Are you tapping into the full potential of zero and first-party data?


Zero and first-party data are eclipsing third-party data…


When brands use this data strategically, they can drive more sales and acquire more customers because they know exactly who they’re selling to.


But a majority of brands are missing out on this opportunity—are you one of them?


Sean Simon, founder of Cogent, is here to break down how brands can use zero and first-party data to drive performance in media and e-commerce.


Listen to learn:
  • What happens when third-party data disappears
  • The difference between zero and first-party data
  • How brands can capture first-party data in a privacy compliant way
  • Why brands shouldn’t outsource their first-party data
  • Untapped resources for zero-party data

Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.


Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is zero and first party data to drive performance and media and E commerce. Here to speak with me is Sean Simon who is the co founder of Cogent an invite only community that creates a better way for brands and agencies to discover and pilot emerging technology. Sean is a well seasoned sales and marketing leader with experience in emerging adTech, eComm Tech and MarTech. By drawing on his experience from all sides of the industry, he created Cogent a consulting firm for Tech and a collective for buyers to help facilitate connections and growth within the digital ecosystem. Sean, welcome to the show.


Sean Simon: Oh, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.


Steffen: Now, Sean, before we talk about zero and first party data, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career? And what led you to founding Cogent?


Sean: Yeah, well, it’s been a long journey. About 20 plus years ago, so the mid 90s, I was fortunate enough to get a job at an ad agency working on digital advertising from Microsoft. And this was very beginning of advertising online. I planned Internet Explorer 4.0, which was the first million dollar budget spent online. So I’ve been doing this a long time. And I’ve seen a lot of technology evolve. I went from there to the tech side working at before YouTube, right? It was really YouTube before YouTube, where we were sending packets of data, instead of streaming. 


Then I went to Yahoo and moved on through some different tech companies, Criteo, and so forth. So I’ve worked on both sides of the equation. And more recently, in 2016, I worked for a company called pebble post where I ran sales. And we were invited to participate in a program at an incubator called plug and play very similar to a TechStars. And I got to go in and do the pitch. And we got selected and went through this 12 week program. And when I came out of the program, I realized that, you know, we were in a much better position than most of the startups that were there. 


But many of them didn’t know what to do next. They weren’t sellers, right? They were engineers, they were product people and they didn’t have a network, they didn’t know how to go to market. And they would never get to the right people if they didn’t have the help. And so I thought there’s an opportunity here to help them but also to help my friends and colleagues on the buy side. Because I know as a buyer, we get inundated with emails and LinkedIn messages that are unqualified, they’re not consultative, and they just take up a lot of time and space in our inboxes. And I know that I started ignoring them as a buyer. 


And I know that I’m ignoring things I probably could benefit from. But I don’t have time to go through them all. So I thought, I bet you there’s a way that I could help vet, curate and vet emerging technologies to help the buyers, but also help the technology companies at the same time. And so I joined up with my partner who I worked with previously for several years, our careers parallel with each other. And we’ve been talking about something like this for a while and the pandemic hit. And there was this challenge where people didn’t have the networking ability that they had once before because they you know, everything was online. 


And so we thought this was a great opportunity and time to start a community of like minded people, right? So we started this community, it’s now over 300 members of people that work in E commerce and digital marketing. And so what we do is just use the community to get data to understand what they need, and we curate and vet technology solutions for them and then bring them into the community. We gain feedback from the members, we share it with the tech companies, and sometimes business is done and it works out really well for both sides. And it takes all the angst out of the sales conversations.


Steffen: Interesting that sounds like like a great service. I mean, you know, when you when you find a find a new CRM system, and you type in I don’t know HubSpot versus Salesforce or the latest CRM system, you you discovered versus what you already have, what you usually end up with is this some kind of website that gets paid for putting up you know, I don’t know, SharpSpring or whatever other CRM system they review on top, you know, because they might get the biggest check from them in generating a new client. That’s not really an unbiased view of which software solution is really better for specific things. Right. So this sounds great because it’s kind of, as you said, with like minded people, they probably still look differently at what they need. But there’s an honest feedback that comes out of it at the end of the day.


