So, let’s face it. Companies know what you purchased from them and how much you spent. They know what pages of their website you visited, how many minutes you spent on each page, how many videos you viewed, how you reached their site, if you were on your desktop or mobile phone, and pretty much any other interaction you had with their web site. They know which of their emails you opened and what links you clicked on. They also could fairly easily append your gender, age, zip code, household income, marital status, number of children, number of vehicles, and any other publicly-accessible data point.

With various modeling techniques, they could predict when and what you will purchase next, how much you will spend, what your interests are, and how to entice you to engage more with their brand.

Granted, not many companies are leveraging this data even close to its full potential; however, the data is collected and there for the taking. This is prompting companies with non e-commerce sites to question the value of having people register on their site. If you have so much data already and don’t know how to translate it into targeting and dollars, then why collect more? Clients are actually posing this question and marketers never really had to answer it before because this rich data wasn’t available.

I would argue that registration and first-party data are still crucial. There is definitely still a need and here’s why:

  1. Self-reported data is still the most complete and accurate. Companies rarely can append demographic and psychographic data to 100% of records. Also, self-reported data is only as accurate as the refresh cycle, which could be annually and bi-annually, and we all know that things change in our lives (i.e., marital status, change of address).
  2. Most of us realize that companies know far too much about us than we’d like, but we’d rather they don’t flaunt it without us proactively initiating a “relationship” with them. It was rather disconcerting when I started receiving best wishes on my new baby from companies I had never heard of. They obviously appended that data or rented my name from a third-party. Have the consumer register even with just an email address, so they at least know your name.
  3. Anonymous data allows you to serve up relevant content online, but it doesn’t let you message people via other channels, like email. According to a study by Exact Target, 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email. Without any type of registration mechanism and opt-in, companies can’t utilize this channel.
  4. There is obviously information that you just can’t get with anonymous data. For example, Sephora asks for skin tone and hair concerns. Companies can possibly infer this based on pages and products viewed; however, this is the type of data you don’t want to mess with. For example, recommending products to fight dandruff to people who don’t have this problem or at least didn’t tell you about it, may cost you a customer.
  5. Customers are actually delighted when companies ask for information and act upon it. I would gladly answer questions if I could see content that is relevant to me versus what companies think I want. Why guess? I’ll even tell you the year I was born if you could send me generational content or recommended products and services.
  6. It all comes down to dollars, right? Which is another reason why first-party data rules. Companies can command a much higher price if they could position their audience and sub-segments of their audience to external advertisers. And the best way to do this and sell it – using information that the consumer provided firsthand. Cha-ching!

Now, keep in mind that registration best practices must still be followed:

  1. You must provide some type of value to get people to register
  2. Only collect data that you can and will act upon
  3. Give customers control with optional fields and a flexible registration process
  4. Be transparent about the type and frequency of communications they will receive
  5. Do not share or sell information to third parties

Assuming you do this, self-reported data is essentially free, so why not ask? You just don’t want to burden yourself with more data? There are companies out there that can help aggregate and actually make your data a quantifiable asset, so don’t give up. Customers will even thank you for it by engaging more.

Julie Baker, a co-worker of mine, summed it up nicely. “Registration and log-in lets you know who is consuming what, when, where, and for how long. Without it, we can only observe and respond to activities in isolation, with no historical context, understanding of consumption trends, or details on audience.” Make it a two-way conversation with mutual benefits. That’s really what consumers want.

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