We’re all aware of the differential impact of this virus. We believe the young are relatively safe, we know the old are disproportionately susceptible, we can see that BAME communities are at greater risk, and we are learning that smokers are under-represented in our hospitals. 

What we’re also aware of is the critical importance of data to the management and suppression of the virus. The UK Government has been significantly embarrassed by the poor quality of available data, caused by the absence of mass testing, and the restriction of these scarce and precious resources to hospital patients only.

The result is that we have no handle on the actual numbers who have been infected, the actual numbers of those who have died, and so the mortality rate for the virus.

Some way down the spectrum of importance, marketers will similarly need to call upon robust and reliable data in navigating the post-covid operating environment. After such a traumatic few months, with so many lives lost and livelihoods shattered, it will take a long time to recover psychologically, socially and economically. To compound the challenges we will all need to navigate new, often experimental, social distancing and zero-touch practices for the foreseeable future.

Therefore it is vital that the right messages are sent to the right people. We need to tread with care when we consider a return to business. We must be sensitive to those continuing to isolate, to those who have been working on the front-line, to those who have been bereaved and those who have lost their jobs.

How can we do that effectively – and avoid the issues supermarkets have experienced in the last two months? 

How about by asking our customers? How about doing it in a structured way that captures the changing dynamics of the situation? How about then integrating that data with existing customer segmentation and creating a dynamic model that can serve us for the foreseeable future?

Forward looking marketers are realising that today’s circumstances present a unique opportunity to engage with customers openly and honestly, and in doing so to get ahead of changing privacy regulations and the urgent need to move beyond cookie based digital tracking.

Lessons are rapidly being learnt in this crisis. Retailers who have prioritised the avoidance of friction in registration forms, or (to be fair)  those who have been deliberately cautious in the collection of customer data, have, for example, been caught out by a lack of age data when it came to prioritising the over-70s.

Capturing such data during this period will give your business a head start as social distancing restrictions evolve and business starts to work in the new operating environment. If you can only allow 20 people into your store at a time, who do you want them to be? Your most valuable customers or an occasional visitor, a proven purchaser or a window shopper, a brand loyalist or an opportunist? 

How can you do that? Through open and transparent communications, thoughtfully designed surveys, engaging experiences, a clear value exchange, robust data analysis and a willingness to seize the opportunity to shake-off the digital addiction to sneaky secondary data and inference – if this then that.

Zero party data

Such open and transparent data capture is increasingly referred to as zero party data and is explained by contrast with first, second and third-party data as below

A screenshot of a video game

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Credit: https://www.cheetahdigital.com/uk/blog/zero-party-data-explainer

Zero party data offers the most robust foundation for any business, a rich customer database is a vital asset in today’s markets, all the more so when integrated with all other available data sources. It is central to any direct to consumer proposition and to effective personalisation.

Today’s situation demands immediate action and an incremental approach to data capture. The first priority must be to get a handle on customers’ pandemic experience to date and their requirements of you during these times. As we learn more about plans for the phased and gradual re-opening of the economy we can then move forward with our plans to manage social distancing and customer expectations.

Assuming that we are effective in responding to the information shared, then we will be building trust with our customers by demonstrating a clear value exchange and can start to build on these foundations with further surveys exploring spending priorities and intentions, again ensuring that any information shared is reflected in subsequent communications.

In conclusion, zero party data is no panacea for what we are and will experience in relation to the pandemic and economic crisis, but it does offer an investment lite route to strengthening your business and growing customer loyalty for the long road ahead. 

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