Sean: Yeah, look, I think what’s really interesting about our space that it’s really appealing to me is it changes very quickly and often. And when it changes, when one of the tech platforms make a change to the way they do business, it throws the ecosystem for a loop. And then new technologies pop up, and then they fade out. And I’ve seen them come and go. And I always wanted to be able to have a broad conversation with my clients when I was on the sales side. But because I was selling one product, I was limited. 


And I really enjoy speaking with our members, and just learning about what their business needs are and what their biggest challenges of the day are, because they change all the time. But what’s what’s really interesting, and it may seem obvious now, but we have data to support it, is that most people or brands have the same challenges. And they evolve together, right. So I could be talking to a big brand like a Walmart and try to understand their needs. And then talk to a startup brand, I just got off the phone with a brand called Wild Chips, they make chicken chips, very small brand out of out of Santa Barbara, or sorry, out of Denver and they have similar needs. 


They’re thinking about the impact of different things happening in the ecosystem. And it used to just be Google and Facebook make a change. But now it’s the government. Right. And so you have new kinds of privacy laws coming into effect. And it really limits or controls what brands can do with data. And so this is a hot topic right now. Next week, it might be something else last month, it was something else. So it’s just really fun to be on the front end of all these conversations,


Steffen: Yeah. Now, obviously, you know, third party data will very soon no longer be available, right. You know, Google has kind of extended the life within their platform for it, I think for another year. But, you know, this is now the time for companies, whether those are agencies or brands to think about what are they going to do when they disappear? How are they able to continue you know, running their advertising campaign, growing their E commerce clients, or E commerce businesses? What’s the difference between zero and first party data?


Sean: Yeah, you make a fair point there. And Google, for better or worse, extended the timeline. And I say, for better or for worse, because so many companies have prepared for cookies to be gone. And now they’re like, wait, why did I rush for it? And there’s other companies that were just sitting on the sidelines waiting. So I think people would just like to know what’s really going to happen and when. But the smart companies and I think most people are coming along here are really thinking about how do I get more zero and first party data. 


And zero party data isn’t something that we talked about all that much before all this talk around cookies going away, but it’s becoming more and more popular in conversations that I’m having. And the way I think about zero party data versus first party data is zero party data is data that a user or consumer has declared, right, to you as a brand, or even a social platform, right? So think about when you register for Facebook, they ask you your name, your address, your zip code, your marital status, your education level, I think of that as all zero party data, it was declared. 


When I think of first party data, I think behavioral data. I go to a brand’s website, I click on certain products I add to cart, I buy, whatever I might do on the site, whether it be a publisher, or, or a brand, that I consider first party data. And I think both are super important for brands to figure out how to gather more of it, and organize it and utilize it to grow their businesses, because like you said, third party data isn’t going to be around forever.


Steffen: Now, who owns zero party data at the end?


Sean: Oh, definitely the brand. I think that, you know, anytime you have zero party data, or first party data that brand owns it. What’s interesting is, you know, when you think about the privacy laws that are out there, brands really need to be careful about what they do with it. Right, they still own it, and they have responsibility to me, as a consumer, if I give somebody my data, you know, they have a responsibility to share what they do with that data with me if they’re going to do anything besides use it for themselves. So I think it’s definitely the brand. 


Although, you know, it’s an interesting question because I have been seeing companies more and more around having your data as a consumer live on your own machine, rather than live with the immediate company or the brand. I often think of, if you’ve seen the TV show, Silicon Valley, you know, they had this company called Pied Piper. And it was all about little networks on everyone’s machine and that was making everything run more smoothly and powerful. And I think it was like a pie in the sky idea. But it’s about we’re not that far from that where people will own their own data. It will live on their machine, and they’ll have to give permission to brands or publishers to access it. I think that’s where we’ll ultimately get to in the future.


Steffen: Yeah, yeah. Now, what should companies do with zero party data? How should they use that to further their media buying and grow their e commerce activities?


Sean: Well, I think they need to use first party and zero party data together, to better understand who their customers are. Most brands today only know what you’ve given them, right? So in other words, if I go to a brand’s website, and I shop around, and I buy something, clearly, they’re gonna have my credit card number, they’re gonna have my address, and my name, my phone number, my email, but they’re not going to know who I am. I’m three dimensional, right? They just know what I bought. And if I bought a pair of shoes, I’m not just a pair of shoes, where did I wear those shoes? Where you know, what did I do in those shoes, so to speak, right? 


