: Accuracy & Performance

Nurturing customers towards the final lower-funnel conversion or sale requires a shift in audience strategy to focus on the most qualified users. This is where First-Party data is integral for both insights and targeting. The customer journey at this point is well-defined, and marketers should have enough signals to determine an optimization strategy. 

Modeling new audiences from First-Party data also creates the ideal balance between accuracy and scale. It often emerges as one of the strongest-performing data strategies in a digital media campaign. For a particular conversion or lower-funnel action, First-Party users that have successfully converted can be used as the seed data for a modeled audience that increases scale but maintains the same attributes. 

For lead generation campaigns focused on driving low cost-per metrics, a prospecting audience should be maintained to balance the efficiency of targeting costs as First-Party segments tend to require higher bid levels to win impressions.

Tying It All Together

Every KORTX campaign features an audience strategy customized for the brand and its business objective. At KORTX, we’ve found the strongest performance using a unique combination of First, Second and Third-Party targeting as it provides our team of programmatic experts with the flexibility needed to exceed KPI goals. 

With the future in mind, brands need to determine which aspects of Third-Party data drive results and use those learnings to align cookieless targeting options that continue to reach their target audience members. In parallel, brands should maintain an ongoing evaluation of current and past customers to better incorporate their interests and motivations into their First-Party data strategy. 


Contact us today to begin crafting an audience strategy that is customized for your brand!