Blog Post

Make Love, Not War When Collecting First-Party Data

nancy smith
nancy smith 11.03.2021

What was your first job as a teenager?  Did you scoop ice cream? Mow lawns?


I have warm feelings about my first job. When I think about Glen Oaks Bakery, I remember my customers most. I remember the regulars, the happy faces, the stern faces, the complainers, and the negotiators. When I reminisce about my long-lost customers, I realize that I made my best effort to greet them warmly and make their experience special. Love your customers, and you give them a reason to love you back and to remain loyal. As Joe the baker, would tell me, when you deal with customers, “Make Love, Not War.”


My son recently began working in a shoe retailer, and wow, have times changed. In addition to stocking shelves and working the cash register, my son was tasked with collecting first-party data. I was excited to hear about the data collection process, and learned that it went something like this:


  • Ask the customer if they are already a loyalty member, and if so, log in their ID
  • If the customer is not a member, ask if they'd like to be, and sign them up
  • If the customer is resistant, try to persuade by listing the benefits of membership
  • If the customer remains unpersuaded, offer a discount on their purchase if they sign up
  • If the discount doesn’t move the customer, offer to double the discount
  • If the customer refuses the doubled discount, escalate to a manager who will come to the cash register and try again (with more authority or a bigger smile maybe?)


My son tells me he sees three customer archetypes during this process:

  • The first set are customers who are already loyalty members. These folks are generally eager to hear if they have any rewards or discounts coming their way. My son checks “the system” and lets them know if they have a reward coming their way, and everyone checks out happily.
  • The second type of customer is ambivalent about joining the loyalty program, but generally agrees to share their personal information somewhere along the persuasion escalation process. Eventually, when the discount gets high enough, or when they tire of resisting, these folks will share their personal data (or a burner email account and other dubious information).
  • The third set of customers do not want to share their data no matter what the persuasion tactic. This usually ends with everyone involved feeling awkward. Sometimes customers feel cheated and hostile: “If you could give me 20% off for my email, phone number, and birth date, why can’t you give me the discount anyway?”


As someone deeply involved in helping identify valuable opportunities in customer data and relationships, this process is unsettling. It prioritizes data collection over the customer experience. The process creates friction for a significant portion of customers when the goal should be a frictionless and positive experience. It feels less like love and more like war.


Avoid Getting Caught Up in a Single Metric

With the looming death of the cookie and other third-party IDs, marketers are rightly focused on building out their own first-party data. Hence, in our example, this footwear retailer is going full throttle at building its first party data asset. However, by focusing on the single metric of collecting customer data, this retailer is ignoring unintended consequences. Unpleasant customer experiences and feelings of alienation are extremely costly to any brand. In today’s business environment, first party data is gold, but you risk alienating a significant portion of your customer base with one-size-fits-all, get-it-at-any-cost behavior in the collection of that data.


Be Customer Obsessed, but Know When You’re Crossing the Line

A fair and transparent value exchange is critical in the cookieless future. If it isn’t clear to a customer what they will gain by offering up their information, it should not be a surprise when they are reluctant to provide it.


In our recent webinar with Forrester on the topic of customer obsession, VP Principal Analyst Shar VanBoskirk shared examples of companies that have mastered value exchange and transparency with their customers, and explains customer obsession as “an enterprise-wide way of changing how you think and work in order to drive growth”. The ability to create clear value and put the customer first is vital in data collection and company growth.


Marketers must strive to understand the experience the customer is seeking. That knowledge must be used to build better relationships and ultimately, a deeper understanding of customers.


Collecting and building first-party data is not an end in itself, but it is a means to creating deeper, more valuable two-way relationships built on trust and loyalty. Be customer obsessed, but don’t be pushy or creepy, or as Joe the Baker would say, “Make Love, Not War.”


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