I’m a father, I’m a business owner, I like to watch football, I like to do different things. And that makes me whole. So I think as a brand, you need to use for a party and zero party data, to acquire more information about your customers so that you can speak to them in a way that resonates with them. So you can build a deeper relationship with them. Because I think brands are really going to need that data, not only to sell to me, but to find more people that look like me so that they can find more people to acquire and sell product to.


Steffen: So Sean, what are some examples of zero party and first party data?


Sean: Yeah, so like I said earlier, if you think about the data that you give to a publisher or a brand, through forms, or surveys, or just simple pop up questions, they might ask on the website, that’s zero party data right. It’s declared data when you fill out your Facebook profile, declared data. But when you think about behavioral, things that you’re clicking on, I think of that as first party data. That’s something that the brand would own. So first party data tends to be more of that Google Analytics data, right. 


And you’re seeing more tech companies pop up, that are leveraging first party data for targeting purposes via first party cookies, right. And this puts more control back on the brand, which is a good thing. But they also have to put more effort into it. So there are technologies out there that can collect that first party data, that behavioral if you will, that behavioral data from a brand’s website, and package it up, and give it to the brand and say, here you go, here’s your first party data, you go do what you want with it, it’s yours. Rather than that company using that data to say go buy retargeting ads, or something like that.


Steffen: Now, collecting data, even these days is kind of a process, right? You need to follow certain guidelines, you double opt in and those kinds of things. Given the loss of Clickstream data from cookies, and IDFA loss, how can brands capture first party data in a privacy compliant way?


Sean: Yeah, this is a really tough question. And it’s something that brands need to be really careful of, because of the California Privacy Rights Act. I think there was a couple of brands last month, I think it was Kochava, there was another brand I read about yesterday, I’m drawing a blank on who it was that’s being sued by the government around improper use of data. In other words, even if you have data, and it’s your data, say first party data, you have to be careful about how you use that data. And if you think about it from an advertising perspective, I can’t use data across platforms anymore. 


So I can’t use data that I might collect on, say Facebook and use it on a different platform. I suppose there are ways to get around that if you get people to opt in. But even then it has to be explicitly clear. Otherwise, I think you’re putting your yourself at risk. And I think this is great for the walled gardens, but it’s going to wreak havoc on measurement tactics, right? It’s crushing. It’s a crushing blow for MTA solutions are multi touch attribution, that are really built on connecting the dots, right, because you can no longer connect the dots. And so those types of companies are gonna make a lot of assumptions and measurement, which can be really dangerous for optimization practices, right. 


You might make the wrong optimizations, because the the projections were wrong. I think you’re gonna see a lot more brands leaning into incrementality. We’re familiar with a brand called measured, they’re a partner of ours, but I don’t really know of many other companies out there that are taking an incrementality view of, of advertising, right. Where you don’t have to have a cookie. And you don’t have to follow click streams, you just let measured, run their experiments, and help you understand what channels are working. And every member of ours that’s been using them has seen a lot of success. 


So brands just need to be careful. I would say you know, if you don’t have a lawyer looking at the law and helping make sure that you’re making the right decisions, you should probably get one. I know it’s expensive, but you got to really be careful. And I think also brands need to stop outsourcing their first party data platforms like Facebook and trust that they’ll do right by them. For example, what Facebook will say today is, hey, just upload your customer file and we’ll build look alike audiences. And we’ll go and find customers for you. And, you know, Facebook’s doing that because they want more control of your advertising budget. 


But I don’t know that I would trust Facebook with all that data to make all those decisions in your best interests. And so, you know, find yourself a partner that can help you understand the data that you’re uploading to Facebook from your website, and make sure that they use it the right way. Don’t do anything that violates the law, but also gives you more of that first party data that we talked about earlier, right, because you need to find that, that information that gives you a 360 degree view of your customer. We partner with a company called profit wheel. 


