Thursday, August 5, 2021


Talking Data

by Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.


Data management and digital deliverables

You have a wealth of data about your customers, but are you putting it to its best use? As data management is on this month’s editorial calendar, let’s take a deeper dive into the data you can access and how it can direct your marketing and communications strategies.

Whose Data is Whose?

Marketing data falls into two categories: first party and third party. First-party data is the information you collect directly from submitted new account and credit applications, service and delivery transactions, online information requests, program enrollments and more. The data from company-specific cookies on your site that enhance the user experience are first-party data as well.

First-party data may include the account holders’ names and addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, business/work information, heating fuel usage, home equipment, and more. You also have sensitive personal information, hopefully locked safely away in a secure, PCI compliant vault, like credit card and banking information.

Third-party data is information collected by or purchased from a third party. This may include data collected by tracking codes placed on your website by advertising, lead generation and review tracking providers as well as purchased marketing lists. (We’ll get to those third-party cookies and Google later on.)

Using First-Party Data

There’s a lot you can do with first-party data to reach sales and growth targets. Before you start, remember that your customers have trusted you with this information, so you should never share their personal information or target or exclude customers by race, gender or sexual orientation. You should also have on your website a privacy policy outlining what you collect, how you use it, and with whom it will be shared.

When it comes to using first-party data, your online customer portal is your foremost marketing platform. Your data powers the portal for everything from bill paying and delivery requests to new customer enrollments and equipment purchases. The data flow is bi-directional. Not only are your customers accessing data from you, but they also provide more information about themselves every time they use the portal.

Your first-party data enables you to organize your accounts by their systems and services, and then personalize your texts, emails, online ads and direct mail materials to meet each customer’s needs.

You can also search for more nuanced similarities among your customers, such as their homes’ ages or average square footage, equipment age, tenure of residence, ductwork, etc. This knowledge can help pinpoint new services or promotions to offer. For instance, if a majority of customers are in homes without ductwork, you might consider offering an incentive on ductless mini-splits.

Now consider what else you know about your customers’ lives. This includes soft data that may not be in your CRM, but your CSRs and techs probably know: things like the customers’ ages, number of children (if any), pets, neighborhoods (urban/rural/suburban), and more. This information can be mined to create a broader picture that could lead you to unconventional marketing opportunities to find new customers with similar characteristics.

Customizing Facebook

Most retailers are familiar with Facebook’s more common marketing options: a) you choose a demographic, location and selection of user targeting criteria; b) you add a pixel to your website to remarket to site visitors on their Facebook feeds; or c) you target individuals who have engaged with your Facebook page or posts.

There are more advanced options, however, which match your first-party data with Facebook user profiles.

Businesses can upload their customer data to the Facebook platform, where it will be “hashed” for user privacy and then matched by Facebook to your customers’ profiles. This creates a custom audience to which you can target your advertising. Looking to promote tune-ups, service plans, or generator sales to existing customers? The custom audience feature puts your message on your customers’ feeds.

Remember your customer base’s soft data picture? Because Facebook has more information about us than we care to admit, the platform already profiles your customer base’s soft data, and can generate a look-alike audience of Facebook users in your service area who have the same characteristics as the customers in your custom audience.

Facebook determines if your customer audience is made up of, for the most part, dog or cat lovers, people who follow the Kardashians or Anderson Cooper (or both), retired empty nesters or newly married/new parents, etc., and shows your ads to other users with similar characteristics. These particular traits may seem disconnected from your business – but if your customers fall in such groups, odds are that others like them may also need your services.

What the FLoC?

If you have a digital advertising budget, a large portion of it may be spent on Google Ads and powered by cookies placed on your website by advertising, customer review and lead tracking providers (among others) to track visitors. These third-party cookies, as well as your Google Analytics tag, identify users across the internet.

Your ad placements have been determined by these cookies. As a consumer (let’s call her Sarah) opens a web page, a real-time-bidding auction takes place for the ads she’ll see using data from the third-party cookies.

It works something like this: “This woman visited articles on betterhomes.com and heatityourself.com about heating costs and searched oil-fueled boilers on Google and homedepot.com. She’s 49, married, has one child, works in finance, owns a house on Oak Street in Anytown, and has a household income between $75,000 and $80,000. Who wants to advertise to her?”

In less time than it took to read that — fractions of a second, really — the winning bids are determined and the winning bidder’s ad (hopefully yours) is shown when her web page loads. If, by chance, this user has visited your website and you’ve installed remarketing cookies, your ad buying platform will recognize her (“Hey, that’s Sarah!”) and bid higher to get on that page.

Many people consider this digital collection and sharing of user information to be a violation of their privacy, and
governments are taking notice. The California Consumer Protection Act and the European GDPR aim to shield internet users from such tracking and give them control of the data collected by third-party cookies.

Google has taken note and announced that it will phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome. This means that any sites served on Chrome will not be able to use the data from these cookies to sell ads, and advertisers will not be able to use cookies to place their ads. In place of third-party cookies, Google is giving us FLoC.

FLoC stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts. Instead of being identified by third-party cookies, users will be identified by the cohorts to which they’ve been assigned. Cohorts are determined by the browser and so stay local to the user.

With FLoC, a homeowner might be identified as “someone in a cohort of people who visited sites about home heating, and people in this group, on average have a household income between $55,000 and $100,000, are between
35-54, and are interested in marathon running, the environment, cable news shows and reality TV.”

Google claims this system will anonymize the user by putting her into a larger group. You will not be vying to show ads to “Sarah,” but to people like her and maybe including her. They are also testing options to continue remarketing in a “cookie-less” world, and more details on that program (currently known as FLEDGE) will be coming soon. This follows Apple’s announcement to move beyond cookies as well.

Cleaning Up the Crumbs

There are ways to adjust your marketing campaigns to get the best return from your digital advertising – even as those targeting mechanisms change.

One exciting option now available is setting your targets by household. By collecting and coordinating offline data from credit bureaus and public tax records, some digital advertising platforms have been able to determine, with more than 95-percent accuracy, the characteristics of users within a property line — ages, incomes, interests, and more — and attach them to the ISP and devices housed within. Advertising across mobile phones, desktops, tablets and connected TVs can be delivered to individuals from homes that meet your preferences within your target geographical area. As these placements are based on the ISP and not cookies, they are not expected to be affected by any of the announced changes from Google and Apple.

Additionally, the Facebook campaigns detailed above are based on your first-party data and user profiles, and so should not be affected by Google and Apple’s third-party bans.

Of course, your website and your customer relationships are the strongest platforms for your marketing, and should be optimized to direct new visitors to a contact mechanism and your customers to additional services.

I hope this serves to explain some of the important changes happening in the digital marketing space in the near future. Rest assured, even with the “demise” of cookies, there will still be lots of good options for energy marketers to reach the right audience cost-effectively through smart digital strategies.

Richard Rutigliano is President of integrated marketing and communications firm PriMedia, Inc. He can be reached at 516-222-2041 or rrutigliano@goprimedia.com.

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