The Difference Between First, Second and Third-Party Data

Emily Blackwell Alight Insights

If you’re a marketer, data should be your best friend. It can help you devise stronger, more effective campaigns and allow you to make more insightful decisions.

Data usually falls into one of three categories: first-party data, second-party data and third-party data. Knowing the differences between the three and how they might benefit you will help you make more informed plans based on your goals.

In this post, you’ll learn how each type of data differs and which one might be the best option for you and your team.

First-Party Data 

First-party data is information collected directly from your target audience or customers. You own this data because your audience gave it to you when they visited your website, subscribed to your email list or engaged with your content. Contact data in your customer CRM, customer feedback, app and social data, survey responses — these are all examples of first-party data.

First-party data can be used to build a more complete profile of a specific customer and engage with them. However, it does have limits. The biggest one is going to be reach. First-party data will give you a more specific, detailed picture of a particular audience, but it usually won’t help you reach new audiences. 

First-party data promotes the integration of customer data from multiple channels and touchpoints, which gives marketers more insight into each stage of the buyer’s journey.

Second-Party Data

Second-party data is data that an organization gathers from its audience and then sells or shares with another organization. It’s somebody else’s first-party data, which means it’s usually of high quality. 

For example, a magazine for runners might sell its email list to a shoe company that wants to reach that audience. 

Second-party data is gaining a lot of traction right now in the marketing world.  It allows marketers to identify new (and hopefully similar) audiences while complying with rules on data privacy. 

Third-Party Data

Third-party data is aggregated from multiple sources by a third party that doesn’t have a direct connection to the individual consumers. That could involve the third party buying second-party data from multiple websites or collecting information from public records. 

By combining all these datasets, you can develop a detailed profile of a customer ― email, physical address, interests, Internet browsing, etc. 

Vendors that specialize in collecting third-party data will resell or license it to marketers, who can then use it to target or retarget advertising more effectively. For example, vendors like Comscore and Lotame sell audience data that can be used to make programmatic ad buys more effective. 

Third-party data is related to — but different from — third-party cookies. A third-party cookie can track a user across multiple websites and gather data on what they’re interested in. Third-party cookies generate third-party data on a person’s website browsing. 

But that capability is going away as the major browsers drop support. One of the biggest, Google Chrome, will stop supporting third-party cookies by 2023

Third-party data increases volume and reach, helping marketers connect with brand new audiences, and it allows them to personalize their messages.

One drawback of third-party data: You don’t always know precisely where it’s coming from or how accurate it is.

How Can Marketers Measure Success Now? 

Learn how marketers can adapt to new privacy rules and still show the value of their work ― check out this talk from Alight’s Matt Hertig, featuring expert advice on different types of data!