And they do something quite unique through API’s that are available, but difficult for brands to access is that they can unpack a brand’s look alike audiences. So Facebook’s already said, thank you for your customer file we’ll build your look alike audiences. But we’re not going to tell you anything about them. Well, profit wheel will unpack that and give you deep insights on who those customers are, what they like, where they live, the types of content they read, the things they buy, all the information that Facebook has, but doesn’t share with you. So I would be really leaning into that because that first party data is going to be priceless.


Steffen: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Now, especially in the future, companies will be eager to kind of increase the data pool. So I’d rather zero or first party data. But are there any untapped zero party data resources that brands should be aware of? Obviously, you talked about, you know, self declared data, that’s what you consider zero party data. What specifically is there potentially that is untapped? And it’s a huge opportunity to grow that pool?


Sean: Yeah, it’s a great question. Because I think the majority of brands, if not all brands today, aren’t tapping into some of the most valuable zero party data they have. If you consider the amount of customer communication brands receive via phone call, or email, or chat, or social media, right. And brands are interacting with consumers this way. Most brands don’t leverage this data for any other purposes, because it sits in silos. And it’s unstructured. It’s not, you know, it’s not coming back to them in a way that they can organize it and compile it and utilize it. 


So it just goes untouched the brands that that do leverage it, have teams that VI people, right, they have analysts going through all this data and trying to figure out, what are people saying to us? And how do we, how do we find the diamond in the rough, so to speak. The information in there that we can use to improve our business. And it’s really difficult. But we’re seeing more companies like a company called dashbot, that’s popped up recently, that’s focused on ingesting all of this unstructured data, originally, for chat, right. For AI and chatbots, to make chatbots more user friendly. 


I mean, we’ve all interacted with chat bots before. And you ask a question, and it doesn’t understand you. And ultimately, you might get a few questions, then before you get frustrated. But you either hang up the chat, or you get escalated to a human. Both those things are costly for a brand, right. You either lost the customer, or you really made them mad. So the data that you get from these unstructured data pools can be used to improve those experiences, which then reduces the amount of people you have to have managing the chatbots, if you will, or the call centers. But that data can be really valuable when it comes to your marketing, to the way you improve the experience on your website. 


Customer service. So if people are complaining about something in particular on social media, or in your chat, or a calling in, you you can then prepare your customer service people with the types of questions people are asking. So they have answers. So they don’t have to put them on hold. And they can get off the phone as quickly as possible. Because it truly is time is money. So yeah, so I think brands need to really think about how to tap into that data and leverage it in a variety of ways. And it’s like I said, it’s not an easy thing, but they’re gonna be well served to do it now because it’s super valuable data.


Steffen: Yeah, so obviously, in the in the future, zero and first party data is what the company has available to drive performance, right? How can they drive performance with those two data pools in the future to run better media campaign to grow the E commerce activities? Do you have any specific suggestions? Any specific thoughts?


Sean: Yeah, I mean, first party data, even zero party data that can be used for both marketing and E commerce. And I think that brands need to stay focused on the experience, rather than being super focused on collecting data, right. We’ve all been shopping recently online and get inundated with pop ups before we even know if we want to buy anything. Right? And that is a big turnoff for me, especially on the second one. I’m not about to give you my email address to start getting emails and my phone number to get text messages. If I don’t even know if you have a product or something that I’m interested in. 


So I think you need to get better at the timing of that. And that first party data can help. I think interrupting that shopper experience is a terrible idea, unless you think the shopper is going to bounce anyway. And then there are specific tools to help for this. So I would say focus on creating experiences that engage the users so they stay longer, provide more Clickstream data, because that Clickstream data on your website is that valuable first party data we talked about. And ultimately, you want them to make a purchase. And that’s, that’s the most valuable data. So if someone’s on the path to make a purchase, don’t interrupt them, and collect that first party data. 


If they look like they’re about to bounce, interrupt them, just like if you were in a store, and a store associates saw you walking out, they might come over to you and say, sorry, you didn’t find what you’re looking for, can I help you. You can use technology to do that. And that’s just giving you more data. So I’ll give you an example of first party data, I think really engages consumers on a website. If you shopped at the Gap, or Revolve or any number of sort of fashion websites, there’s technology out there to help those brands, merchandise products in a way that aligned to the consumer. 


What I mean by that is, if you think about when you go into a store, you go into the Gap in a physical store, there’s mannequins, there right, they’ve got the entire outfit on. And that’s inspirational for a consumer walking into the store. But online, you can take that further, not only can you be inspirational, but you can be inspirational to that specific user at the right moment. Right. So if I’m looking at a pair of pants, show me the shirt, the belt, the shoes, but show me multiple outfits that are related to me based on all the information you have on me, even if it’s just the products I’m looking at. 


We work with a company called findmine. And what I love about them verse, some of their competition is that they really, they look at your inventory levels, not just do you have this product in stock. But do you have this user’s size in stock, because if you don’t have the size, don’t recommend it, right. And you have this data, you just have to be able to access it. And it’s not as hard for companies that are built to do it than it is for a brand to try and do it themselves. So there are ways to create better experiences. 


But even from an economic standpoint, more and more brands, or retailers are shipping from local stores and saving on shipping costs. Well, maybe they should be pushing product on consumers based on what’s available near them to bring down their shipping costs. There’s ways to manage that as well. So this is all using that first party data to help make the user’s experience better, but it makes your business more efficient. So look for ways to help delight the customer and they will just naturally be giving you more data. Especially that first party data.


Steffen: Some good thoughts there. Now, I thought I’m the only one who hated these pop ups that tell you, I’ll get 50% off, give me your email address. And then oh, now give me a phone number, which I couldn’t agree more. It’s so annoying. I immediately want to leave the site, because it’s like, I haven’t even decided whether you have what I’m looking for, whether I like what you show me.


Sean: Yeah, I think there’s this trend out there. I think there’s a company out there called, I’m drawing a blank on their name, but they do text messaging. But they’ll help brands, they will put widgets up on the website so that as soon as you get there, right, the page loads and boom, pop up. Give us your cell phone number, and we’ll give you 10% off? Well, first of all, they’re giving money away that they might not need to give away because they don’t know anything about user’s journey yet. And they’re annoying the user because they don’t even want to buy anything yet, like you said. 


So it’s a terrible way in my mind to try and collect more data, there are better ways to go about it where you can make the customer happy. I think there are you know, we work with a company called metrical that is very cognizant of that challenge I just mentioned, that irritation. And they focus on predictive analytics to say, look, if a user, if a user is following a path that looks like they’re going to convert, because we have all this historical data that says these people are going to convert, let them be, let them convert, don’t give them discounts. Why would you do that? 


If someone looks like they’re about to bounce, either off the site or abandon a cart, then interrupt them and give them that nudge that they might need. Remind them that there’s free shipping, or show them, you know, products that go with the products that they’re looking at. Like I said earlier, with findmine, you can populate the full outfit rather than the one product. Inspire them. You can do that in home furnishings, you then, you can also give them a discount if you’re a discount retailer. 


But don’t don’t diminish your brand by offering discounts unnecessarily and, you know, certainly I take advantage of it sometimes as a consumer because I know I’m gonna buy the product, but if I don’t know I’m gonna buy the product. I won’t fill it out. I think shoppers are savvy enough just to go hit refresh on their browser or go into a different browser if they really want that discount when they’re ready.


Steffen: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great point. Sean, unfortunately, we have already come to the end of today’s recording. I think we could definitely talk a little bit longer about this topic and come up with more creative ideas on what brands could do to leverage you know the data they already have, or they could kind of collect more of zero and first party data. But thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your thoughts on zero and first party data. Now if people want to find out more about you and Cogent, how can you get in touch?


Sean: So our website is So spell it spell it out b e c o g e n On there, you can find all the information about our mission, you can see all of our community members, so they’re probably your peers if you’re listening to this podcast, and you can check out all of our partners and look at the problems that they solve for and how they solve for this problem with their solutions. And you can reach out to us through the website or you can email me directly at sean s e a n Thanks for having me.


Steffen: Of course. We’ll have all this information, all this information in the show notes as well. So no need to write it down now. You will find it in sections. Thanks everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital you can visit us at or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again. See you next time.


Voiceover: Performance Delivered is sponsored by Symphonic Digital. Discover audience focused and data driven digital marketing solutions for small and medium businesses at